Spectrum rises to ‘red status,’ state issues mask advisory as COVID-19 surges

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Treating more COVID-19 patients than it ever has and amid a worsening statewide surge, Spectrum Health says it has moved to “red status,” focusing all of its efforts on dealing with the pandemic.

Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, announced the decision by the hospital system’s COVID-19 command center in a Thursday video to hospital staff. This is the first time the hospital has elevated itself to red status since the start of the pandemic.

“We know the next one to two weeks will be hard. We don’t know what happens after that,” Elmouchi said. “If we’re lucky, we’ll peak and plateau and come down rapidly, but we don’t even have a color for what comes next, so we’re going to focus really hard on the now.”

Elmouchi said red status “truly allows us to focus on the matter at hand.”

“We all need to focus on caring on our acutely ill patients in our urgent cares, in our (emergency rooms), in our hospitals,” he said. “We need to minimize nonurgent work.”

Michigan’s COVID-19 numbers have been on the rise for some time, but the surge has worsened more quickly in recent weeks, and Spectrum is feeling the effects. As of Friday, the Grand Rapids-based system said it was treating 372 COVID-19 inpatients across all its hospitals.

“Every day for the past two weeks, we’ve had upwards of 20 to 50 or more borders in our ER — that means we have patients that have been admitted that are waiting for beds upstairs,” Elmouchi said. “Staffing has been short in numerous areas for months and it continues to be so. Supplies are still constrained, including our supplies of monoclonal antibodies.”

But “most alarmingly,” Elmouchi said, the hospital system is seeing a positive test rate well above 20%.

Elmouchi acknowledged his staff’s exhaustion, but praised them for their compassion and resilience.

“We have to be here. I keep on thinking, if we weren’t here, who would be?” he said.

STATEWIDE PANDEMIC METRICS RISING

During a virtual press conference Friday morning, Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said the state’s COVID-19 metrics are “all looking quite troubling.”

The state is clocking nearly 490 cases per million people per day. On Thursday, the state recorded 10,724 cases in a single day.

“We are seeing widespread community transition in all age groups,” Bagdasarian said, also noting this surge started with children seeing the highest case rates after school started and then rates started rising among all age groups.

Statewide, the positivity rate is 16.8% and rising. She said the figure tells her that more people should seek tests and that cases may be being missed. The state has rolled out a program to send testing kits home with students so families have easy access to them.

More than 15% of all hospital beds around the state are filled with COVID-19 patients. Pediatric hospitalizations are nearing their peak since the start of the pandemic, Bagdasarian said.

“All hospitals across the state are incredibly busy,” Elmouchi said at the Friday press conference. “What’s very different about this surge than other surges is that our hospitals have been incredibly full for months with non-COVID patients with a lot of illness. Hospitals, when they start getting full and then you add COVID on top, sometimes can stretch thin.”

He added this surge is hitting more kids and hitting them harder. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital this week reached a record 19 pediatric inpatients with COVID-19 and at least one child has died from the virus during this surge.

Elmouchi said the long duration near, at or above 100% capacity is putting a strain on resources and health care workers. He said the pandemic has been like running a marathon in which the finish line keeps moving.

MDHHS ISSUES PUBLIC HEALTH ADVISORY URGING MASKS

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said the people of the state may have let their guard down, not following health safety best practices as diligently. She said the rise in cases of flu and other respiratory infections is also evidence of that.

As a result, MDHHS has issued an immediate public health advisory — not an order — saying that everyone older than 2 should wear masks in indoor gatherings regardless of vaccination status and that businesses should work to ensure their workers and patrons are wearing masks. The state continues to urge local districts to institute their own mask requirements.

Hertel also reminded people to practice physical distancing, wash their hands frequently and get tested before and after holiday travel. She added that the state was advising people to limit holiday gatherings, though she noted that if you know all your guests are vaccinated, it’s clearly safer.

She urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and flu, which is also causing many hospitalizations, and for those who have already been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get a booster. She also urged parents to get their kids vaccinated, reminding parents that kids can get the virus, spread it and die from it.

The majority of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated against the virus. Elmouchi said 86% of COVID-19 inpatients at Spectrum hospitals have not been vaccinated. Among ICU patients, that figure is 90%. Among those on ventilators, it’s 97%.

Elmouchi and Bagdasarian acknowledged that getting the virus once does provide some protection against getting it again, but they emphasized that the data clearly shows that protection from a vaccine is much more robust.

“The vaccines absolutely work, and we absolutely without a doubt would recommend everyone to reconsider if you haven’t been vaccinated, and if you haven’t been boosted and you’re eligible, by all means, please get boosted,” Elmouchi said.

More than 70% of Michigan residents older than age 16 have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and Michigan ranks seventh nationally for booster doses.

“We are making strong progress with vaccinations in our 5- to 11-year-olds,” Hertel said, saying more than 9% of children in that age range have gotten at least one dose.

The state also wants to give 4 million flu vaccines this season but so far has administered only about 2.27 million. Bagdasarian urged everyone to get vaccinated against the flu.

“We have a chance to turn the tide and these rising numbers around, and we have done it before, but whether or not we do will depend on everyone,” Hertel said.

Bagdasarian echoed that, saying bringing down numbers will depend on people changing their behavior. The more people do to fight the virus, the shorter the surge will be.

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