GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — By treating more COVID-19 patients than ever and amid a deteriorating wave from across the state, Spectrum Health says it has transitioned to “red status,” with all of its efforts focused on fighting the pandemic.
dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, announced hospital system’s COVID-19 decision command center in a thursday video to hospital staff. It is the first time since the start of the pandemic that the hospital has raised itself to red status.
“We know the next one to two weeks will be tough. We don’t know what happens next,” Elmouchi said. “If we’re lucky we’ll be peaking and tumbling and descending quickly, 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 the red status “really allows us to focus on the case.”
“We all need to focus on caring for our acutely ill patients in our emergency care, in our[emergency room]in our hospitals,” he said. “Non-urgent work should be minimized.”
Michigan’s COVID-19 numbers have been rising for a while, but the rise has worsened more rapidly in recent weeks and Spectrum is feeling the effects. As of Friday, the Grand Rapids-based system that handled it said 372 COVID-19 admitted patients in all its hospitals.
“For the past two weeks, we’ve had more than 20 to 50 or more borders in our ER every day — that means we have patients who are admitted and waiting for beds upstairs,” Elmouchi said. “There has been a staff shortage in many areas for months and it will remain so. Stocks are still limited, including our stocks of monoclonal antibodies.”
But “most disturbingly,” Elmouchi said, the hospital system is seeing a positive test rate well above 20%.
Elmouchi acknowledged the exhaustion of his employees, but praised them for their compassion and resilience.
“We have to be here. I keep thinking, if we weren’t here, who would it be?” he said.
GOVERNMENT AREA PANDEMIC METRIC RISE
During a virtual press conference Friday morning, Dr. Michigan Chief Medical Executive Natasha Bagdasarian said the state’s COVID-19 statistics “all look pretty disturbing.”
The state records nearly 490 cases per million people per day. On Thursday, the state registered 10,724 cases in one day.
“We’re seeing widespread transition in the community across all age groups,” Bagdasarian said, also noting that this wave started with kids seeing the highest cases after school started, and then the 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 missed. The state has rolled out a program to send test kits home to students for easy access to families.
More than 15% of all hospital beds in the state are filled with COVID-19 patients. Pediatric hospitalizations are nearing their peak since the start of the pandemic, Bagdasarian said.
“All the hospitals in the state are incredibly busy,” Elmouchi said at Friday’s news conference. “What’s very different about this spike from other spikes is that our hospitals have been incredibly full for months with non-COVID patients with a lot of illness. Hospitals, when they start to fill up and you add COVID to that, sometimes they can get thin.”
He added that this wave is hitting more kids and hitting them harder. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital reached a record 19 pediatric hospitalized patients with COVID-19 this week, and at least one child has died from the virus during this wave.
Elmouchi said the long run near, at or above 100% capacity puts a strain on resources and health workers. He said the pandemic has been like running a marathon where the finish line keeps moving.
MDHHS PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEMS ADVICE URGENT MASKS
Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said people in the state may have been off guard by not following best health and safety practices as diligently. She said the rise in the number of flu and other respiratory infections is also proof of that.
As a result, MDHHS has issued an immediate public health advisory — not an order — stating that everyone over the age of 2 must wear masks at indoor gatherings, regardless of vaccination status, and that businesses must work to ensure that their employees and customers wear masks. The state continues to urge local districts to set their own mask requirements.
Hertel also reminded people to keep physical distance, wash their hands regularly and get tested before and after vacation trips. She added that the state advised people to limit holiday gatherings, although she noted that knowing all of your guests have been vaccinated clearly makes it 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 children vaccinated, reminding parents that children 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 admitted COVID-19 patients at Spectrum hospitals have not been vaccinated. In IC patients this is 90%. Among those on ventilators, that’s 97%.
Elmouchi and Bagdasarian acknowledged that getting the virus once provides some protection against getting it again, but they emphasized that the data clearly shows that protection against a vaccine is much more robust.
“The vaccines are definitely working, and we would absolutely recommend anyone to reconsider if you haven’t been vaccinated, and if you haven’t been boosted and you qualify, please get a boost,” Elmouchi said.
More than 70% of Michigan residents over 16 have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and Michigan ranks seventh nationally for booster doses.
“We are making strong progress with vaccinations in our 5 to 11 year olds,” said Hertel, who said more than 9% of children in that age group have received at least one dose.
The state also plans to provide 4 million flu vaccines this season, but has only administered about 2.27 million so far. Bagdasarian urged everyone to get vaccinated against the flu.
“We have a chance to turn the tide and these rising numbers, and we’ve done it before, but whether we do that depends on everyone,” Hertel said.
Bagdasarian reiterated that, saying that lowering the number will depend on people changing their behavior. The more people do to fight the virus, the shorter the peak will be.