State health officials say Michigan is in a very critical place in this fourth coronavirus surge, with cases and deaths rising; hospitals at or over capacity and struggling to treat COVID-19 and other patients, and the omicron variant now confirmed in the state.
The strain is affecting everyone who may need access to care, with the state continuing to trend “in a deeply concerning direction heading into the Christmas holiday and the new year,” Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said Friday.
“The situation in our state is critical right now. Cases are surging, hospitals are full and we have a new variant,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive.
“I strongly urge all Michiganders to … get vaccinated, get boosted, to wear a well-fitting mask whenever you are in indoor public settings … and get tested if you have symptoms that could be COVID-19; get tested if you feel you may have been exposed; get tested before any unmasked gatherings. We’re really at a critical place in this pandemic and it’s really time for everyone to do their part.”
The situation may be dire, but state health officials are not implementing mask mandates or any other restrictions, sticking to a public health advisory issued last month that recommends everyone over the age of 2 should wear a mask at indoor gatherings regardless of their vaccination status.
On Friday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced masks will be required in all indoor public places unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine mandate to address the winter surge as cases and hospitalizations rise in that state. The measure is effective Dec. 13 through Jan. 15, with reevaluation based on conditions at that time, according to a release on the governor’s website.
In Michigan, state health officials are urging residents to get vaccinated or get their booster shot if they are over age 16 and more than six months past their last dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Only 56% of the state’s inoculation eligible population, age 5 and older, are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. That’s below the national average, Bagdasarian said, with vaccination rates even lower among the 20- and 30-year-old age groups, as well as children.
She said low vaccine uptake will bring more severe cases and deaths and strain to the health system.
“And we simply cannot take this right now,” she said.
On Friday, 4,556 Michiganders were hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus, according to state data. That’s double the number of people who were hospitalized with COVID-19 a month ago.
The state has surpassed 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began with 25,080, according to Friday’s state data. Case counts have averaged about 5,892 the last two days, the state health department reported.
Michigan continues to have one of the highest seven-day case rates per 100,000 people in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 data tracker.
‘This is a crucial time’
Bagdasarian said COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high — and are higher than this time last year — and are expected to increase. She said hospitals are stretched to capacity with inpatient beds with COVID-19 patients at an all-time high of 21.5%. They never exceeded 20% in prior surges, she said.
Hertel said in the past seven days, those ages 30 to 39 were experiencing the highest case rates. About 2% of people who are fully vaccinated have been reported with a breakthrough infection, she said, and based on data from most health systems in Michigan, three out of four COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.
“For individuals who have not yet been vaccinated, I want to be absolutely clear. You are risking serious illness, hospitalization and even death. Even people under the age of 65, including individuals in their 20s and 30s are testing positive and ending up in the hospital.
Bagdasarian said COVID-19 deaths are increasing, with 87 people dying of the virus each day in the last week. She said non-COVID-19 deaths also are higher than expected in this surge, a signal that hospitals are overwhelmed, making it harder to address other health issues.
State health officials said Friday that sometimes dozens of patients are waiting in emergency departments, and some hospitals have had to close their emergency rooms for extended periods of time, which can affect you or your family’s care.
Hertel said officials are working with regional health care coalitions and hospitals to supplement ventilators to meet the surge of demand in intensive care units. This includes deploying the state supply and requesting 200 additional ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile, said Lynn Sutfin, MDHHS spokesperson.
Sutfin said at the peak of prior surges, the state health department secured 700 ventilators from the stockpile and deployed them to regional health care coalitions so hospitals could easily request and obtain them. More of those were pulled back for required maintenance as cases decreased, she said.
Currently, there are 628 patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 who are receiving mechanical ventilation, according to state data.
While three federal medical teams of about two dozen doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists each are being deployed to help treat patients at three hospitals in Michigan, Hertel said there are no more teams available to come to Michigan at this time as they are deployed in other states.
Teams have been approved for Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn; Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, and Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw for at least 30-day stints to help care for COVID-19 and other patients, and to spell exhausted workers.
Five additional Michigan facilities have had requests validated by the federal assessment team, meaning they are eligible for consideration when the federal government has additional teams to deploy.
Dr. Paolo Marciano, chief medical officer for Beaumont Health, Dearborn, said it was a “very sobering” moment to request federal assistance but he is “so thankful” for it.
“That has been a tremendous lifeline because it addressed that functional vacancy. You know, it allowed us to be able to care for the COVID patients, and at the same time still maintain the level of care that cancer patients require for people with chronic illnesses. And so, where we are today, is really just keeping our heads above water,” he said.
“Right now, every person in the state has the opportunity to drive our numbers back down, reduce the strain on our health care system and protect yourself,” Hertel said. “Vaccines remain our best, most efficient tool to avoid COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and even when it comes to more transmissible variants, like delta and omicron. … This is a crucial time.”
CDC has early window on omicron
Bagdasarian said Friday that the omicron variant has been detected in 25 states, including Michigan. The omicron case in Kent County was a vaccinated person who had a “mild illness,” she said, adding that she could not release additional details about the person.
The new strain of coronavirus has an unprecedented number of mutations — as many as 32 to the spike protein alone, the World Health Organization reports. The changes have some scientists concerned omicron may be more easily spread than other variants and could be more likely to cause reinfections among people who’ve had a different strain of the virus.
The first known and confirmed omicron case was detected in early November in test specimens in South Africa and Botswana. Since then, it has spread quickly around the world. On Nov. 26, the WHO gave the B.1.1.529 variant the name omicron, classifying it as a variant of concern. Four days later, the U.S. also recognized omicron as a variant of concern.
In the U.S., it may have spread during the Anime New York City Convention, where 53,000 people gathered Nov. 19-21.
Early evidence suggests omicron is even more contagious than the highly transmissible delta variant. In South Africa, omicron now is the dominant variant, overtaking delta within just a few weeks.
It is too early to know for sure whether the omicron strain of the virus causes more severe disease, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to the president. He noted that early anecdotal evidence suggests it might not be as virulent as other strains.
On Friday, the CDC said in a new report that from Dec. 1-8, 22 states reported at least one case attributed to the omicron variant. Among 43 cases with initial follow-up, one hospitalization and no deaths were reported.
Of the 43 cases, 25 were in people ages 18 to 39 and the earliest date of symptom onset was Nov. 15 in a person with a history of international travel. Fourteen people reported international travel during the 14 days preceding symptom onset or receipt of a positive test, according to the report.
Thirty-four cases or 79% were in people who completed the primary series of a COVID-19 vaccine more than 14 days before symptom onset or receipt of a positive test, including 14 who received an additional or booster dose, according to the CDC.
It said five of the 14 people received the additional or booster dose less than 14 days before symptom onset. Six people had a documented prior COVID-19 infection.
The most commonly reported symptoms were cough, fatigue and congestion or runny nose. One vaccinated person was hospitalized for two days.
Case investigations identified exposures associated with international and domestic travel, large public events and household transmission, according to the report.
It states while many of the first reported cases appear to be mild, as with all variants, “a lag exists between infection and more severe outcomes, and symptoms would be expected to be milder in vaccinated persons and those with previous SARS-CoV-2 infection than in unvaccinated persons.”
“Even if most infections are mild, a highly transmissible variant could result in enough cases to overwhelm health systems,” according to the CDC report.
Despite the presence of the omicron variant in the U.S., the delta variant continues to appear in more than 99% of the cases in the U.S., driving increases in cases and hospitalizations, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 briefing Friday.
“We will continue to closely follow this variant to learn more about clinical severity, transmissibility and susceptibility to our therapeutics and vaccines,” she said. “Although we don’t have all the answers on the omicron variant, initial data suggests that COVID-19 boosters help to bolster protection against omicron.”
On Thursday, President Joe Biden encouraged everyone who got vaccinated six months ago to get a booster “right away” and that Pfizer announced that preliminary data shows three doses of its vaccine offers protection against the variant.
Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are working on versions of their vaccines targeting the omicron variant.
More than 200 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated and more than 50 million people have received booster doses.
Contact Christina Hall: email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.
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