LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is strongly encouraging — but not mandating — new public measures to stem Michigan’s recent spike in COVID-19 metrics, saying pandemic dynamics have changed as millions of vaccines are administered.
Whitmer and top health care officials said Friday that Michigan’s surge is because of new COVID-19 variants reaching the state and complacency on the part of residents. Dozens of new outbreaks have also been linked to high school sports, restaurants and other workplaces.
“Policy changes alone won’t reduce the spread,” Whitmer said during a Friday press conference, recommending a two-week pause on in-person high school learning and sports as well as indoor dining. She also noted that Michigan still has a statewide mask mandate and limits on the size of indoor social gatherings.
“We all need to go above and beyond the rules we have in place,” Whitmer said, calling for “personal responsibility” to wear masks and get vaccinated. “It’s less of a policy problem we have and more of a compliance and variants issue.”
Spectrum Health CEO Tina Freese Decker issued a similar call as Whitmer.
“Wear a mask and get vaccinated,” Freese Decker said, referring to recent messages from Spectrum Health frontline nurses.
Spectrum Health’s test positivity rate is now 16 percent, similar to the state’s 18 percent rate. The number of COVID-19 patients in Spectrum hospitals also has doubled over the past two weeks, Freese Decker said, and the organization has again delayed some elective surgical procedures, similar to actions taken by other health systems across the state.
A Spectrum Health spokesperson said the health system hasn’t made a decision to delay elective procedures beyond this week.
As of Thursday, Spectrum Health’s 852-bed Butterworth Hospital campus in downtown Grand Rapids was at 80-percent capacity with 71 COVID-19 patients, 21 of them in intensive care units (ICU). Spectrum’s 318-bed Blodgett Hospital campus in East Grand Rapids had 64 COVID-19 patients, with 10 in the ICU, according to a state database.
Spectrum Health’s COVID-19 inpatient volume doubled in two weeks “and it continues to climb each day,” Freese Decker said. “So we need to treat this surge seriously.”
Ascension Michigan, which owns Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo and 15 other hospitals in the state, also has considered postponing elective procedures.
Ascension Borgess on Thursday was at 98-percent capacity and had 36 COVID-19 inpatients, with nine in the ICU.
“Working in alignment with our statewide incident command team, we are reviewing elective procedures requiring an inpatient stay on a case-by-case basis,” Ascension Michigan said in a statement. “As we appropriately address this recent surge and continue to protect the health and safety of our patients, families, staff and providers, some non-essential elective procedures requiring an inpatient stay may be deferred for a short period of time.”
Statewide, 3,706 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized as of Thursday, 707 of whom were in intensive care units, according to state data. That pushed the statewide occupancy rate at hospitals to 80 percent. By comparison, the stated had 3,314 COVID-19 inpatients on Monday, 638 of whom were in ICUs, for an occupancy rate of 74 percent.
Whitmer also said today that she spoke with President Biden on Thursday to request a surge in vaccine deployment to Michigan, but noted that it’s “not a policy they’ve embraced at this juncture.”
In less than four months, more than 5 million of the three COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to 3.1 million Michigan residents, Whitmer said today.
“Michigan is unquestionably a national hot spot right now,” Whitmer said. “I’m concerned. I believe, as do a number of public health experts, that we should really be surging vaccines to states that are experiencing outbreaks.”
With case rates, hospitalizations and test positivity rates all spiking statewide, health officials say Michigan is in a race to deploy as many vaccines as possible. Case and test positivity rates are now four times higher than they were in February, said Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, and hospitals are revisiting their surge plans.
“The data is concerning, but there’s no need to panic,” Khaldun said. “We know how to do this.”