LANSING — With hospital bed capacity and staffing increasingly stretched thin, exponential growth in positive cases statewide and limited contact tracing ability, the Whitmer administration is urging Michigan residents to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Additionally, the rate of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is now in the double digits statewide. Health experts say the test positivity rate should be around 3 percent to manage the spread of the virus. The positivity rate stands at 10.8 percent in Michigan, which also is administering the fifth highest number of diagnostic tests in the country.
“To have more than 10 percent of those tests coming back positive is alarming and means that this virus is out of control,” Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said during a press conference in Lansing today.
Michigan has now reported 236,225 positive cases of COVID-19 and 7,811 deaths. But it’s the recent spike in cases, case positivity and hospitalizations — as more residents are inside because of colder weather and ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday — that has state officials and public health experts most worried.
As MiBiz reported, executives from health systems across the state earlier on Thursday issued another collective warning, urging residents to wear face masks and practice social distancing while in public. They reported not only turning to surge plans for excess bed capacity, but also staff shortages as more hospital personnel are quarantining.
“In my career, I have never been in a situation where we have to look and say which patient’s disease is more worthy of another when trying to pick out who gets the hospital bed, who gets the nurse, who gets the ventilator,” said Dr. Karen Kent VanGorder, chief medical and quality officer at Lansing-based Sparrow Health System, speaking at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s press conference today.
Whitmer echoed calls for residents to adhere to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services emergency rules involving mask wearing and limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people or fewer.
“This is the moment that medical experts have been warning us about and dreading since the beginning of this pandemic,” said Whitmer, whose press conference came eight months after the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in the state.
Although Whitmer used public health mandates through executive orders until a state Supreme Court ruling in early October dismantled the state’s legal argument for doing so, she said today DHHS orders still “have the force of law.”
Responding to a reporter’s question about potentially tightening restrictions on gathering sizes, Whitmer said the state will “have to take additional steps” if numbers continue on this trajectory.
Not just Michigan
The surge in COVID-19 cases has been occurring nationwide, including Michigan’s neighbors.
Small Business Association Michigan CEO Rob Fowler and President Brian Calley noted in a Thursday briefing that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, offered a similar message as Whitmer, saying he would impose new restrictions — including a closure of bars, restaurants and fitness centers — if the spread of the virus in Ohio doesn’t slow.
Actions last spring in Michigan tended to follow restrictions that Ohio imposed, Calley said.
Elsewhere, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, banned reception-type events such as for weddings and funerals between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., and required bars and restaurants to end dine-in service at 10 p.m. Walz also set a 10-person limit on indoor and outdoor private social gatherings, and restricted participants to a maximum of three households.
As well, Illinois is “starting to take pretty aggressive actions as well,” Calley said. “I think this is a very dynamic situation.”
Fowler cited a news report that Chicago was moving “to the next level of closures.” Chicago today issued an advisory that takes effect Monday urging people to stay at home.
“It feels a little like where we were back in March where the states are sort of following each other’s leads and going back to restrictions,” Fowler said. “The one we’ve been cautioning against is a total business closure now that we know what we know.”
Fowler and Calley noted how much of the surge is related to social gatherings and less from structured settings such as workplaces that are required to follow public health guidelines.