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Health

Michigan COVID-19 cases continue to rise rapidly; hospitalizations increase more slowly

The receiving area of Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.
Spectrum Health
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Spectrum Health's Level I Trauma Center is located in Butterworth Hospital's emergency department in Grand Rapids.

Another day, another new record number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Michigan.

The state health department said 27,346 people in Michigan tested positive between Tuesday and Wednesday. That breaks a record for the average number of new daily cases that was set just a week ago. COVID hospitalizations also rose across the state. Michigan’s hospitals reported 4,190 COVID patients on Wednesday, an increase of 531 patients since last week. The number of COVID patients in ICUs and on ventilators also increased, although only slightly.

Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, said it’s a good sign for now that hospitalizations aren’t rising as fast as new confirmed cases.

“So we have this cautious optimism that omicron is truly less severe,” Elmouchi said.

The new omicron variant of COVID-19 has led to a surge in cases worldwide, and in some places there has been a rise in hospitalizations. Many public health experts have said it’s still too early to know for sure whether the variant leads to less severe infections than previous variants of the virus, but reports from around the world are giving hope that it might be.

Elmouchi pointed out that in previous waves, he looked at test positivity rates to gauge how bad hospitals might be hit with coronavirus patients. Those rates in Michigan are now higher than they’ve ever been — more than 30% of COVID-19 tests in Michigan have been coming back positive, according to the state's data. But Elmouchi said hospitalizations were only up slightly.

He said the state's positivity rates were "absolutely through the roof," but "the fact that we’re not seeing that show up in our ER to that same level is really reassuring."

Still, he cautioned, it is still possible that many people will have severe cases from the new variant. And it’s still early to tell how bad that could get in Michigan.

“I would say, if you talk to us in a week, we’ll be able to give you ICU data,” Elmouchi said. “Right now we can give you data that omicron definitely seems to be causing less severe disease than anything else before.”

But even if omicron turns out to be less severe, Elmouchi said that doesn’t mean the situation is improving for Michigan hospitals.

Over the past week, nearly 2,000 staff members at three of the state’s largest hospital systems tested positive for the virus. That includes more than 700 people at Spectrum Health, where Elmouchi said staff continue to be stretched thin.

In many ways, he said, the situation is now worse than it was a month ago, when the hospital system had more COVID patients. Now, there are slightly fewer patients, but also less staff.

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