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Is the coronavirus plateauing in Michigan? Maybe, but hospitals are still feeling the strain

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COVID-19 hospitalizations in Michigan are gradually declining from their peak earlier this month, especially in southeast Michigan, in a sign that the state may be turning a corner on this record-setting omicron surge.

As of Monday, 3,941 people were hospitalized with confirmed COVID, down from a high of 4,579 on January 14, according to state data.

“We’re coming down,” says Dr. Matthew Sims, an infectious disease expert at Beaumont Health System. Within Beaumont’s eight hospitals, there were 552 COVID patients as of Monday morning, compared to the system-wide peak of 857 COVID patients on January 10.

“I want to see it continue. And the big question is, is it going to go down like it did in prior surges, where it goes down to almost nothing? Or is it going to go down to where we were before this surge started, which was still in the hundreds?”

So far, hospitalizations have dropped fastest in southeast Michigan (including Wayne, Washtenaw, Monroe, Oakland, Macomb, St. Clair counties) which also saw far higher peaks in mid-January. The area has a larger population than any other part of the state. Overall hospitalizations there still far outnumber west, mid and northern Michigan, which generally saw their highest peaks in early December.

"It appears that we are trending in the direction of declining statewide daily COVID-19 hospital admissions and total COVID-19 hospitalizations,” said John Karasinski, a spokesperson for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association. “Due to the regional differences, it may still take more time for the statewide totals to truly depict a plateau.”

Meanwhile, the state reported a total of 39,372 new confirmed cases of the disease over the weekend, for an average of 13,124 cases per day from Saturday—Monday. The numbers mark an improvement compared to a week ago, but the number of people catching the virus in Michigan is still much higher than during any previous stage of the pandemic.

But the plateau hasn’t eased the burden on hospitals overnight. Many are still overwhelmed by high overall patient loads and severe staffing shortages.

“The hospitals are full and everybody is busy,” Sims said. “And we've had a lot of health care workers out with symptoms of COVID or with COVID.

“...There's still patients who just don't believe in [the virus] or don't believe in the vaccine, or want some kind of a treatment that's not approved and not proven to work because it's popular on social media or something. And that puts the strain on you when you're trying to tell a patient that, we're trying to do our best for you and they don't believe in what you're doing… But those things put immense strain on the people caring for the patients. An immense, huge emotional burden. And we've been doing this for over two years now. So you can only imagine, you know, just how much strain people have been under.”

On Monday, the state announced a sixth military medical team will be deployed to Michigan to help treat patients in a Michigan hospital. A team of up to 25 doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists is now scheduled to arrive at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing on February 7. The hospital currently has some 180 COVID patients, down slightly from 195 on Friday.

Four other medical teams from the Department of Defense are already deployed at hospitals in Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Saginaw. A separate federal team is also helping at Henry Ford Wyandotte hospital, with a Department of Defense team scheduled to arrive there soon.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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