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MSU epidemiologist: Michigan should have intervened before COVID-19 patients began overwhelming hospitals

An ambulance crew weaves a gurney through the halls of Sparrow's Emergency Department. Overcrowding has forced the staff to triage patients, putting some in the waiting rooms and treating others on stretchers and chairs in the halls.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
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An ambulance crew weaves a gurney through the halls of Sparrow's Emergency Department. Overcrowding has forced the staff to triage patients, putting some in the waiting rooms and treating others on stretchers and chairs in the halls.

A public health expert says Michigan's current COVID-19 surge was predictable.

Debra Furr-Holden is an epidemiologist and associate dean at Michigan State University.

"We didn't intervene, when we saw cases starting to creep up," said Furr-Holden. "That was the time to put mask mandates back in place, to really keep pushing for people to get vaccinated, to restrict indoor gatherings and density, requiring kids to wear masks in schools and we didn't do that."

COVID hospitalizations in Michigan have risen 47% in just two weeks, according to a New York Times database. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has urged residents to get a COVID-19 booster shot. But her administration has declined to use the other public health strategies that reduced the spread of COVID-19 earlier in the pandemic, including a mask mandate, banning indoor dining at restaurants, moving school classes to online, and limiting the size of gatherings.

Furr-Holden said what's happening is a double tragedy. She says there are new therapeutics for the virus, and health care practitioners have developed strategies for how to treat the most severely ill patients, but because of the number of cases swamping hospitals, not all patients will see the benefit of the medical advances.

Furr-Holden says many states have relaxed their public health measures as well. She expects other places will see similar surges soon.

Furr-Holden was a guest on NPR's Here and Now on Monday.

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