Soaring Covid-19 cases in Michigan — where one of the nation’s worst outbreaks is underway — are pushing hospitals to critical capacity levels, and residents need to help stop the virus’s spread, the state’s largest health care system said Thursday.
Beaumont Health’s eight hospitals in two Detroit-area counties are 90%-95% full, and the number of their Covid-19 patients jumped from 129 in late February to more than 800 patients now, system officials said.
Though that’s below the system’s peak around 1,300 Covid-19 patients at one point last year, the hospitals are also caring for more non-coronavirus patients now, as last year more non-Covid-19 patients stayed away in fear of the virus, Beaumont officials said.
“Our Covid-19 numbers are climbing higher and faster and it’s very troubling and alarming to see this,” Beaumont Health CEO John Fox said in a news release Thursday.
“We need everyone’s help immediately,” he said.
Beaumont Heath is just the latest entity sounding alarms about the rise of Covid-19 in Michigan, even as vaccinations rise.
Officials have said the state has seen a high proportion of more-contagious variants and that the variants are fueling the case spikes.
Michigan cities account for 9 of the 10 worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the country’s metropolitan areas, according to the latest Covid-19 Community Profile Report published by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the White House.
The state has averaged 7,870 new Covid-19 cases a day across the last week — far above the winter’s low average of 1,044 on February 20. It’s also around Michigan’s highest-ever levels, seen back in late November and early December, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Statewide hospitalizations also are way up. More than 4,230 Covid-19 patients were in Michigan hospitals on Tuesday — far above the winter low of 825 on February 22 and close to the peak of 4,305 on November 30, according to HHS data.
For Beaumont, keeping staffing at a sufficient level also is a challenge, as some employees are leaving because of pandemic-related stress, chief nursing officer Susan Grant said.
Nurses are “saddened and heartbroken by the loss and the toll this is continuing to take on young people, on families, on everyone,” Grant said.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Wednesday pleaded with people to get vaccinated to fight the virus surge.
“The rate of infections in Detroit continues to climb, and we know exactly why it continues to climb. And we are the only ones who can stop it,” Duggan said Wednesday, urging residents to follow safety measures but also to encourage friends and loved ones to get vaccinated.
Beaumont’s Covid-19 patients also are younger, on average, than earlier in the pandemic, Dr. Nick Gilpin, Beaumont’s medical director of epidemiology, said Thursday.
Fauci says J&J vaccine pause is not a cancellation
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, says the recommended pause on the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is just that: a pause — not a cancellation — and will likely last days to weeks.
“I doubt very seriously if we’re talking about weeks to months,” he told CNN on Wednesday.
The pause, he added, should help underscore and confirm “how seriously we take safety.”
“If anybody’s got a doubt that ‘Oh, they may not be taking safety very seriously,’ I think this is an affirmation that safety is a primary consideration when it comes to the (Food and Drug Administration) and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). That’s why it was done,” Fauci added.
The two agencies recommended Tuesday that the country pause the use of the one-dose J&J vaccine over six reported US cases of a “rare and severe” type of blood clot among more than 6.8 million Americans who got the shot. A day later, advisers to the CDC put off making any decision about recommendations for the vaccine, with members of the group saying they need more information.
“I just don’t feel there’s enough information to make an evidence-based decision,” Dr. Beth Bell, a clinical professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, told the meeting. “We won’t have all the information, but I think there are some things that we can gather relatively quickly, which all have to do with the benefit/risk balance.”
“We do need to better understand the risk, which we know is going to be very rare, very low, but we really don’t know exactly how low and how to correctly characterize it,” Bell added.
The pause will allow researchers to investigate a potential link to severe blood events, and particularly whether certain populations may be more susceptible, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said Wednesday.
J&J pause may cause delays, officials say
While scientists continue to look into the adverse events, state leaders and federal officials are working to adjust to the change.
The federal government is helping to get Americans who were scheduled for the J&J vaccine set up with another Covid-19 vaccine instead, and those changes may cause a drop in daily vaccination numbers, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday.
“However, I want to be clear that we have more than enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccine supply to continue working to accelerate the current pace of vaccination,” he said.
Federal allocations of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for next week are about 7% higher than they were this week, federal data shows.
And while state leaders said they have enough supply to stay on track with their vaccination operations, some expressed concern about the impact.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called the pause a “surprising setback” for the state “at a time when our vaccine efforts are showing much progress, and because states weren’t informed in advance of the announcement, we were left to develop contingency plans in the moment for vaccine clinics scheduled yesterday and throughout the week.”
“Putting even one vaccine on hold is disappointing,” she added. “But ensuring a safe vaccination process, one that everyone can be confident in, will continue to be a top priority.”
Other officials in the US said the interruption could have a major impact on college students, who were key targets for getting the single-dose vaccine before leaving school at the end of the spring semester.
Pause is key for vaccine confidence, expert says
But the move to recommend a pause is important for vaccine confidence, experts said.
“When you look at what our biggest obstacles are in the coming months, it is really around vaccine demand, or hesitancy or confidence,” epidemiologist Dr. Celine Gounder told the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee on Wednesday.
“And one of the biggest drivers, especially in those who are most … resistant to getting vaccinated, it really comes down to either a lack of trust in health systems or a lack of trust in the government.
“So, it is absolutely essential that the CDC and the FDA behave in a way that is transparent, honest, aboveboard, where they show they’re doing their due diligence, because that is really what’s going to predict, in the longer term, whether people feel comfortable getting vaccinated,” Gounder added.
Still, others worry the pause may exacerbate Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy.
“I think it has a chilling effect,” Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told CNN. “I think people may wrongly think, ‘Well if it’s true with this J&J vaccine, maybe it’s true with all vaccines.'”
The other two Covid-19 vaccines approved for the US — Pfizer and Moderna — are not implicated in the pause, officials have said.