University of Michigan: Latest COVID surge ‘hammers ER workers’

Beds are filling quickly, pediatric cases rising, says Michigan Medicine

Provider at Michigan Medicine with admitted COVID-19 patient. (Michigan Medicine)

ANN ARBOR – At the start of the year, Michigan Medicine’s emergency department had hardly any COVID patients coming in. But that changed in late March when suddenly nine patients tested positive for COVID-19, six of them requiring hospital stays.

The latest spring surge has hit hospital systems across Metro Detroit hard, and with cases and deaths continuing to trend upward, health officials are sounding the alarm.

“It marked a sudden departure from where we had been,” Brad Uren, a physician at Michigan Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine, Brad Uren, said in a news release. “Now we need to get this under control because this does have the potential to overwhelm the health care system.”

Read: 54 takeaways: Beaumont officials on Michigan restrictions, dire hospital situation, COVID stats

Uren said that while people were staying home last year as the state -- and the world -- scrambled to learn more about the novel virus and how it spreads, lack of restrictions on gathering and dining has contributed to the current numbers.

“People were staying home, people were isolating and masking, we were distanced,” Uren said in a release. “Now, we aren’t as diligent, and there’s another COVID surge on top of the regular volume we see in the emergency department from normal activity. And the combination of the two is escalating.”

Michigan currently has the country’s highest seven-day case rate and beds are filling quickly at hospitals.

“We are used to operating in challenging times,” Uren said in a release. “But we are working close to the edge of the envelope of what many of us would consider anything normal right now.”

Another concerning factor: COVID patients at Michigan Medicine are increasingly getting younger.

Uren said this is likely due to the prioritization of older adults to receive the first vaccines against COVID-19, and then fact that people in their 20s-50s are more likely to be working outside the house and more mobile.

Emergency visits for COVID in the hospital’s pediatric population has also seen a 10-20% bump, according to Michigan Medicine.

Read: Michigan COVID metrics: Cases, hospitalizations, positivity rate ‘incredibly concerning’

Although it is rare that a child is admitted for COVID symptoms, those with preexisting conditions are.

“We’re seeing a rise in pediatric COVID, many in the young adolescent age group, possibly driven by transmission due to school-based athletic sports,” section chief of pediatric emergency at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, Prashant Mahajan, said in a release.

Both doctors suspect that rising cases in younger populations are due to the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, known to be active in Michigan.

A major concern with COVID cases in children is the development of a rare multisystem inflammatory syndrome called MIS-C.

“We have not seen a lot of those children, but that is something that we should anticipate happening,” Mahajan said in a release. “The other thing that is really an unknown is what proportion of children end up having long-term effects of the virus, which is now increasingly recognized in adults with COVID.”

Read: University of Michigan doctor answers parents’ questions about dangerous COVID condition in kids

Despite a steady increase in vaccinations, this new surge is starting to show the strain on hospital workers, said Uren.

“I’m seeing that daily in the faces of my coworkers,” he said in a release. “We’re working as a team, and I’m so proud of them for sticking with this for so long, but it weighs on people.”

Michigan Medicine emergency department doctors are asking people to get the vaccine, limit who they interact with and follow social distancing and masking.

“I’m concerned that vaccine hesitancy will slow us down and keep causing us problems even after a time where vaccines could get us back to normal,” Uren said in a release. “We are ready to be done with the virus. It’s not done with us yet.”

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.