Leaders from 4 major hospital systems in Michigan share harrowing COVID-19 numbers

Officials from Henry Ford, Beaumont, Spectrum, Munson health systems sound alarm

Leaders from four major hospital systems in Michigan came together Thursday to share the alarming trends they’re seeing as COVID-19 cases increase drastically statewide.

A panel of experts joined a virtual meeting to warn Michiganders about the spread of the virus as cases, hospitalizations and deaths all surge.

You can hear the full comments from the four hospital leaders in the video posted above.

“Our state is now in a phase of exponential increases in both COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations,” said Gerry Anderson, executive chairman at DTE Energy and a member of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Michigan Economic Recovery Council. “I think it’s fair to say that a slow-down is nowhere in sight.

Over the past five weeks, the average weekly growth rate in cases has been 40%, Anderson said. That implies that cases are doubling every two to two and a half weeks.

“Over the last five weeks, cases in Michigan are up more than five-fold,” Anderson said. “They rose from just over 1,100 per day in early October to nearly 6,000 per day, most recently.”

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He said COVID-19 hospitalizations are on a similar track, increasing more than five-fold over the last six weeks. Even more concerning is that the doubling time for hospitalizations is around two weeks, Anderson said.

“At that pace, these health care leaders project that we will top our Michigan spring hospitalization peak late this month,” Anderson said.

The rate of increase is creating pressure for hospitals across the state, and that’s only expected to intensify as case totals rise.

Leaders of Henry Ford Health System, Beaumont Health, Spectrum Health and Munson Health shared some of the COVID-19 trends they’re seeing in their hospitals.

Beaumont Health

John Fox, the president and CEO of Beaumont Health, said COVID-19 cases are “way up” at their facilities across the state.

“We’re dealing with a very, very serious situation,” Fox said.

Beaumont has nine emergency rooms and 25 urgent care centers in Michigan. He said the test positivity rate for COVID-19 is up “substantially," showing members of the community are transmitting the virus between each other much faster than in the past.

“It’s accelerating,” Fox said. “It’s an accelerating trend. It’s very serious.”

Beaumont has seen its inpatient volume -- which is a lagging indicator of the spread of COVID-19 -- triple in less than 30 days. There are now over 400 COVID-19 patients in Beaumont’s eight hospitals, Fox said.

Resistance to simple COVID-19 prevention methods, such as mask wearing, happens even in hospital lobbies, Fox said. He said if people can just wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently, it would go a long way toward stopping the spread.

“We can turn this around, but at the current rate, it’s not turning, and it could be a much more serious situation,” Fox said.

Spectrum Health

Tina Freese Decker, the president and CEO of Spectrum Health, thanked health care workers for their dedication, but revealed similarly alarming numbers.

Decker said Spectrum Health is testing about 4,000 people per day, with around 15% of those tests coming back positive.

“Just two months ago, in September, it was at 3%,” Decker said. “We’re also seeing that this is throughout the state, and that’s a concerning piece because that’s much different than it was in the spring.”

She highlighted avoiding in-person gatherings as a way to try to slow down the spread of the virus.

Henry Ford Health System

The story is the same in Henry Ford hospitals, according to Wright Lassiter, the president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System.

“In the last 14 days, our COVID-19 admissions have risen by 128%,” Lassiter said. “We’re seeing significant escalation across all of our Southeast Michigan hospitals and our Central Michigan hospitals.”

Lassiter reported “significant burden” in Henry Ford emergency departments.

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He said the positivity rate for patients being tested for COVID-19 at Henry Ford hospitals has risen “extensively” to 16.4%, as of Thursday morning."

“Just weeks ago, it was in the low single digits,” Lassiter said. “It’s very, very clear that we’re seeing something different. We’re seeing a significant escalation in the community spread of COVID-19 across all portions of Michigan.”

Lassiter said there’s no silver bullet for COVID-19, but residents need to follow the safety measures that have been proven to work against the virus.

“We clearly know that wearing masks works,” Lassiter said. “We clearly know that social distancing helps. We clearly know that hand hygiene helps you remove pathogens from your hands, and we clearly know that removing yourself from large gatherings where the spread is possible will help.”

He asked Michiganders to support health care workers by following those protocols.

Munson Healthcare

Trends in Northern Michigan and the Traverse City Region are very similar to those in the southern parts of the state, according to Munson Healthcare president and CEO Ed Ness.

Munson Health has seen its test positivity rate for COVID-19 nearly triple in the last four weeks, he said.

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“Our sense is that our community hospitals go up by almost four times,” Ness said.

The difference now than back in March in April is that spikes are happening across the state, including rural areas, according to Ness. He believes they felt protected in the spring.

“Our recent data has shown that it doesn’t matter where you live, you are basically in the same situation,” Ness said.

He said it’s two and a half hours from Traverse City to the next largest hospital system in Grand Rapids, which takes away a safety valve for residents in the more rural areas.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.