Officials from Beaumont Health talked about whether Michigan needs another COVID shutdown and many other topics while painting a dire picture of hospitals filling up with COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Nick Gilpin, the medical director of infection prevention, and chief nursing officer Susan Grant spoke over Zoom, breaking down the dire situation and calling on Michiganders to help stop the spread of the virus.
You can watch the full news conference in the video above.
Here are the critical facts and takeaways from the news conference.
Should Michigan shut down?
- Gilpin said he agrees with the CDC director, who believes it will be difficult for Michigan to vaccinate its way out of this surge.
- While about a quarter of Michigan’s population is vaccinated, that’s still a long way away from what’s needed to achieve herd immunity.
- “It does take six weeks for the vaccine to reach full efficacy,” Gilpin said. For example, someone who gets the Moderna vaccine -- which requires two shots 28 days apart -- won’t have the full benefit for six weeks.
- “If you also look back at our prior surges, what was the difference?” Gilpin asked. “The difference in the first surge that we experienced is that there were restrictions in the community to limit gathering sizes and limit indoor activities that we know are very effective ways to transmit coronavirus. We saw it in March and April of last year. We saw it in the fall and winter months in Michigan, and both of those surges, I believe, we curved, in part, because of active restrictions.”
- Gilpin said he does believe Michigan needs more restrictions to fight this surge. -- “I think that yes, we do have to have some level of commitment to restrict some of those activities in the community.”
- Gilpin said he’s aware that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has made a strong recommendation for people to take it upon themselves to follow voluntary restrictions. -- “I think that the people who are going to do the right things are already doing the right things. The people who are not doing the right things will not do the right things. So I think some of that (voluntary restrictions) is preaching to the choir, unfortunately.”
- “At a time like this, right now, in Southeast Michigan and Michigan at large, I do think that we have to be a little bit more prescriptive right now,” Gilpin said.
- Gilpin said Whitmer has an incredible difficult job right now in balancing the virus with the “radioactive political environment.”
- Beaumont is holding the line “as much as possible” in terms of necessary surgical procedures. Gilpin said if someone has surgery to remove cancer, those surgeries are not being postponed.
- “But at the same time, we have to look at certain surgical procedures that are done on a more elective basis that may not be of an urgent matter that we could potentially postpone right now,” Gilpin said.
- Many Beaumont hospitals are postponing those elective surgeries because they’re overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. For example, someone with a scheduled elective knee replacement that would require them to stay in the hospital for days afterward might have to be postponed.
- Non-COVID surgeries are being looked at on a case-by-case basis, which requires resources, but is the best way to approach it, Gilpin said.
Third surge statistics and facts
- This is the third COVID-19 surge for Southeast Michigan and the fourth surge for the United States as a whole. The three Michigan surges were in March/April 2020, November through January and right now.
- During the second surge (November 2020 through January 2021), Beaumont was caring for more than 700 COVID-19 patients in its eight-hospital system.
- Gilpin said the third surge is “just like a runaway train right now.”
- There are more than 800 patients with COVID-19 in Beaumont’s eight hospitals right now.
- Most Beaumont hospitals are floating very close to their capacity. It’s expected that Beaumont hospitals will soon be at their ceiling in terms of capacity.
- Grant said as of Thursday morning (April 15), most Beaumont hospitals are between 90% and 95% capacity.
- “It’s tight,” Gilpin said. “Every day each of our sites meets very actively to see what they can do to create space.”
- So far, Beaumont hospitals haven’t had to create additional space or move patients to the lawn.
- Another factor contributing to hospital capacity filling up during this surge: Many people were avoiding the hospital with non-COVID issues last year because they were afraid of going in with so many COVID patients. Hospitals were almost exclusively COVID hospitals. That’s not the case during this surge.
- “If we continue to see COVID numbers rise, we’ll have to make some accommodations, open up some additional beds, but again, the challenge here and the theme of the day is: Where are we going to get that staff from?” Gilpin said.
- The strategy for Beaumont right now in trying to make it through this surge is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
- About 40% of Michigan residents over age 16 have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, and about 25% are fully vaccinated.
- “We’re seeing in our hospitals younger patients by and large -- a slightly younger demographic,” Gilpin said. “That makes sense when you think about it because we’ve done a very good job of vaccinating some of the older individuals over 65.”
- As the demographic that’s most vulnerable to getting COVID-19 shifts to a younger group, Beaumont isn’t seeing as many severe cases of disease overall. But there are still incredibly sick patients.
- The average age of patients in hospitals during the first two surges was in the 60s. For this surge, the average age is down around the low 50s.
- Younger patients with COVID-19 seem to be suffering a lower severity of illness in terms of length of stay and ICU capacity. However, there is a segment of younger patients with very severe cases of COVID-19, including children.
Reasons for surge
- The surge is being driven largely by a younger, unvaccinated demographic who are doing more things in the community that will spread the virus.
- People are gathering together in large groups, spending more time indoors and visiting bars and restaurants. -- “We know all of those things will drive transmission,” Gilpin said.
- There are virus-specific variables, such as the B117 variant from the United Kingdom, that are even more transmissible.
- Weather is also a variable. Even though Michigan has warmer weather right now, it still is conducive to more indoor activities than outdoor activities, Gilpin said. By contrast, Florida’s warmer climate makes it easier for people to do activities outdoors.
- The cooler weather and drier air makes it easier for the virus to move around.
- “When you look at all of those variables, I think it’s a bit of a perfect storm to explain why Michigan is where they are right now,” Gilpin said.
Toll on hospital staff
- Beaumont has enough personal protection equipment and ventilators, but this surge has been extremely taxing on its staff. -- “We are strained from a staffing perspective,” Gilpin said.
- “At this time last year, none of us would have imagined, going through that extraordinarily difficult time, that we would be here again, same time this year,” Grant said. “That we would be working and seeing so many patients who are infected with the coronavirus. Hundreds and hundreds of them coming through our emergency rooms.”
- Grant said after having done this for over a year now, hospital workers are tired and worn out both physically and mentally. -- “They want this to go away.”
- “That emotional exhaustion has come from experiencing and being present for, observing the enormous toll that this virus has taken on patients, on families, on their own personal lives,” Grant said. “They have seen a lot of death over the last year, and now, they are experiencing and seeing younger people who are in our ICU beds, who are very, very sick, who are in the emergency rooms and our hospital beds who are very sick, and some who are dying.”
- Nurses told Grant the most difficult part about this surge is seeing younger people coming into the hospitals with COVID-19. They’re heartbroken by the loss and toll it continues to take on young people and families.
- Beaumont has reached out to external agencies to bring in supplemental staff to help with vaccine clinics and to deal with the surge of cases.
- “It literally is an all hands on deck, and people are willing to step up and do what they need to do, but we need help,” Grant said.
- With hospital volumes increasing, Beaumont is in contact with other health systems when it comes to possible transfers and managing how full certain hospitals become.
- Grant was asked if she’s worried about nurses leaving the profession because of the demands being put on them by the pandemic. -- “We worry about it every day, and we are seeing it already, unfortunately. It’s very concerning.”
- Some nurses who might have been considering retirement in the upcoming years have retired early because of the strains of caring for COVID-19 patients, Grant said.
Ways to slow the spread
- The public can start to slow the spread of the virus by doing simple things like wearing a mask, staying home when sick and getting tested when sick.
- Most importantly, Michiganders should get vaccinated as quickly as possible -- as soon as they’re eligible to do so.
- “We all know people in our lives who are doubters, or who don’t feel that coronavirus is a severe illness, or that the consequences may not be severe -- particularly if we’re young,” Gilpin said. “I think we need to rewrite that thinking, because frankly, I have had the unfortunate opportunity to care for a number of very young patients without significant medical conditions who have struggled with COVID.”
- “I just worry that we’re so upside down in terms of our thinking about this, that it would be better to get COVID than to get a COVID vaccine, and I think that that is just completely the wrong way to go about this,” Gilpin said.
- Gilpin said people should have conversations with people close to them who doubt the vaccine and encourage them to get vaccinated. -- “The vaccine absolutely does work.”
- “Don’t leave us now,” Grant said. “Stick with us. Continue to do your part. Continue to wear your mask. Get your vaccine when you’re able to. Maintain that social distancing, hand washing -- all those things we’ve all learned so much about over this past year that we know will work so we can flatten this curve.”
- Beaumont does have a structure to deliver monoclonal antibodies to patients.
- It’s a complicated process with many logistical considerations, but Beaumont is using resources and has a team working on that front.
- “It’s a delicate balance of supply and demand,” Gilpin said. When monoclonal antibodies were first available, the demand was high and the supply was small, so Beaumont couldn’t accommodate everyone.
- Beaumont has two clinics focusing on the monoclonal antibodies treatments, but it’s very resource-intensive.