9 COVID takeaways: ‘This surge is not like the others,’ and where Michigan is heading

Michigan’s percent positivity rises to 33.2%

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian (top right) and Director Elizabeth Hertel (bottom right), of MDHHS, talk about COVID in Michigan during a Jan. 11, 2022, briefing. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich. – With Michigan in the midst of its most dramatic COVID spike to date, health officials held a briefing to address this surge and talk about where the state is heading.

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and chief medical executive Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian spoke during the briefing.

Here are nine takeaways from the briefing:

‘This surge is not like the others’

Bagdasarian led off her presentation by saying her overall takeaway from the current COVID situation in Michigan is that this surge is different from the three previous ones we experienced.

“When we look at our new cases, our weekly cases per 100,000, we’re now at a point that we have not seen through this pandemic,” Bagdasarian said. “This is the highest number of weekly cases we’ve ever had.”

Michigan reported 129,937 weekly cases, and the state’s percent positivity has skyrocketed to 33.2%.

“This is a number we have not seen since the beginning of the pandemic, when tests were very limited,” Bagdasarian said.

In terms of hospitalizations, 21.9% of inpatient beds are filled with COVID patients.

“Again, the numbers that we’ve seen during this surge have not been seen at earlier times of the pandemic,” Bagdasarian said.

Holiday COVID surge

“We continue to see the rapid transmission, and a dramatic rise, of COVID-19 cases, which include the omicron variant,” Hertel said.

MDHHS reported a bump in COVID cases because of the holiday season, but not quite to the extent officials expected.

“That is because Michiganders did their part, including what they could to limit travel, gather safely and get tested,” Hertel said. “I want to thank all of you for that.”

The post-holiday trends have not been as promising. Bagdasarian said while there was a similar holiday surge in 2020, Michigan experienced a dramatic drop in cases afterward. This year, cases are sharply rising.

“We’re in a very different place than we’ve been before,” she said.

‘Very sharp crest’

“With the continued transmission of the delta variant, and the exponential spread of the even more contagious omicron variant, we’re heading toward what will likely be a very sharp crest in this wave of cases,” Hertel said.

Hospitalizations are also expected to increase, she said. Based on pediatric data, hospitalizations of children have increased after last week’s all-time high.

People in their 20s and 30s are experiencing the highest case rates of any group, according to Hertel.

“While breakthrough cases are to be expected with delta, and given the much greater transmissibility of omicron, people who are unvaccinated are still fueling the surging cases, but most especially hospitalizations and deaths,” Hertel said.

Case rate trends and average hospital admissions are increasing for all age groups.

Where we’re headed

MDHHS models project Michigan will see even greater increases in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths, based on the state’s current trajectory.

“The omicron surge is expected to hit us hard and fast,” Bagdasarian said.

She said models project a very “sharp and fast peak.”

“When we look at our most pessimistic model, we’re looking at about 200,000 cases per week in Michigan,” Bagdasarian said. “In fact, the most pessimistic model does seem to be the most accurate, when we look at some of the assumptions behind it.”

Hospitalizations in Michigan could peak somewhere around 8,000 per week, according to that model, she said.

The most optimistic curve looks similar to Michigan’s current situation, without much of an increase in hospitalizations.

“We don’t think that that is likely to be reflective of our next few weeks here in Michigan,” Bagdasarian said.

The most pessimistic models also show a “very steep increase” in deaths.

Bagdasarian said she is concerned because the most pessimistic models appear to be the most likely.

Government action in response to spike

MDHHS is responding to the recent spike in cases with three main strategies:

  1. Preventing deaths and severe outcomes.
  2. Protecting health care capacity.
  3. Keeping vital infrastructure, such as schools, functioning.

Five federal teams have been mobilized to help Michigan hospitals take care of patients -- one each at Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw, Mercy Muskegon Hospital and Henry Ford Hospital in Wyandotte.

“We’re deploying an additional 200 ventilators that we’ve received from the national strategic stockpile, and we’re working with local health departments and other partners to continue to hold vaccination clinics for the community,” Hertel said.

She said school districts should adopt or maintain universal masking and layer strategies that prevent the spread of COVID.

Michigan is also expanding testing resources by distributing free at-home tests to some public libraries, including in Detroit.

Bagdasarian outlined vaccines, masks, distancing, ventilation, tests and antibody treatment as tools that will be utilized going forward.

Children with COVID

Dr. Lauren Yagiela, MD, MS, a pediatric critical care physician at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, joined the briefing to talk about what she’s seen while working with children who have COVID.

She said consistently throughout the pandemic, there have been children admitted to the pediatric intensive-care unit with serious and life-threatening illnesses related to COVID.

“In this current COVID surge, we are experiencing the highest number of COVID positive admissions to the hospital and the pediatric ICU since the beginning of the pandemic,” Yagiela said.

She said there are three main avenues through which children develop serious and life-threatening cases of COVID: pneumonia, myocarditis (heart inflammation) and multi system inflammatory syndrome.

“Many of these children have serious heart disfunction,” Yagiela said. “The children we have cared for with COVID pneumonia, COVID myocarditis and multi system organ syndrome have often required a variety of medical treatments to help support their hearts and lungs when they are sick.”

Many children have required serious procedures, including:

  • Breathing tubes and ventilators.
  • Medications to improve their heart function and raise their blood pressure after it drops dangerously low.
  • Placement of IVs in their necks or groins.
  • Heart-lung bypass, with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, meaning their blood has to be pumped out of their body to a machine that replaces the function of their heart and lungs.

Many children have developed febrile seizures, which occur in the setting of a fever, or continuous seizures that are dangerous to the brain, Yagiela said.

Children with diabetes and asthma have also seen serious complications due to COVID, she said.

Preparing for next wave

“For our state to avoid a sharp rise with this next wave, for this to work, starting now and for the next several weeks, we ask everyone to continue to keep their guard up and take action,” Hertel said.

She asked residents to be vigilant by layering different forms of protection from COVID, including wearing masks, keeping a safe distance and getting vaccinated.

“Avoid large gatherings, wash your hands regularly, and if you test positive, tell your close contacts right away and make sure that you remain isolated,” Hertel said. “If you feel sick and you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, take steps to keep others around you safe.”

Vaccinations

More than 5.7 million Michigan residents are fully vaccinated, and more than 2.5 million booster doses have been administered, according to MDHHS.

“This is a huge accomplishment, but we need more initial shots in arms, and boosters are so incredibly important in the fight against omicron,” Hertel said.

Everyone age 12 and up is eligible to receive a booster shot as early as five months after their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, and two months after a dose of Johnson & Johnson.

“Whether you are vaccinated, unvaccinated or received a booster, it is still important to wear a mask whenever you’re in a public setting,” Hertel said.

Non-emergency care

Anyone who has a health emergency should immediately go to an emergency room and seek care, but there are other options for non-emergency situations, officials said.

“If you are seeking non-emergent care, an urgent care (facility) or your primary care provider probably is your best option,” Hertel said.

At-home tests or COVID-19 test sites are the best locations for getting tested, not hospital emergency rooms, she said. Click here to visit the state’s COVID testing site.


About the Author:

Derick is a Senior Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.