DETROIT – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer warned Tuesday that a Detroit-area hospital system was “almost at capacity” treating people with the coronavirus, as the state’s stay-at-home order kicked in to reduce the spread.
The governor, speaking about her measure with WDET-FM, pointed to Beaumont Health, which has eight hospitals in Wayne and Oakland counties and describes itself as Michigan’s largest health care system.
“Let’s be very clear: Beaumont Health is almost at capacity right now. We have not seen the worst of it yet,” she said. “The numbers are going to continue to climb.”
Nearly 1,800 people have tested positive in Michigan for the coronavirus. Roughly 73% of cases — about 1,300 — are in Wayne County, which is home to Detroit, and adjacent Oakland County. COVID-19 deaths have climbed by nine, to at least 24.
Oakland University, which sent students home, has offered its dorms, arena and parking lots to Beaumont for makeshift medical purposes. The president, Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, who is a physician, predicted local health care providers will become swamped. She said residence halls could be used to isolate people.
Beaumont said it was caring for nearly 450 admitted patients with confirmed cases and 185 with test results pending. Patients are being transferred to other Beaumont hospitals if one has more capacity than another, and some operating rooms are being converted into intensive care units.
“However, across our system, we are facing limitations and nearing capacity with our staffing, personal protective equipment and mechanical ventilators,” said chief operating officer Carolyn Wilson. CEO John Fox said Beaumont is in “uncharted territory” and will soon look at the need for coordinating care with other hospitals and Michigan’s health department.
Oakland County Executive David Coulter said the county was working with the National Guard to potentially set up a mobile hospital and talking to hotels, conference centers and colleges about housing infected people. Patients could include those who may need to be isolated and quarantined but not hospitalized.
“We’re going to prepare for a worst-case scenario because that could happen sooner rather than later,” he said.
Whitmer has barred employers from requiring workers to leave their homes unless necessary to protect life or conduct minimum basic operations during the pandemic. There are exceptions, including grocery stores, banks, gas stations and restaurants offering carry-out or food for delivery.
Also Tuesday, state Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon ordered labs to prioritize sampling and testing for COVID-19 and to quickly report results and deaths. Hospitals were told to timely report their bed and lab testing capacity, personal protective equipment inventory, and the number of ventilated patients and ventilators.
In Petoskey, in northern Michigan, Emmet County Sheriff Pete Wallin said deputies will investigate complaints about people violating Whitmer’s command but that “there will not be any arrests.” Other police agencies have offered similar messages.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The majority of people recover.
A Detroit police dispatcher who caught the virus when he traveled outside Michigan died Monday. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the 38-year-old man was not feeling well when he returned to work on March 16 after a trip.
“This disease can’t spread person to person if we’re not out there,” Whitmer said Monday in pleading with people to stay home.
Meanwhile, the United Auto Workers reported Tuesday night that two member workers died from COVID-19-related illnesses. One worked at the Fiat Chrysler assembly plant in Kokomo, Indiana, while the other worked at the Fiat Chrysler plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan. “This is a terrible tragedy for our entire UAW family,” said UAW President Rory Gamble in a Facebook posting.
Separately, more than 280 Detroit officers were off work awaiting test results or self-quarantining, although roughly 150 were expected to return by the end of the week, Duggan said. The department has about 2,200 officers, according to its website.
Meijer, which has stores in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky, is urging shoppers to keep reusable bags at home and instead use store bags to keep people safe.
The state said it ordered two companies in Rockford, near Grand Rapids, to stop pitching a “coronavirus defender patch” to protect people. The patch was priced at $49.99 or free if a customer buys a 45-day supply of other patches. “Simply wrong,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said.
Her office late Tuesday urged residents wanting to report violations of Whitmer’s stay-at-home directive to call local law enforcement, not the state’s “overwhelmed” consumer protection line. Nessel said her team is focused on cracking down on price-gouging and scams related to the virus outbreak.
People who do not comply with the order to stay home could face a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail.
Associated Press writers Ed White and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.