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Wear masks, Michigan Medicine leaders tell public as hospitalizations surge

ANN ARBOR, MI — Michigan Medicine leaders are calling on the public to not let its guard down as hospitals across the state experience rapid surges in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

It’s imperative Michigan caregivers stay healthy so they can take care of an expected surge in cases this winter, Marschall Runge, Michigan Medicine CEO and dean of the University of Michigan’s medical school, said in a Thursday, Nov. 18 news conference that also announced a joint nationwide campaign to encourage mask wearing.

Michigan Medicine has joined around 100 of the nation’s top health care systems in the #MaskUp campaign, which urges all Americans to mask up, in an effort to slow the surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Runge said.

A large surge in cases requiring hospitalizations for COVID-19 due to the lack of adherence to mitigation strategies has the potential to overwhelm health systems, said Laraine Washer, Michigan Medicine’s medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology.

“I’m very glad that we at Michigan Medicine are joining with healthcare systems nationwide to encourage the simple behaviors that are proven to work: Mask up, socially distance, wash your hands,” Washer said.

Like many other hospitals across the state, Michigan Medicine is facing short staffing, Runge said, adding the healthcare system is developing a plan to make sure it can provide necessary care.

“Given the widespread community transmission, hospitals are also managing staffing limitations due to employee illness, absences and responsibilities for childcare,” Washer said.

During the past three weeks, Michigan Medicine has seen an increase in COVID-19 patients, Runge said. This week alone, Michigan Medicine had as many as 75 COVID-19 positive patients at one time, with up to 20 of them being critically ill and requiring ICU care, officials said.

“Following the spring and early summer COVID surge — the first wave, so to speak — we resumed care of many non-COVID patients that need hospitalization, and our hospitals are about 90% full as a result,” Runge said. “With that high occupancy, which we did manage pre-COVID, that puts additional strain on our response to the pandemic.”

The health system’s testing capacity is approximately 10,000 COVID-19 tests per week, while its laboratories continue to develop new strategies to implement different types of COVID tests, officials said.

Michigan Medicine’s testing results recently showed about 14% of those tested are testing positive for COVID, well above the 5% mark reported for most of the summer months, Runge said.

“At Michigan Medicine, and all of Michigan’s healthcare providers, we need your help,” Runge said. “To combat a pandemic we need supplies, we need space and most importantly staff.”

The increased hospital capacity is putting a burden on the number of beds, as well as staff and healthcare providers, Runge said. A large surge of cases also carries a risk of challenging the amount of personal protective equipment required to keep healthcare workers safe, health officials said.

The number of confirmed cases in Michigan reached more than 277,800 this week, including 8,190 deaths.

“Despite what you may have heard about COVID-19 being no big deal, that is simply not correct,” Runge said. “This is not an easy message. We’re all fatigued, we’re all stressed. But this is exactly the wrong time to let up.”

Scientists are still learning about the long-term effects of COVID-19 that can have detrimental health consequences, Runge said. He cited new Michigan Medicine research about lasting effects in previously hospitalized patients.

“This is not a benign disease. Yes, many people infected do not require hospitalization. But many die and many others will never regain their health,” Runge said.

“We all must be vigilant in the behaviors that will protect us, our families, and our neighbors: wear a mask, socially distance, and practice frequent hand hygiene. These practices are our best defense against a disease that we still are trying to understand.”

While vaccines will hopefully be available soon, it will be many months before enough people are immunized to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Runge said.

READ MORE FROM THE ANN ARBOR NEWS:

COVID-19 cases rise in Washtenaw County as risk of exposure reaches all-time high

What you need to know about Ann Arbor’s COVID-19 emergency operational changes

More than just high schools are going or staying virtual in Washtenaw County

Ypsilanti Fraternal Order of Eagles events identified as possible COVID-19 exposure sites

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