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Hospitalization Rates for COVID Still Rising in Michigan

Pandemic inpatient counts were up to 123 on Wednesday, 24 more than the network's previous high during a spring 2021 spike of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Munson Healthcare numbers show.

(TNS) - Hospitalization rates for COVID-19 across Munson Healthcare's hospital network pushed higher into record territory.

Pandemic inpatient counts were up to 123 on Wednesday, 24 more than the network's previous high during a spring 2021 spike of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Munson Healthcare numbers show. Of those, 69 were in Munson Medical Center in Traverse City.

That comes just more than a week after Munson officials announced the hospital network was moving to its pandemic response level "red," both because of an influx in pandemic and other patients, and staffing constraints, as previously reported. That means the hospital network paused or delayed some non-essential services and surgeries while trimming outpatient clinic and lab hours to prioritize pandemic-related care.

Munson Healthcare spokesman Brian Lawson said the hospital network's clinical incident command meets daily to discuss what further steps should be taken.

To the south, Region Six Healthcare Coalition officials warned hospital systems there are nearing the brink. Jerry Evans, coalition medical director, said test positivity rates are 20 to 25 percent, a high number that means the region hasn't topped out for COVID-19 hospitalizations.

"We're seeing all of our hospitals in Region Six ... all of those hospitals have full ICUs, our beds are full and at our hospitals, our ERs are backed up," he said.

Hospital bed and ICU occupancy rates for Region Seven — 17 counties across the northern Lower Peninsula including Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau — are high as well. State figures show 579 out of 915 inpatient beds occupied, and 140 out of 165 ICU beds occupied as of Wednesday.

Lawson said Munson Healthcare moved to level "red" because reaching the tipping point is a risk.

"Right now we're caring for our patients and managing it, but we really need the rate of infections and the rate of hospitalization to slow down," he said.

Patients in Region Six can expect longer wait times for ER visits, urgent and primary care, ambulance transfers and more, while surgeries may be delayed, according to a release from Region Six Healthcare Coalition. More people getting vaccinated against COVID-19 would reduce the patient load, as most of those admitted with the disease are unvaccinated.

"This is impacting our ability to care for those who are seriously injured in a car accident, suffer a heart attack, stroke, or experience another medical emergency or issue," the release stated.

Grand Traverse County Health Department Director Wendy Hirschenberger said there's a statewide increase in COVID-19 cases that's particularly affecting those 20 and younger. The surge is worse in age groups with lower vaccination rates, while some infection clusters have started with large group gatherings — Halloween parties, or entire households getting sick, for example.

In Grand Traverse County, there has been a 102 percent increase in cases over two weeks, but for the 20 and younger group it has been worse: a 211 percent spike, Hirschenberger said.

Schools in the region have largely remained open, with Traverse City Area Public Schools Superintendent John VanWagoner saying he has no intention of closing schools. But, he added, he's looking at local health data and attendance rates every day.

The surge in cases is yet another reminder to get vaccinated for those who haven't already, and get a booster shot for those who qualify, Hirschenberger said. Statewide data shows that 1.5 percent of cases detected by testing operations are among the vaccinated, and the majority of hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among unvaccinated people.

Grand Traverse County Health Department isn't considering issuing any new public health orders because the increase is a statewide one. Hirschenberger said she doubted there would be any new statewide orders because the response has come down to people assessing their individual risk and taking individual responsibility.

"Those who are not (fully vaccinated) are taking a much higher risk if they are not mitigating in other ways, not only for themselves but the people around them," she said.

Booster shots are currently available to anyone 65 or older, or those 18 and up with underlying conditions or high-risk jobs, as previously reported.

The health department's booster clinics are filling up, as are its clinics for 5- to 11-year-olds, Hirschenberger said. She expects a decision soon on whether to make booster shots more widely available — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is set to take up the question Thursday.

Lawson echoed the call to get back to pandemic basics: wash hands, wear masks, socially distance and stay home if you're sick.

"We really need to get back to focusing on these things right now as we see the numbers rise across the region," he said.

Evans said that while it's important that people who don't need the ER visit urgent care or their primary care doctor, that doesn't mean people who do need it should avoid it.

"We don't want people sitting at home with stroke symptoms or heart attack symptoms or severe diabetic problems and not coming to the ER," he said.

Record-Eagle reporter Grace George contributed to this article.


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