ER doctor: Keep stay home order, West Mich. is on COVID-19 upslope

By: - April 17, 2020 11:50 am

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Three weeks after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put the state under a stay home order to stop the spread of COVID-19, some Michiganders are getting restless to reopen businesses. And the Democratic governor and the GOP-led Legislature seem headed to a battle over when to lift restrictions. 

But members of the medical field are urging leaders to wait longer to get more medical resources and learn more about the virus.

Rob Davidson

Opening up all businesses too soon could overwhelm the state’s medical system, West Michigan emergency Dr. Rob Davidson said. The state would simply end up playing “whack-a-mole,” reopening businesses and then closing them due to spikes in infection rates. The problem would be destined to repeat itself, lengthening the duration of stay home orders.

“I hate the idea of pitting the health part against the economy,” said Davidson. “It all goes together. You can’t handle all these patients if we have these little mini-surges in different areas at different times. That is going to absolutely cripple our economy.”

Davidson, who ran for Congress in 2018 as a Democrat, now heads the Chicago-based doctors group the Committee to Protect Medicare. The organization has pressed President Trump to declare a national stay home order to no avail. The Trump administration is releasing plans to “reopen” economies soon, despite a widespread testing shortage.

Michigan has the fourth-most COVID-19 cases in the nation with 29,263 as of Thursday. All but six of Michigan’s 83 counties have cases. There have been 2,093 deaths.

Even as state officials have talked about the curve starting to flatten, Davidson said it’s important to realize the curve is happening at different times for different areas. Though Southeast Michigan is reaching its peak, West Michigan is on the upslope and isn’t expected to peak for another four to six weeks, he said.

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Despite hospitals around the state doing their best to prepare for a surge in patients, staff is a finite resource, Davidson said. There are only so many respiratory therapists and so many tests. Davidson, like many doctors around the state, doesn’t have the option to give tests for COVID-19 to every patient, even if they clearly display symptoms. Tests can’t be given to too many people who are not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital.

“The more patients we get in a short period, particularly sick people who need to be intubated or need to be on BiPAP [Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure] or need nebulizers, the higher the risk of having staff members get sick and taking them off the line, further exacerbating the our personnel situation,” Davidson said.

It is short sighted to advocate for lifting restrictions, Davidson said. If the state waits for more data and for more people to be able to be tested, they can better manage the virus. He adds that “until there is a treatment or a vaccine there is no back to normal.”

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Davidson said he gets where Republican leaders in the Legislature are coming from in wanting to open up businesses and doesn’t suspect ulterior motives. People are stressed and this is a terrible situation to be in, he said, but reopening businesses in “an unintelligent, non-data driven way will make things worse.”

“I think it’s 100% about having data and having a data-driven decision, not a decision based on the fact that we’re just tired of doing this and we want things to be better,” Davidson said. “No matter how much [House] Speaker [Lee] Chatfield (R-Levering) or [Senate Majority] Leader [MIke] Shirkey (R-Clarklake) want this to all be past, the virus isn’t going to care. It’s just gonna do what it’s going to do.”

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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols covers government and statewide issues, including criminal justice, environmental issues, education and domestic and sexual violence. Anna is a former state government reporter for The Associated Press and most recently was a reporter for the Detroit News. Anna is a graduate of Michigan State University.