As omicron spreads in Michigan, overwhelmed doctors urge vaccinations, boosters

By: - January 4, 2022 3:01 pm

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

As the omicron variant spreads rapidly through the state, hospitals continue to be overburdened with COVID-19 patients and staffing shortages, doctors from Henry Ford Health System in Southeast Michigan say. 

“The continuous spread of covid within our community not only puts a strain on our health systems because of the bed occupancy, but also the spread exposes our frontline health workers to community spread,” said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Henry Ford. 

Dr. Adnan Munkarah, the executive vice president and chief clinical officer of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. | Henry Ford Health System photo

As of Monday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported there are 289 omicron cases total in Allegan, Calhoun, Clinton, Genesee, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Marquette, Monroe, Oakland, Ottawa, Saginaw, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. There also are 11 omicron cases reported by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).

In the last week, Henry Ford, the state’s second-largest hospital system, has had 686 employees test positive with COVID-19, causing them to temporarily close 97 beds in three hospitals. 

To combat hospitals from being overburdened during the pandemic, medical care providers continue to urge Michiganders to get vaccinated as hospitalization rates and positivity rates climb. 

“Unfortunately, we are starting to see the effects of the holiday and the fast spreading omicron variant,” Munkarah said. 

The state reported Monday a total of 1,568,573 COVID-19 cases and 27,286 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic — an additional 61,235 cases and 298 deaths since Thursday. The state reported an average of 12,247 cases each day since Thursday.

As of Tuesday, Henry Ford hospitals have 480 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 — a 25% increase compared to the week prior. 

Henry Ford hospitals had nearly 5,000 people test positive for COVID-19, which is the highest number of positive tests in one week that the health care system has seen in the entire year of 2021.

Since Saturday, more than 1,700 people have tested passes through Henry Ford labs.

As the demand for testing increases, the limited staffing in these hospitals becomes an even greater challenge. 

“The biggest challenge, honestly, that we are having at this point is the ability to have enough staff to do the swabbing,” said Munkarah. “It is not the ability to do the tests, because we can run them in batches, but we don’t have enough staff to do the nasal swabs for the … significantly increased demand of testing.”

Most of the people in Henry Ford hospitals, as well as statewide, who are hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

As of Monday, 65% of the 300 patients who are hospitalized at Henry Ford with COVID have not had any vaccination shots and 95% of patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 have not got their booster vaccine.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (U.S.) authorized Monday booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for children in the 12-to-15 age group.

There are some ways to help individuals who have serious COVID-19 symptoms, but Dr. Dennis Cunningham, system medical director of Infection Control and Prevention at Henry Ford, said these options are limited and are “not a substitute for vaccination.”

The hospital system just put in new criteria for who can receive monoclonal antibody treatment, which helps to neutralize the virus. Because of a limited supply, only people 75 years and older, people with severe lung disease. people on dialysis, people with a body mass index greater than 40,  immunocompromised people and pregnant people will receive this treatment. 

The hospital system was down to only 30 doses of monoclonal antibodies Tuesday morning before a shipment came in this afternoon. Cunningham said the hospitals would easily have gone through all 30 doses that day. 

“The more we can get people vaccinated and the more we can get people boosted, these numbers will come down. The reality is that those predictions of the numbers coming up, we’ve been warning about that for weeks now, even before omicron was here,” Munkarah said. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.