States across the country, including Michigan, are experiencing record numbers of COVID-19 infections. As the cases continue to rise, the University of Michigan hospital system, Michigan Medicine, is preparing for the increased hospitalizations which are likely to follow.
As of Thursday, Michigan has a total of 236,235 COVID cases and 7,811 COVID deaths. This comes as cases in the U.S. hit more than 10.8 million cases and deaths reach close to 250,000. The number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations has hit record numbers, with over 65,000 nationwide for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer warned this could be the worst part of the pandemic yet for the state at a press conference Thursday.
“This is the moment that medical experts have been warning us about and dreading since the beginning of this pandemic,” Whitmer said. “Our case numbers are skyrocketing here in Michigan.”
Robert Hyzy, an internal medicine and Michigan Medicine medical director of the critical care unit, said Michigan Medicine has been experiencing a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
“The last two weeks have really been a noticeable uptick in activity,” Hyzy said. “Things have really started to take off again, unfortunately.”
The hospital system is preparing to transition certain units back to primarily serving COVID-19 patients. The hospital command center has also been reactivated, Hyzy said, which allows a wide variety of people, including doctors, nurses, maintenance workers and infectious control experts, to give daily updates.
Robert Dickson, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, said Michigan Medicine is working to re-expand its capacity to care for COVID-19 patients, in terms of both space and staff.
“We have expanded our capacity in a number of ways,” Dickson said. “We converted what was recently a moderate care unit into a fully functional ICU, we have put additional ICU physicians on the service and we have provided additional training for moderate care nurses to provide critical care to patients.”
As cases continue to rise and hospitals continue to prepare, some specialty hospitals in Southeast Michigan have begun to offer their extra space to major health systems. On top of this, some non-health care businesses have also begun to offer space for low-acuity patients.
‘We never stopped our preparation and planning’
Compared to the spring, Dickson said Michigan Medicine is more prepared now for a rise in cases.
“We’re more prepared because we’ve seen this movie before,” Dickson said. “We didn’t know what to expect in March really, at that point all we had were anecdotes from our colleagues in Asia and Europe. By now we have a luxury of lots and lots of experience, randomized controlled trials and rigorously done observational studies.”
Michigan Medicine has also gained specific medical knowledge in the past months of the pandemic that will help the hospital provide better care to COVID-19 patients, Dickson said.
“I think we’re smarter about what not to do as much as we are smarter about what to do,” Dickson said. “I do think one thing we learned over and over, is that more important than any given drug for COVID, is outstanding meticulous evidence based critical care practices.”
Jeffery Desmond, chief medical officer of Michigan Medicine, said Michigan Medicine never stopped preparing for a rise in cases.
“We never stopped our preparation and planning,” Desmond said. “Even when we were on that plateau during the summer and early fall.”
Desmond also said Michigan Medicine has been at the forefront of preparations and use of new knowledge since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We were one of the early hospitals in the country to require masks for everyone in the hospital,” Desmond said. “We did that because we felt the data was suggestive that it would be protective for our employees and for our patients … and it turns out universal use of masks really provides protection for employees and for patients.”
This moment in the pandemic is also different, Desmond said, because Michigan Medicine is continuing to treat regular patients and COVID-19 patients, which they didn’t do in the spring because of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders restricting nonessential treatment.
“We have reverted back to more normal care,” Desmond said. “Now, we’re in the midst of managing COVID patients and non-COVID care simultaneously in the hospital.”
However, Desmond said he believes Michigan Medicine is more than capable of rising to this challenge.
Desmond also said Michigan Medicine has recently been able to somewhat recover from the poor financial performance of the summer and early fall. He said the hospital system has been able to reinstate retirement match and professional development funding.
Nursing sophomore Britney Nguyen agreed with Desmond and Dickson, noting that there is a more widespread understanding of how the pandemic should be handled now than there was last spring.
“I think we’re more prepared,” Nguyen said. “I think everyone just being on the same page with the pandemic has really helped and just getting a University-wide consensus on what steps we need to be taking.”
Health care workers ask students to follow public health guidelines
Both students and medical professionals in Ann Arbor said they see the role students can play in slowing the spread of COVID-19 — and are asking them to remain vigilant as cases rise.
Nursing senior Joyce Lee wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily that nursing students have had to be open to changes while completing clinical hours in the hospital.
“As a nursing student we have to be flexible in general and especially during a pandemic,” Lee wrote. “As with most students, most formats are virtual, and clinical are in-person. For one of my clinicals I am a contact tracer and there have been moments of more contacts at certain points.”
Hyzy also said it is important for students to be safe and make good decisions to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“I would implore your readers to be good citizens,” Hyzy said. “You might get by with a milder case of COVID but … people are dying and more people will die, though admittedly fewer than the spring. But this is very serious stuff. And I’m telling you, it’s starting to really take off again.”
Daily Staff Reporter Paige Hodder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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