Hospital Execs Urge People to Mask Up, Cancel Social Gatherings as State Sets New COVID-19 Case RecordNovember 13, 2020
Statewide hospital executives, including Detroit Regional Chamber Board of Directors members John Fox, CEO of Beaumont Health, and Wright L. Lassiter III, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System, gathered to issue important warnings to residents as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to surge. View a summary of the conversation in Crain’s Detroit Business below.
Michigan’s largest hospital systems fear the current surge of COVID-19 cases will overwhelm “exhausted” staff.
The executives of Beaumont Health, Henry Ford Health System, Munson Healthcare, Spectrum Health, UP Health System, and the Michigan Health & Hospital Association told media Thursday to urge the community to wear masks and cancel social gatherings to avoid the consequences of the unmitigated spread of the coronavirus.
The plea came the same day the state reported a new single-day record for new cases of coronavirus as the latest wave of infections shows no sign of abating.
“The health care system can capsize,” Beaumont Health CEO John Fox said. “Getting people to use the basic tools of prevention control is the issue. Use a mask. We have people in our own lobbies (that don’t want to wear a mask). We get resistance. This is a controllable pathogen. Masking, social distancing, and hand hygiene can do much to prevent the spread.”
Positivity rates are up, hospital beds are filling and hospitals are going to be stretched thin again as cases rise. Michigan reported 6,940 new cases and 45 deaths Thursday, the highest daily cases reported since the pandemic began. The number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 has increased as well to 2,798, up more than 40% from a week ago and 65 percent over 10 days.
Michigan’s seven-day rolling average number of cases is also skyrocketing, hitting 5,488 Thursday, up from about 150 in mid-June and a spring peak of about 1,600.
The positivity rates of COVID-19 testing at Spectrum is 15%, CEO Tina Freese Decker said, and 16.4% at Henry Ford labs, CEO Wright L. Lassiter III said.
The hospital executives believe the state will eclipse the spring peak of 3,986 hospitalized COVID-19 patients by late November but stress it’s not bed capacity that is the issue.
“We’re asking all Michiganders to support essential workers and health care with the kinds of practices that will help us help you,” Lassiter said. “Henry Ford Health System was one of the systems hit very hard in the spring. At our peak, we had 1,000-plus (COVID-19) patients. While today is not like that, we have been in the battle for the last eight months. When you’re in a battle that long, you lose a bit of steam and resiliency. I ask you to help them not having the volumes return as they were in the spring.”
Staffing is the major worry during this surge because the health systems can no longer pull nurses and doctors from outside the state to assist in COVID-19 care as the coronavirus is surging across the U.S., unlike the spring outbreaks, which were more regional.
The U.S. reported 145,835 new cases Wednesday, setting yet another record — the sixth in just eight days — as the number of people hospitalized nationwide topped 65,000 for the first time since the pandemic began early this year.
Field hospitals, like the state set up at TCF Center in Detroit and the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi in May and for which the state renewed the contracts in September, will not help the health systems fight the coronavirus, Lassiter said.
“The difference between November and April is we have COVID cases all over the country now,” Lassiter said. “When we had the need for field hospitals, there were only a dozen states that were overwhelmed. We could draw from other states for personnel. Now with so many cases, there are not excess critical care nurses or additional personnel to pull from.”
Gar Atchison, CEO and market president of the UP Health System-Marquette, said 61% of all intensive care unit patients in the Upper Peninsula are COVID-19 patients and with a 30% positivity rate from testing in recent days that number is expected to grow. Capacity issues hitting all the systems at once presents a problem for the rural communities, which are seeing the spread of the coronavirus faster than metro Detroit, for instance, said Ed Ness, Munson Healthcare president and CEO.
“Our positivity rate has tripled in the last four weeks,” Ness said. “It’s two and a half hours from Traverse City to Grand Rapids, the nearest major health system. That’s a long transfer, and it’s hard for family members. And it puts more pressure on downstate hospitals. Our communities, rural or metro, can really take precaution to bend the curve. Capacity issues are in the U.P. or Northern Michigan provide fewer safety valves for the transfer of patients elsewhere.”
Beyond just medical staff, county and state health departments are also overwhelmed, Freese Decker said. She said contact tracers were able to track 90% of new cases within 24 hours. Now that figure is down to roughly 60 percent as the virus surges past tracer capacity.
And the new surge of COVID-19 across the country is also crunching the heath systems’ ability to test patients and use education to slow the spread.
Fox said Beaumont’s supply of rapid tests from the federal government has been cut by 20% percent this week as those tests were reallocated to other parts of the country. Lassiter said Henry Ford labs could test and get the lab results of all PCR (nasal swab) tests done in a day in 12 hours, but now it’s struggling to get 60 percent of a single day’s worth of tests done in a 24-hour period due to the unavailability of testing supplies.
“Testing capacity is much higher (than in the spring) but … we need to do more of it and with faster turnaround times,” Freese Decker said. “Less than a day so (the patient) can take action and be quarantined. It’s critical we get more testing supplies in our community.”
A shortage of ventilators, however, appears to be a nonissue during the fall surge of the coronavirus thanks to improved therapeutics. Of the approximately 3,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state, just 255 are on ventilators, said Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association.
The executives hope an open plea to the public to wear masks in any social setting with those outside your home and an end of social gatherings will prevent further capacity issues. Where rules are not followed, the cases rise, Lassiter said.
“While we do see mask usage in many places, there are pockets where there’s not good compliance,” he said. “(Henry Ford) Macomb Hospital has the highest volume (of COVID-19) by far. Two times the number at Henry Ford Detroit. My team tells me there isn’t good (mask) compliance in the Macomb community. We see that in our facility, with people coming in challenging our mask policy.
“Forty percent of individuals are asymptomatic. Your friend or co-workers can be right next to you looking completely healthy and spreading, shedding the virus. That’s why mask wearing is so important.”
Executives agree that a mass shutdown of businesses, as ordered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in March, is not the solution.
“None of us want to go through the shutdown and the brute force of that,” Fox said. “I don’t think you need to do that. The government and all our communities play a critical role in reinforcing the way we can control the virus. The tools to control it are there. Constantly emphasize that. I don’t want to see a lot of regulations drop down on business, but we can’t be tone deaf. This is a very serious situation.”
But as the virus has been spreading throughout the community, it is infecting the workplace. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported 18 new outbreaks on Nov. 5 tied to offices and is tracking 21 previously reported outbreaks.
“Workplace outbreaks are increasing along with the state’s community numbers,” Director of COVID-19 Workplace Safety Sean Egan said in a news release. “While employers are working hard to mitigate the spread, congregation of individuals whether at the workplace or a social gathering can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Thursday it launched a “State Emphasis Program” to remind employers about the emergency rules under the pandemic, such as requiring employees to wear masks, keep employees home that can reasonably do so and other protocols, including having a written COVID-19 preparedness plan. MIOSHA said it will step up enforcement and random inspections. Employers not in compliance face up to a $7,000 fine.