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With many hospitals still full, state reports a slight decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations

courtesy of Spectrum Health
Spectrum Health's Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids


A word that’s been in short supply in Michigan hospitals recently.

But now, just maybe, there's a sign of it.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Michigan declined slightly on Thursday, dropping to 3,793 adults with confirmed cases of the disease. The number is still below the peak number last seen in Michigan in the spring. But it represents a brief, welcome respite after a steep rise in cases that started in October.

“My hope is that the increased social distancing measures, and some of the restrictions that have been put in place, have led to decreased hospitalizations,” says Dr. Joshua Kooistra, chief medical officer at Spectrum Health West Michigan. “I can’t prove it, but that is my hope.”

The number of confirmed COVID-19 patients at Spectrum Health’s hospitals in West Michigan has been declining since last week, before the Thanksgiving holiday, though Kooistra says there hasn’t been a decline in the number of patients in ICUs at the hospital system.

“The fact that we’ve gone from 360 inpatients to 300 patients is maybe a welcome reprieve,” Dr. Kooistra says. “But we are still preparing for higher numbers yet, and are realistically expecting that.”

Statewide data show a 22% decline in coronavirus patients in the past week for the 13 counties in West Michigan that make up Region 6 of the state’s health system. Region 5, which covers Southwest Michigan, saw a slight decline in patients since last week, according to the state.

But numbers have continued to climb in much of the rest of the state, including in metro Detroit, which has the highest numbers of coronavirus patients.

Only 419 adult ICU beds are currently available for the entire state.

And while the pace of new hospitalizations may have slowed in the past week, the state has little room for another surge in cases. 

The state’s dashboard showed 25 hospitals were at or above 90% capacity as of Thursday. Only 419 adult ICU beds are currently available for the entire state, and the situation is worse in some areas than others. The state reported only 11 available adult ICU beds for the entire Upper Peninsula on Thursday. The region around Lansing had only 18 available adult ICU beds, and the region that includes both Kalamazoo and Battle Creek had just 24.

In many areas, frontline hospital workers say they’re exhausted from a surge in coronavirus patients that’s dragged on now for more than a month. Many have gotten sick themselves, which leaves even fewer workers to care for sick patients.

So while the last week has brought a glimmer of hope and a reprieve from the onslaught of patients that arrived through much of October and November, health care workers are still asking for people to take precautions against the virus.

“They are on the front lines every day. And they need our help right now,” says Ruthanne Sudderth, of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. “If we do the right things that we know work – that we saw work earlier this year – if we wear masks, if we avoid social gatherings, that’s the best holiday gift that we can give our health care workers this season.”

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Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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