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Hospitals to Whitmer: Extend COVID-19 restrictions through holiday season

The receiving area of Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.
Spectrum Health
Spectrum Health's Level I Trauma Center is located in Butterworth Hospital's emergency department in Grand Rapids.

The chief medical officers of Michigan's hospitals and health systems issued an urgent plea Monday to the governor and state health officials, asking for an extension through the holidays of the three-week COVID-19 restrictions that are due to expire Tuesday.

They said the temporary restrictions — which suspended in-person classes at high schools and colleges statewide, along with eat-in dining at restaurants and bars and canceled organized sports and group exercise classes — have helped to stabilize the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan, but it hasn't been enough.

"To see meaningful change that truly alleviates stress on the healthcare system, we urge the state to extend protections through the holiday season," said the statement, released by the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, which represents all 133 community hospitals in the state.

"We still don’t know what impact Thanksgiving will have, but we do know that with the recent pause, we’re seeing some slight improvements. As a state, we must not let our guard down and reverse this progress."

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the three-week pause Nov. 15 to slow the spread of the virus, the state was seeing an exponential growth in new coroanvirus cases, and some models showed Michigan was on a path to mark 1,000 COVID-19 deaths a week. Many feared hospital systems would be overwhelmed.

With the end of the restrictions approaching even as the state is recording a seven-day average of 6,431 new daily cases and 117 daily deaths, Whitmer is expected to make an announcement during a 2:30 p.m. news conference Monday. Since March, Michigan has recorded 395,036 confirmed coronavirus cases and 9,854 deaths.

The hospital leaders say the state's health care system is still in crisis, and asked the public to help slow the spread of the virus.

"Our hospitals continue to face critical healthcare worker staffing shortages and troubling bed capacity numbers. Our teams on the front lines are exhausted as this second surge continues; we never truly recovered from the first. Now, data is indicating slight declines in COVID-19 emergency department visits, daily admissions and total hospitalizations. As physicians, we’re telling you: These measures are working." "We urge Michiganders to continue taking preventive measures — stay home whenever possible, wear a mask, maintain at least six feet of distance from others, avoid crowds (especially indoor spaces where masks are removed), do not congregate with people other than those from your own household, get your flu shot and wash your hands frequently. Urge your friends, family and acquaintances to do the same."

While hospital leaders are encouraging the governor and state health officials to continue the COVID-19 restrictions through the holiday season, the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association is lobbying to reopen. The temporary ban on indoor dining has made it difficult for bars and restaurants to stay afloat, the association says.

The MRLA sued the state in federal court, asking a judge to overturn the restrictions on indoor dining. But the effort failed when U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney issued a written ruling last week denying the request for a temporary injunction.

The Detroit Free Press, Bridge Michigan and Michigan Radio have teamed up to report on Michigan hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. If you work in a Michigan hospital, we would love to hear from you. You can contact Kristen Jordan Shamus at kshamus@freepress.com, Robin Erb at rerb@bridgemi.com or Kate Wells at Katwells@umich.edu.

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