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Beaumont Health at "breaking point" as COVID patients up 40%

 A person wearing PPE looks into the room of a COVID patient.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
A person wearing PPE looks into the room of a COVID patient.

Beaumont Health, one of the largest health systems in Michigan, is at a “breaking point” after COVID-19 patients jumped by 40% since last week. Meanwhile, 430 staff are out with symptoms of the virus, prompting leaders to urge hospitals to “strongly consider” delaying elective surgeries and procedures.

“We really are at a point where it’s the worst it’s ever been and we’re afraid it’s going to get even worse next week,” said Dr. Jeffrey Fischgrund, Beaumont’s chief of clinical services and an orthopedic spine surgeon.

A team of about 20 Department of Defense medical workers are extending their mission at a Beaumont hospital in Dearborn through the end of the month. As of Thursday morning, some 750 people, including 36 kids, were hospitalized with COVID across Beaumont’s eight hospitals. Community transmission of the omicron variant is out of control, and while there are some early indicators that fewer people may wind up in the ICU, it’s still overwhelming hospitals.

“It's frankly a juggernaut,” Dr. Nick Gilpin, Beaumont’s director of infection prevention, said of omicron’s rapid spread. “This virus is extremely explosive. It is probably one of the most, if not the most contagious virus that we have seen in the modern era, and I do not believe that we have completely peaked at this point.”

About 35% of those hospitalized at Beaumont for COVID are vaccinated, Gilpin said, meaning they’ve received either two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot.

“And when you look at the ICU use and the more critically ill patients, the proportion of vaccinated patients with COVID is lower: it's about 20 to 25%,” he said. “Which goes along with what we understand about this omicron variant, that it is more contagious, but it's causing less severe disease overall, particularly among the vaccinated.”

Only 8% of all COVID patients have received their booster shot.

The toll on healthcare workers is mounting, Gilpin said, even as more of them contract the virus themselves.

“We're tired. We're mentally tired, we're physically tired, and all we're asking is for people to be masking up and using common sense, particularly when they're inside of our facilities,” he said. “Just remember that the health care workers that are taking care of your loved ones are people too.”

Until now, Beaumont’s policy has been for workers to wait 10 days from the start of their COVID symptoms before returning to work. But after the CDC’s guidance shortened that to seven days for asymptomatic staff who test negative, the health system is changing that.

“We're trying to stand up an operation now that will allow us to do rapid antigen testing, so that we can bring health care workers back at the seven day mark, assuming they are asymptomatic at that point,” Gilpin said.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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