(This story presented in cooperation with MIRS, a Lansing-based news and information service)
Multiple southeast Michigan hospitals are at capacity with COVID-19 patients and several more expect to hit capacity the first week of April as the number of patients continues to climb, according to the president and CEO of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.
Michigan’s COVID-19 cases jumped to 6,498 by 3 p.m. March 30 with 81 percent still in the three-county region of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties. Detroit continues to be the epicenter with 1,801 cases and 52 deaths.
With 134 hospitals statewide and roughly half in Southeast Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is accepting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ recommendation to move 900 bed spaces into TCF Center, formerly Cobo Hall, to address imminent capacity issues.
Even with the extra capacity, MHA President Brian Peters continues to have concerns. The first is what happens if the coronavirus spreads outstate and there is not a large facility like the TCF Center available to convert into a field hospital.
“Southeast Michigan, Detroit is experiencing the brunt of that now,” Peters said. “Our greatest concern is that we’re going to see that occurring in communities throughout the state of Michigan in the days and weeks ahead.”
One projection model from the University of Washington estimated that Michigan hospitals will hit their peak coronavirus demand on April 8 and that the state will be 10,563 beds short on that day, according to the Detroit News.
Peters called this projection and other models “sobering” and said, “We have to do all we can right now to gear up for this crisis becoming worse.” He insisted people adhere to the governor’s social distancing orders.
If COVID-19 spreads into the rural areas “some of our rural communities are not in a great position to deal with an onslaught of COVID-19 patients,” Peters said.
Peters said lack of access to staff is another emergent problem.
“At the end of the day, quite frankly, we could have all the physical space and hospital beds in the world, if you don’t have enough qualified staff who can provide the care, we’re going to have a real problem,” he said.
The Corps is looking into other venues that, if needed, with some Southeast Michigan hospitals already at capacity with COVID-19 patients, the governor said on State of the Union with Jake Tapper March 29.
The Henry Ford System reported March 30 that it had 507 COVID-19 patients hospitalized among its five campuses. It has a combined 360 intensive care unit beds and about 150 negative pressure isolation rooms. Staff has tested a combined 1,086 positive for the virus.
Turning the TCF Center into a field hospital spurred the cancellation of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), scheduled to have its first June date this year. The next annual show will be in June 2021.
“Although we are disappointed, there is nothing more important to us than the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of Detroit and Michigan, and we will do what we can to support our community’s fight against the coronavirus outbreak,” said NAIAS Executive Director Rod Alberts.
Detroit is being hit hard by the coronavirus, in part, because of the high poverty and underlying medical conditions among residents, according to epidemiologists.
To that end, Whitmer ordered March 28 that homes where the water has been shut off for non-payment must have water service restarted unless there’s a cross-contamination risk. This is a particular issue in Detroit.