Doctor on the Concerning Surge in COVID-19 Cases – “We Are Really at a Breaking Point”

Doctor on the Concerning Surge in COVID-19 Cases – “We Are Really at a Breaking Point”

After over 3,000 health care workers from Michigan were forced to take a break from their jobs and isolate due to testing positive for COVID-19, some medical procedures have been postponed as well, local hospitals bracing for a scary influx of COVID patients caused by the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Coupled up with the lack of medical staff, the situation is not pretty and one Beaumont Health doctor says that “We are really at a breaking point.”

Health care workers who remain healthy are extremely overworked, trying their best to deal with the overwhelming number of patients needing their care.

Some have been at the front lines, treating people for almost two years and they are obviously exhausted but their work is not even close to being over since the new COVID-19 strain has been driving up cases and ultimately, hospitalizations, especially amongst the youngest age groups.

The Beaumont Health’s chief of clinical services, Dr. Jeffrey Fischgrund, makes it very clear that “We have an obligation to take care of the COVID patients.”

However, the health care system should also be able to treat and save people suffering from other illnesses and victims of car accidents as well, for instance – not just COVID infected – which is why this is such a worrisome situation.

Fischgrund went on to say that “We’ve really asked our physicians to postpone, if safe, any procedures that can be postponed. … We’re trying to take care of the community, but we’re also trying to take care of our staff. … We know our 33,000 staffers are working as hard as they’ve ever worked. We are really at a breaking point. … We are really 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. So we’re trying to be proactive. We’re cutting back on things that we don’t have to do today, but we still want to take care of our patients.”

Last week, Beaumont Health announced that over 430 of their employees are now in isolation at home after testing positive for COVID-19 – a huge loss for the hospital but a necessary measure.

To shift more staff members to care for COVID-19 patients but also for those dealing with traumatic injuries, cancer and other serious medical problems, Beaumont has been postponing all the procedures and tests that are not as urgent.

And that is not the only hospital struggling in Michigan.

For instance, Spectrum Health had 766 of its 31,000 employees enter quarantine after testing positive for the virus last week as per Spectrum Health West Michigan’s senior vice president for hospital and post-acute operations, Chad Tuttle.

To make up for the lack of staff, many other already overworked employees have volunteered to take on extra shifts.

Furthermore, Trinity Health Michigan, which has 8 hospitals and a total of 22,000 employees, reported that over 900 medical workers had entered quarantine last week after being exposed to the virus or testing positive for it.

Henry Ford Health System has also lost 989 employees which amount for around 3 percent of their staff power, as per COO and president of health care operations there, Bob Riney.

Riney told the Free Press that “When you start to get into numbers where it’s, 3%, 4%, 5% of your workforce, you have to make some decisions about services.”

In reality, such a loss of workforce means postponing some less urgent surgeries as well as longer waits at the ER.

Michigan Medicine has suffered a great loss of 572 employees as well after they tested positive for COVID in the week leading up to the new year, announced spokesperson Mary Masson.

She also mentioned that since last month, the University of Michigan Health had no choice but to postpone over 200 surgeries because of bed capacity issues that resulted from both staff shortages and COVID hospitalizations.

“The recent surge of COVID-19 has created a dire situation across the state, straining health care resources and forcing hospitals like ours to continue to reduce surgeries and transfers. These are heartbreaking decisions that we know have significant health impacts for our patients and their families,” Masson shared about the current situation.

Beaumont Health officials stated that their health system has been caring for over 750 COVID patients in their 8 total hospitals, 65 percent of them being unvaccinated.

The number of hospitalizations has actually increased by a shocking 40 percent in the last week!

Furthermore, the health system’s medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology, Dr. Nick Gilpin, shared that no less than 36 kids aged under 18 are also patients there, suggesting that the new variant is starting to affect the young a lot more than the ones before it.

Henry Ford Health System officials announced last week that 480 COVID patients had also been hospitalized systemwide, including someone under the age of 17, who had not received the jab.

These numbers represented another unsettling increase of 25 percent when compared to the week before.

Gilpin said that “We’re dealing with just intense, widespread community transmission right now. When we look at mathematical modeling, and data that we have from sequencing, we know that the omicron variant is really taking a strong foothold in the Midwest. Last estimates that I saw from the CDC put omicron at around 93% of all of the COVID cases that we’re seeing.”

He also mentioned that the virus is “extremely explosive” and “is probably one of the most — if not the most — contagious virus that we have seen in the modern era, with shorter incubation times. Each person with omicron can potentially spread the virus to as many as six or 10 people and then those people can subsequently pass it on to another six or 10 people. So you can understand how transmission can spiral so quickly.”

As a result, Gilpin stressed that the public should do everything in their power to ease the burden by helping to slow down the spread for the sake of the health care system not crumbling down completely.

“Our health care systems are really overwhelmed. If you’ve ignored our pleas for help before, now is truly the time to take action. We need everybody’s help to get through this surge. Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. Get boosted.”

According to Michigan state data, they also hit a new pandemic record for the highest number of COVID cases in one day – 13,673.

4,297 people, both adults and children, were hospitalized for COVID statewide.

Another record Michigan also broke was for the highest number of children hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus – 107.

The state’s health department has been able to confirm 342 total cases of omicron there as of Wednesday.

However, it is believed that is only a small fraction of the many unconfirmed infections with the new COVID strain in the whole state.

The chief medical officer of Munson Healthcare, Dr. Christine Nefcy, shared that Michigan has only been able to genetically sequence samples from around 10 percent of all the positive COVID tests they receive in order to identify the mutations occurring and the real prevalence of the variants infecting people.

Gilpin encouraged people to be more understanding and kind to health care workers since they are doing their best during this new surge of the virus.

“They are also struggling. They are doing their best to follow steps to protect the health and safety of all patients.”

In the meantime, the vaccines available at the moment are still able to prevent COVID-19 from causing really serious symptoms or death although they are no longer as effective in preventing infection with omicron as it was with the previously dominant strains.

To get a greater protection from it, people should make sure to get their booster shots as well.

Gilpin noted that only around 8 percent of those hospitalized for COVID in Beaumont’s hospitals are fully vaccinated and have also received their booster shots.

“When you look at the ICUs and the more critically ill patients, the proportion of vaccinated patients with COVID is lower. It’s about 20% to 25%, 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.”

At this time, a federal team of doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists, Dearborn, have been helping health care workers take care of Beaumont Hospital patients.

They are one of four such federal teams and they are trying to lessen the staffing problem.

The other federal teams were sent to Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Mercy Health Muskegon, and Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw.

Dearborn was actually supposed to leave Beaumont Hospital back on January 2 but since they are still struggling with the low number of staff members there, they decided to remain for an additional full month.

According to the chief operating officer of the Dearborn hospital, Tom Lanni, with the help of Dearborn, Beaumont was able to “open some additional beds in critical care, and patients and staff have truly benefited from the expertise the DOD team has brought to our hospital.”

In the month of January, it looks like the federal team will have even more to do at the emergency center since there has been a surge in patients, both infected with COVID and otherwise.

John Fox, the Beaumont Health CEO, stated that “For the health care system to keep functioning, we must have the community’s support. We all need to work together on the critical preventive steps to control this new phase of the pandemic.”

He was, of course, encouraging people to get vaccinated and boosted, to social distance, wear masks, avoid large gatherings and remain at home whenever they feel sick.

Katherine Baldwin

Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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