Michigan COVID Numbers Near All-Time Highs, 3 in 4 Hospitalized Patients Unvaccinated

Michigan nearly reached or surpassed previous highs set throughout the pandemic in terms of cases, vaccinations and deaths in recent weeks with at least 75 percent of hospitalized COVID patients unvaccinated.

State health officials said Friday cases and hospitalizations don't appear to be dropping after Thanksgiving like they did last year and urged residents to get vaccinated and for those eligible to get booster shots, as the state's fully vaccinated rate sits at about 55.5 percent, well below the current national rate of 60.5 percent.

"For individuals who have not yet been vaccinated, I want to be absolutely clear: You are risking serious illness, hospitalization and even death," state health director Elizabeth Hertel said. "If you have yet to receive the vaccine or you are not yet fully vaccinated, it is not a matter of if you will get sick but when — particularly with a more transmissible variant spreading across the state."

Hertel and other health officials discussed the Omicron variant, the first case of which was discovered in Michigan this week, while medical professionals study the variant to determine if it causes more or less severe illnesses than the Delta variant responsible for most cases in the country currently.

The state reported this week over 4,700 residents were hospitalized due to COVID, a new high, and those patients are currently taking up 21 percent of hospital beds, the first time that number has surpassed 20 percent, Michigan's chief medical executive Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian said.

"Michigan continues to trend in a deeply concerning direction heading into the Christmas holiday and the new year," Hertel said.

Michigan, COVID Surge, Elizabeth Hertel
Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan state health department addresses the state Feb. 4, 2021. Hertel and other state health officials reported COVID numbers this week that approached or surpassed record highs as the state stands about five percent below the nationwide vaccination rate. Michigan Office of the Governor/Associated Press File

The state's vaccination rates lag the national average, especially among children and people in their 20s and 30s.

The state is deploying ventilators to hospitals and asking for 200 more from the national stockpile.

The state is coordinating with U.S. officials to identify federal staffing to help treat infected people with antibody drugs.

"Where we are today is really just keeping our heads above water," said Dr. Paolo Marciano, chief medical officer for Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, one of three Michigan hospitals where U.S. Army doctors and nurses are helping. He called the deployment a "tremendous lifeline," one that state officials do not anticipate the U.S. government being able to expand further in Michigan due to limited federal resources.

"The number of health care workers is finite," Hertel said. "It will take the efforts and the actions of our citizens and our communities to help to slow the increased number of patients into the hospitals to really ease the burden."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration has resisted reinstating capacity restrictions and mask requirements that were in place for more than a year. New York on Friday reinstituted a face covering mandate unless businesses and venues implement a vaccine requirement.

Michigan's COVID-19 death rate is higher than in the third surge last spring, when fewer residents were vaccinated, but lower than in the first and second waves in 2020. The 235 additional deaths reported Friday brought the total number of confirmed and probable deaths to nearly 27,000.

Vaccines and boosters, Bagdasarian said, are the best way to prepare for the omicron variant and flatten the curve. Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how much it might evade immunity from past illness or vaccines.

"We're really at a critical place in this pandemic," she said, also urging indoor masking in public and testing. "It's really time for everyone to do their part."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michigan, COVID Surge, Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks with the media at the 2021 Motor Bella auto show on Sept. 21, 2021 in Pontiac, Michigan. Whitmer has resisted the idea of reintroducing previous COVID prevention measures like mask mandates and capacity limits as the state reports COVID numbers that approached or surpassed record highs this week. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images