Coronavirus outbreak to get much worse before it gets better, Michigan officials warn

click to enlarge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. - COURTESY OF THE OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
Courtesy of the Office of the Governor
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The exponential growth of coronavirus cases will likely continue for a few weeks before new infections begin leveling off, state officials warned Thursday.

“We are seeing an exponential growth in cases, especially in southeast Michigan,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said during a press conference. “Right now we are a few weeks out from reaching that apex.”

With a severe testing shortage, Khaldun said it’s difficult for experts to predict the duration of the spread.

Michigan’s new cases are rising at an alarming rate, spreading more quickly than most states. On Wednesday, the total number of positive cases reached nearly 2,300. A vast majority of sick people still aren’t getting tested, so the number of infections is likely much higher than is being reported.

As of Wednesday, 9,100 people in the state have been tested for coronavirus, Khaldun said.
More troubling, the number of coronavirus-related deaths – 43 – is nearly tripling every two days. With a testing shortage, health officials say deaths are a better indicator of the severity of the outbreak. If the trend continues, Michigan could approach nearly 400 deaths in four days.

“The fact of the matter is, (the trend) is going to continue along those lines,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at the press conference. “We are a few weeks behind what we’re seeing playing out in other areas.”

On MSNBC on Wednesday night, Whitmer was even more blunt: "We're at the beginning of the curve. We're nowhere near the apex.”

“It is a dire situation right now," Whitmer said. "That's why we're calling on our residents to do their part by staying at home."

Making matters worse, Michigan hospitals are running out of ventilators, intensive care space, and personal protective gear like gloves, masks, hospital gowns, and hand sanitizer. Michigan received a recent federal shipment of supplies, but it “was not enough for a full shift at one hospital,” Whitmer said.

“That is how serious this is,” the governor emphasized.

Public health officials and hospitals in the state are beginning to explore new sites to handle an increase in cases.

“We may need to use alternative sites,” Khaldun said.

At Beaumont, the state’s largest health system, more than 100 COVID-19 patients were being hospitalized a day.

Henry Ford Health System is reaching its capacity at its Detroit and West Bloomfield hospitals. To accommodate the unprecedented demand, patients are being shifted to other hospitals, and operating rooms are being converted to intensive care units for COVID-19 patients.

“We’ve had a significant surge in Wayne and Oakland counties,” Dr. Betty Chu, an associate chief clinical officer and chief quality officer who is leading the health system's coronavirus response, told reporters Wednesday. “We expect a significant increase in volume over the next couple of weeks.”

Whitmer urged residents to obey her stay-at-home executive order, which forced the closure of all non-essential businesses at midnight Monday.

“This crisis is scary,” Whitmer said. “We can bend this curve and save our health care system.”

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