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Pandemic spread continues in U.P. as cases decline nationwide

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Robin Erb
/
Bridge Michigan
A surge in serious COVID-19 cases could quickly consume staff and resources at War Memorial Hospital in the Upper Peninsula’s Sault Ste. Marie.

Michigan is one of two states in the country where COVID-19 cases have risen for each of the last four weeks. The upward trend is especially pronounced in the Upper Peninsula, said Kerry Ott, the spokesperson for a four-county health district just north of the Mackinac Bridge.

None of the counties in her district has an intensive care unit.

Ott said local hospitals are not equipped to care for the number of COVID-19 patients now needing treatment, and the surge is cutting into staff’s ability to care for patients who need hospitalization for non-COVID-19 ailments.

One patient at Helen Newberry Joy Hospital in Luce County needed to be intubated and placed on a ventilator -- a procedure the hospital does not normally perform.

“We are not a critical care hospital, but we feel like we are at times serving in that role due to other hospitals being unable to accept transfers,” said Lori Gelinas, an infection prevention nurse at the Newberry hospital.

Ott said some people have waited as much as 30 hours to be transferred to a hospital that can care for critically ill or injured patients.

“If you’re in an accident today, you may end up in the hallway waiting a while,” she said.

Hospital staff look for spots for those patients in Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago, said Ott. But hospitals in those cities are already stretched thin by their own COVID-19 burdens and staff shortages.

Ott said the Delta variant of the coronavirus was late to arrive to the Upper Peninsula, but now that it has, it’s spreading everywhere.

“Weddings, funerals, school, sporting events, birthday parties, baby showers, wedding showers, parties at restaurants, you name it, it’s coming,” she said. “It’s the same old stuff. It’s just that Delta is so much more transmissible.”

Ott said that getting the pandemic under control in the U.P. will require getting back to the basic precautions: washing hands regularly, wearing masks indoors in public, and avoiding large gatherings. Vaccination rates in most of the counties in her area are just above 50%.