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COVID-19 in Michigan is “Critical right now” as cases and hospitalizations hit all-time highs

Heather Hazzan/Self Magazine

Michigan is still leading the country in new coronavirus infections, and now over 21% of all people hospitalized in the state have COVID-19, a new record.

“Michigan continues to trend in a deeply concerning direction,” Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said Friday at a news conference.

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian said COVID-19 is “critical right now” in Michigan heading into the holidays.

“Cases are surging, hospitals are full, and we have a new variant,” she said.

The first detected case of the new omicron variant was found in West Michigan this week. Early research shows it to be highly transmissible, but it’s unclear if the strain is more severe than the dominant delta variant.

She said the state is seeing the highest number of weekly reported cases during the fourth surge as they have seen during the whole pandemic, with 569 weekly cases per 100,000 people.

This fourth surge is largely driven by the unvaccinated – with 88% of those requiring a ventilator not vaccinated, state officials say.

Hertel had a strong message for those who are unvaccinated, saying it wasn’t a matter of if people will get sick, but when. Three out of four COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, she said.

“[Unvaccinated individuals] are risking serious illness, hospitalization and even death,” she 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.”

Officials say the state is running low on ventilators and that 87% of people requiring intensive care are unvaccinated. The state has requested 200 ventilators from the strategic national stockpile.

Over the past week, people in their 30s make up the highest number of new infections. Over the past week 87 people in Michigan – per day – have been dying from COVID-19.

Bagdasarian said it’s possible people are losing some immunity from prior vaccinations but it’s not the reason for the surge.

“Waning immunity is certainly going to play a role in all of this, but what we’re seeing is that this is predominantly a surge of the unvaccinated,” she said.

Despite the warnings no new COVID-19 mitigation efforts are coming.

Health officials and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have cited the ease in getting vaccinated as a reason lockdowns or mask orders are not needed.

Hertel said guidance for schools will stay the same.

“We have recommended to schools that they should mandate masking in the classrooms. It does not change our opinion on that at all. And we certainly are advocating for all those children in school over age 5 to get their vaccines,” Hertel said.

Some school districts have opted against mask mandates in classrooms due to push back from parents who are anti-mask and anti-vaccination. Just 56% of Michigan’s eligible population is vaccinated.

Bagdasarian urges everyone to get vaccinated and wear masks in indoor public spaces.

Russ McNamara is a reporter and host of All Things Considered for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news to the station’s loyal listeners.
Dorothy Hernandez is Digital Editor for 101.9 WDET, creating and adapting content for digital platforms. Prior to joining WDET, she was managing editor of Model D and editorial director for Issue Media Group. This is not her first stint with WDET; in 2018 she had an opportunity to tell food stories through a partnership between Feet in 2 Worlds and WDET. She is thrilled to be back in the WDET fold.