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Influx of patients is taxing Munson hospitals as COVID cases surge in northern Michigan

Taylor Wizner
Interlochen Public Radio

Northwest Michigan hospitals say they are full as they deal with a large number of COVID patients and others needing medical care.

Daily new cases in northwest Michigan are approaching where they were in December last year, according to the CDC. The region’s percent positivity rate, at 15%, surpasses last December’s surge and is significantly higher than what is being reported across the state.

“I think people are hearing a lot from national news that this surge is over and that numbers are going down. That is absolutely not what we are experiencing in Michigan and definitely not what we are experiencing in northern Michigan, says Dr. Christine Nefcy, Munson Healthcare’s Chief Medical Officer.

She says the region appears to be on track for another spike, though this one looks different.

“Part of the problem is in the past surges we’ve really seen an exponential increase and then a decrease in our numbers. This one is lasting a lot longer,” Dr. Nefcy says. “We’re heading into our busiest season, which is the winter season for common winter illnesses that frequently tax healthcare systems regardless of being in a pandemic.”

Dr. Nefcy says they’re dealing with a combination of staffing shortages, along with a surge of pandemic numbers and a large number of people needing care for other issues, like RSV.

The number of open ICU and pediatric critical care beds in the system are now in the single digits, she reports. There are currently 73 COVID in-patients across six hospitals, as of Wednesday.

“It’s sort of the perfect storm,” she says. “A lot of us are struggling in having to manage beds on a case by case basis.”

Dr. Nefcy says they’re considering whether to delay some procedures to keep beds open. She says it’s also taking much longer to transfer some of sickest patients to hospitals outside their system.

Seniors and vulnerable people should follow early pandemic measures and stay away from crowds, Dr. Nefcy warns, regardless of whether they are vaccinated.

Lisa Peacock, the health officer for two health departments in northwest lower Michigan, says with record high positivity rates, more deaths are also being reported.

“We’ve had … really a tragic skewing of deaths to the younger age groups,” she says. “Often no underlying conditions, often unvaccinated and it’s just so preventable.”

Since 2020, there have been a total of 27 reported COVID deaths of people 59 and younger in Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.