Hospitals across Michigan are seeing a sharp rise in patients due to a surge of respiratory illnesses, leading to longer than normal wait times and packed emergency rooms. The uptick in cases follows holiday gatherings and comes amid an increase in flu, RSV, and COVID-19 infections.
Flu and RSV Hitting Hard After Holidays
The various respiratory viruses appear to be hitting in tandem this winter, with RSV, flu, and COVID-19 all seeing an uptick in cases after holiday gatherings and travel. As reported by WoodTV, Corewell Health in Michigan saw a 60% increase in ER visits this past week compared to last year, with over 500 patients visiting Corewell’s ERs each day.
“We are seeing very high volumes of all three viruses circulating in our communities right now,” said Dr. Andrew Bissonette, emergency physician at Spectrum Health.
Additionally, MLive reports that Corewell is seeing 50% more ER visits over normal volumes for this time of year. The combination of viruses has created a “triple threat” that is pushing hospital capacity to the limit.
Longer Waits and Packed Emergency Rooms
The influx of respiratory illness patients has led to packed emergency rooms and wait times of 6 hours or more at some Michigan hospitals.
The Oakland Press reports:
Corewell Health, formerly known as Beaumont Health, continues to experience extremely high volumes of patients in their emergency centers and hospitals throughout the state of Michigan related to respiratory illnesses…Patients are experiencing very long wait times to be seen.
In addition, UpperMichigansSource.com reports that Marquette’s UP Health System is also seeing an influx of patients, stating “The emergency room recently has seen an uptick in both adults and children suffering from respiratory problems.”
The packed hospitals have led some health networks to request that patients consider alternative options for non-emergency care. As FOX 56 reports:
Geisinger Health officials say some patients may experience extremely long wait times…Geisinger is asking community members to consider other care options for non-emergency needs.
COVID Cases Rebounding After Holidays
While the flu and RSV have hit hospitals the hardest so far this winter, COVID-19 cases are also seeing an uptick after the holidays. Per MLive, “Reported coronavirus cases have doubled in the last two weeks and hospitalizations are approaching peak levels from last winter.”
|New Confirmed Cases
However, despite the increase in cases, there are key differences compared to previous COVID surges:
“Fewer patients are needing intensive care or mechanical ventilation compared to the omicron surge last January,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive.
So while COVID cases are rising, severe infections requiring hospitalization remain relatively low due to vaccines and immunity from prior infections.
Calls for Flu Shots and COVID Boosters
Health officials are urging vaccination as the best way to reduce strain on hospitals this winter. As Dr. Bagdasarian stated:
“We have the tools that work and are highly effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization: safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics…I strongly recommend all Michiganders age 6 months and older get vaccinated for flu and COVID-19 as soon as possible.”
In particular, officials are pushing for flu vaccinations, which are running well below normal levels this season. Flu shot rates are down nearly 12 percentage points nationwide compared to last year according to CNN. Increasing flu vaccinations will be crucial to easing the burden on hospitals in the coming weeks and reducing wait times.
What Happens Next?
Health experts say we have likely not yet hit peak activity for flu and RSV, meaning conditions in Michigan hospitals could worsen before they improve. Per MLive:
“We have not yet hit peak flu and RSV activity — that likely won’t occur until late January or February.”
Additionally, COVID cases could continue rising as immunity wanes further from fall booster shots. So while this week saw significant challenges for Michigan hospitals, the upcoming weeks could see conditions deteriorate even more.
Increasing vaccination rates will be key to ensuring Michigan’s health system can withstand the continued waves of respiratory viruses. Officials urge residents to get flu and COVID shots or boosters as soon as possible.
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