COVID-19 trends in Michigan’s Thumb causing concern for Medical Director

Rural communities facing unique challenges like limited access to intensive care unit
COVID-19 trends in Michigan’s Thumb causing concern for Medical Director
COVID-19 trends in Michigan’s Thumb causing concern for Medical Director(WJRT)
Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 10:50 PM EDT
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SANILAC COUNTY, Mich. (WJRT) - (04/16/2021) - COVID-19 cases are growing at an alarming rate in Michigan’s thumb with three counties all recording positivity rates of higher than 30%.

According to the State Health Department’s Safe Start Dashboard, more-than 30% of the people tested in Tuscola County have COVID-19.

That number is even higher in Huron County: 1 in three people tested there have had the virus in the last week.

Sanilac County has the highest positivity rate in that area with 34.5% of people testing positive for COVID.

”The next few weeks will be really critical to determine which direction this will go in for the thumb,” Dr. Mark Hamed is the Medical Director for the three counties in the thumb, as well as five other nearby counties, and he’s seeing the results of the situation firsthand.  

Most of the hospitals in rural communities are smaller in size, making some resources like an intensive care unit harder to come by.

The solution is transferring them to a larger hospital in cities like Saginaw, Flint, or Bay City, but those are filling up quickly too, leaving health experts on the phone for hours at a time to provide high levels of care. 

”We can stabilize patients all day and be fine with that. We can manage other emergencies that come through the door. However, if patients need a high level of care, we need to get them transferred to the right place, and if our neighboring hospitals in Saginaw, Flint, Bay City, Detroit, are all at capacity, that really limits what we can do,” Hamed said. 

Hamed says transferring to larger hospitals with an ICU is frequently met with ‘Occupied’ or ‘Not Accepting Patients.’ He says on Monday, that wait was as long as 17 hours to transfer one patient 100 miles away. 

Even though that’s an issue, there is one glimmer of hope. He says his healthcare workers aren’t feeling emotional fatigue at the level they were last spring.

”Ever since they’ve had the medical antibody therapy, the vaccines, we’re seeing this light at the end of the tunnel, so we’re seeing our staff really reenergized and remotivated,” Hamed said.

That doesn’t change the fact that the percent of positive cases in Huron, Tuscola, and Sanilac counties is soaring, more than ten times the ideal rate according to state health leaders.  

Hamed says the next couple of weeks will be critical, and people living there are making efforts now to prevent it from getting worse.

”We’re seeing behavior changes right now. We’re seeing people wearing masks. We’re seeing people distancing. You might’ve seen some fatigue earlier on. We’re seeing a lot more of that behavior picking up pace as far as doing what it takes to really beat this virus,” Hamed said.

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