States across the country are reporting a rise in Covid-19 cases. But in one state — Michigan — another surge has overwhelmed hospitals and healthcare workers who were already exhausted, one local health leader says.
And there are several reasons behind the crisis.
“One, we believe the overall infection rate in Michigan was lower during the pandemic to date,” Beaumont Health CEO John Fox said on CNN Saturday. “Secondly, Michigan opened up recently … with various orders being relieved.”
Officials reported last week that Beaumont Health’s eight hospitals in two Detroit-area counties were 90%-95% full and the number of their Covid-19 patients jumped from 129 in late February to more than 800 patients.
“Unfortunately I think people have dropped their infection control issues, they’re not wearing their masks as much as they should, social distancing, hand hygiene,” Fox added.
What’s complicating matters even more, he said, is the highly contagious B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant which is spreading rapidly not just in the state, but across the country.
Cases of that variant, which was first detected in the UK, have now been reported in all 50 US states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida leads the country with the highest number of cases of the B.1.1.7 strain, followed by Michigan and Minnesota, according to the CDC data.
And with a big part of the older population vaccinated against the virus, the variant has hit younger groups hard.
“It really is presenting in all of our ERs and frankly in our inpatient units,” Fox said. “We’re treating younger patients than we ever saw before,” Fox said.
Emergency physician and CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen says she’s worried about what this could mean for Michigan and the US.
“What’s happening in Michigan now could very well happen in other states,” she said on CNN Saturday. “Especially because we have this more contagious B.1.1.7 variant that is now dominant in the US.”
The encouraging news, Wen added, is that Covid-19 vaccinations are speeding up which could help blunt another potential violent surge in the country.
Nearly a quarter of all Americans fully vaccinated
In the race to vaccinate as many Americans as possible, another important milestone: the US is nearing a quarter of Americans fully vaccinated.
According to CDC data, more than 129 million Americans have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose — roughly 39% of the US population — and more than 82 million have been fully vaccinated — roughly 24.8% of the population. Nearly a third of Americans age 18 and older have been fully vaccinated, according to the data.
Meanwhile, a recommended pause on the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine continues in the US. CDC and Food and Drug Administration officials made the recommendation over six reported US cases of a “rare and severe” type of blood clot, among more than 6.8 million Americans who took the shot.
Vaccine advisers to the CDC, after meeting last week without making a decision, have scheduled another meeting for April 23 to take up the question of whether the J&J vaccine causes blood clots and, if so, what to do about it. The group previously said they needed more information.
“I am glad that the pause is happening because it really illustrates that our system is working, that our federal health officials are prioritizing — more than anything else — safety,” Wen told CNN on Saturday. “If they’re willing to hit pause on something that’s less than one in a million, we should be really reassured about their commitment to safety.”
The other two Covid-19 vaccines that have also gotten the green light in the US — Pfizer and Moderna — are not implicated in the pause. And in the coming weeks, it will be key to continue the important messaging about their safety, Wen said, and why Covid-19 vaccinations remain critical.
“We’re doing this because we have a pandemic that’s claimed more than 500,000 lives here in the US,” Wen added.
During a White House Covid-19 briefing on Friday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said officials recognize the importance of moving quickly on the paused J&J vaccine.
“What I would say to the American people is that what we found is really extremely rare cases through our vaccine safety monitoring system. And that we are transparently — this meeting on Friday will be public, people can dial in — we are transparently conveying that science,” Walensky said.
Officials have also reached out to thousands of providers to inform them about what types of cases they should be looking for, she said.
“And we want to convey to the American public: We have two vaccines that are readily available — the Pfizer and the Moderna — and people should continue to roll up their sleeves to get vaccinated,” Walensky added.