‘I consider this our 4th surge’
DETROIT – An expert from Beaumont Health gave a worrying update on COVID and hospital trends in Metro Detroit, calling it the “fourth surge” and giving three reasons he believes the numbers are rising again.
Nick Gilpin, Infectious Disease Physician and Infection Prevention Medical Director at Beaumont Health, held a virtual briefing Thursday (Nov. 11) to discuss what he is seeing in Metro Detroit.
Fourth COVID surge in Metro Detroit
“In the past four to five days, we’ve seen a significant increase in our hospital COVID numbers,” Gilpin said. “We currently have around 397 – almost 400 COVID patients in our hospitals.
“With around 400 COVID patients currently in our hospitals, I consider this to be our fourth increase in COVID.”
Gilpin said the first surge occurred in March / April 2020. Beaumont Health reached approximately 1,300 patients during this surge.
“That was by far our strongest wave,” he said.
A few months later, in the fall and winter months, the second surge came. Gilpin highlighted the period between November 2020 and January 2021 and said the hospital system had peaked with around 700 COVID patients.
In the short period between April / May 2021, Beaumont Health achieved a third increase with around 800 COVID patients, according to Gilpin.
“That was the shaft that was mainly driven by the new Delta variant,” he said.
Gilpin said there was a period of time during the summer when COVID numbers decreased, community positivity decreased, and life appeared to be back to normal.
“Everything felt good,” said Gilpin. “Then, in the past few months, I would say that from around the end of August / beginning of September we are seeing this slow burn – this slow, steady increase with a very small increase – the increase in COVID patients in our hospitals, and this number has has developed (from) a very slow increase in the last few months to a very strong increase to our current level in the last week or so. “
While hospitals are currently seeing fewer COVID patients than in previous spikes, Gilpin said he was “very concerned” with the progress of this wave.
“This fourth surge that we’re on right now could turn into a four or five month affair,” he said.
Metro Detroit COVID Trends
Gilpin said the COVID trends in the Metro Detroit community seem to mirror what Beaumont officials are seeing in their eight hospitals.
“Numbers across the state rose about 30% over the past week, and community positivity – the percentage of positive tests in the Metro Detroit tri-circle – has also increased, and is now about 11.5%,” Gilpin said.
That percentage signals that Metro Detroit is officially in a phase of “significant to high” COVID transmission in the community, he said.
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For reference, in the summer, the percentage of positive tests in the region was less than 3%, according to Gilpin.
He said Macomb County had about 12-13% positivity, Oakland County about 8-9%, and Wayne County about 5%.
“When you put it all together, Metro Detroit is about 11%,” he said. “That’s an incredibly high number.”
Vaccinated vs. unvaccinated in hospitals
Gilpin was asked how many of the COVID patients in hospitals are vaccinated.
“What we have seen is that generally about 65-70% of all of our COVID patients in the hospital are unvaccinated at some point,” Gilpin said. “This applies to every COVID patient who comes to the hospital. This number is also roughly the same for our intensive care patients. “
Gilpin said that with around 400 COVID patients in Beaumont Hospitals on Wednesday, around 260 were unvaccinated and around 115 were fully vaccinated.
“I can tell you, I took a closer look at these numbers: most of the patients who are fully vaccinated are usually fully vaccinated – there is usually an explanation for that,” Gilpin said. “The explanation is typically that the person either has chronic conditions that put them at higher risk, which means the vaccine may not be as effective in this population group – for example, immunocompromising diseases, old age – or they can” people who were vaccinated very early in the pandemic and may experience diminishing immunity. “
He said the deteriorating immunity led to recommendations for the third booster vaccination.
As the proportion of the general population becomes increasingly vaccinated, the proportion of vaccinated COVID hospital patients will obviously also increase because there are simply more people who fit into that category, Gilpin said.
Metro Detroit is becoming a hotspot
Metro Detroit’s percent positivity is currently more than double what experts see across the country, according to Gilpin.
“Metro Detroit is once again becoming a hotspot,” he said.
Now that transmission is so high in the area, Gilpin said it was as important as always to follow precautions like manufacturing and social distancing.
Why are COVID cases increasing in Metro Detroit?
Gilpin kicked off his comments on the surge by saying no one knows exactly what is driving the surge in COVID numbers. But as an infectious disease expert, he has some theories.
“It’s probably a combination of things,” Gilpin said. “First of all, it is clear that we still have a considerable number of unvaccinated people in the community.”
He said figures from Beaumont experts as well as medical officials in the state of Michigan show that this surge is mainly caused by people who haven’t received the COVID vaccine.
Although Michigan is a state where the vaccine is readily available, many people have chosen not to get the vaccine, Gilpin said.
“We know the cooler weather we’ve been experiencing over the past few weeks is creating conditions that are more conducive to the transmission of the virus,” Gilpin said. “Not only because temperature and humidity promote transmission, but also because we all behave indoors when it gets cold, and that means more opportunities for transmission.”
The third factor in that surge is a national narrative that COVID is on the decline, Gilpin said. This creates a false sense of security because while this could be the case in many regions of the country, this is “certainly not our experience” in the Midwest, he said.
“I think some signals that things are starting to get better have led to a more relaxed attitude,” said Gilpin. “We see relaxed behavior in terms of masking and physical distancing. We see more and more large gatherings taking place, and we know that these are the conditions that will bring about more transmission. “
How to smooth the curve
During previous increases, there has been a sharp increase in cases followed by a sharp decrease due to certain mitigation strategies such as lockdowns and government contracts. But that rise is different, believes Gilpin.
The virus is spreading more slowly this time around, and strategies (like the vaccine) are in place to slow it down.
“We have things that we know can effectively flatten that curve without necessarily having to go back to the techniques we’ve used in the past,” Gilpin said. “What I personally would like to see is that I would see more people taking sensible approaches.”
Vaccines for children
Gilpin said child hospitalizations are “safe” throughout the state of Michigan, including Beaumont hospitals.
The biggest surge in cases in Michigan right now is in school-age children – between the ages of 10 and 18, according to Gilpin.
“Much of this is because a significant portion of that population has yet to be vaccinated,” Gilpin said.
He also said that most of the new COVID outbreaks across the state are in schools.
“It’s not even close,” he said. “So they have schools that are causing a lot of the outbreaks.”
Many children won’t get seriously ill with the disease, but some of them will and all can pass it on to others, Gilpin warned.
“You can still pass COVID on to your teachers,” Gilpin said. “They can spread it in their homes and then it becomes just one way for the virus to spread.”
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