Michigan hospitals open beds to help overwhelmed system

DETROIT (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday again pleaded with Michigan residents to stay at home to rein in the coronavirus while the state’s chief medical executive said hospitals with empty beds were stepping up to ease the burden on overwhelmed medical centers. They spoke to reporters Thursday, 2 1/2 days after businesses were supposed to shut down unless they provide certain essential services.


Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said hospitals in southeastern Michigan, where the coronavirus cases are most numerous, are “at or near capacity.” She said some hospitals outside the region were willing to set aside 10% of their bed capacity to help out. The head of Beaumont Health, which has been swamped, raised the issue with Whitmer this week.

Khaldun said Michigan is “probably a few weeks out” from hitting a peak in coronavirus cases. The state reported nearly 2,900 cases by Thursday and 60 deaths, both ahead of Wednesday’s numbers.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, such as pneumonia, and death.

Henry Ford Health System said it had nearly 400 coronavirus-related patients at five hospitals Thursday morning, although the numbers can swiftly change.


Whitmer said her order that people stop gathering and keep at least 6 feet from each other at places like grocery stores was a command, not a recommendation.

“It doesn’t mean inviting 10 of your closest friends over for dinner. … This disease cannot spread if we’re not out and about,” she said.

Whitmer said the vast majority of businesses are “doing the right thing” and keeping their workers home in compliance with her order, which kicked in Tuesday. Grocers, restaurants preparing carry-out food, banks and gas stations can remain open.

“If you’re not a life-sustaining business, you’re in violation of the law and you’re needlessly exposing your employees to COVID-19,” the governor said. “You’re needlessly endangering our communities by putting more pressure on a health care system that is very close to the maximum already.”


Whitmer made an appeal for hospital gowns, ventilators, hand sanitizer, masks, gloves and thermometers. She said a recent shipment of protective wear from the federal government “was not enough for a full shift” at a hospital.

Separately, the governor said she has asked President Donald Trump to declare a disaster in Michigan like he has in other states, which would trigger food aid and money for rental assistance and temporary housing, among other needs.


Rep. Tyrone Carter, a Detroit Democrat who voted last week on virus-related bills, has the COVID-19 virus but is doing well, said House Democratic Leader Christine Greig. There are questions about the House’s ability to meet, and how many lawmakers will have to self-quarantine.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield said anyone who was within 6 feet of Carter during the incubation period should monitor themselves for symptoms.


DETROIT (AP) — Michigan hospitals braced Wednesday for a surge of coronavirus cases, as the number of cases in the state rose to at least 2,294 and the number of deaths nearly doubled, from 24 to 43. Most of the cases — 85% — were reported in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, but more than half of the state’s 83 counties have been affected.

A roundup of what’s happening around the state:


Beaumont Health and Henry Ford Health System in southeastern Michigan said they were caring for more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients at their 13 hospitals. Operating rooms were being converted into intensive care units and clinics had been turned into rooms for patients needing other medical care.

“The numbers are changing and increasing even in two-hour intervals,” said Bob Riney, chief operating officer at Henry Ford, whose flagship hospital is in Detroit.

Dr. Betty Chu, of Henry Ford, predicted an “upcoming surge.”

Beaumont chief executive John Fox called on the state to invoke its power to balance care across eight regions in the state.

‘We can’t have people drive by a hospital that may have 10% in capacity … for ventilators or other things COVID patients need and then pull up into an ER of a hospital that’s supersaturated,” Fox said.

In western Michigan, where cases so far are significantly lower, Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health said it has room if the region gets a burst of patients.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

Whitmer told MSNBC late Wednesday that Michigan is “at the beginning of the curve. We’re nowhere even near the apex. It is a dire situation right now. That’s why we’re calling on our residents to do their part by staying home.”


Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency, where claims for jobless benefits rose 21-fold last week to nearly 109,000, said people were getting a busy signal and its website was slowing down at times. The agency said applying online during off-peak hours, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m, will expedite the process. The deadline to apply has been extended from 14 to 28 days.


Just last week, Detroit police Capt. Jonathan Parnell was talking to reporters about a death at a school pool. On Wednesday, the police chief announced that Parnell had become the second member of the department to die of COVID-19.

Chief James Craig said 331 officers and 70 civilian police employees have been quarantined since the outbreak. Detroit residents make up 30% of Michigan’s coronavirus cases.

“We anticipate we’re going to lose a lot more of our citizens,” Mayor Mike Duggan said. He later announced that a drive-up site would open Friday at the former state fairgrounds that could run 400 tests per day. A Quicken Loans call center will handle appointments.

Also, a worker at the Fiat Chrysler assembly plant in Warren died Wednesday of a COVID-19-related illness, the United Auto Workers said. The worker was a UAW member, the statement said.


A company near Grand Rapids that makes work stations has shifted production to make hundreds of carts for ventilators, which help desperate COVID-19 patients to breathe. Altus Inc. is hiring people and adding shifts. “Our entire team has stepped up, working long hours and weekends to ensure we can quickly get these much-needed products into hospitals,” said chief executive Craig VanderHeide.


The high school principal at Grand Traverse Academy in Traverse City used the drive-thru at a Culver’s Restaurant to deliver good news: employee Kaitlyn Watson is the 2020 valedictorian. “I know we have to stay 6 feet away so I can’t give you a hug,” Michelle Floering said in a moment caught on video.


Eggert reported from Lansing.


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