Michigan survived one of the worst COVID-19 crises in the nation this winter and spring. Now as cases and deaths are rising again and a Supreme Court decision has created confusion over the state’s response, hospital and corporate executives are sounding the alarm about what another wave could do to Michigan.
Chief medical officers and chief clinical officers at 110 of Michigan’s 137 hospitals said Thursday they won’t be lifting COVID-19 safety protocols at their facilities anytime soon.
Those hospitals will keep requiring staff, patients and visitors to wear masks. Limits on visitors are still in place and guests still need to be screened before entry.
“We want to make it clear that regardless of state law, executive orders, or local public health directives, hospitals and health care systems across the state are standing as a united front in our policies and interventions in order to fight the spread of COVID-19,” hospital executives said in a joint statement.
The letter was signed by Gary L. Roth, Michigan Health and Hospital Association chief medical officer, as well as leaders from Beaumont Health, Ascension Michigan, Detroit VA Healthcare System, Henry Ford Health System, Sparrow Health System, University of Michigan Health System and more.
They also are asking Michigan residents to keep wearing masks, stay at least six feet apart, avoid crowds and frequently wash their hands.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says protective face masks are the most efficient way for Americans to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
“We do this to keep our patients, visitors and health care workers safe,” the statement reads.
If precautions are not followed, cases trending upward in all regions will put the state’s health care systems at risk of another capacity shortage, according to hospital executives.
“If Michigan doesn’t change its approach to this disease, we could have crowded hospital emergency departments and approach exceeding the capacity of our hospitals as we did in Southeast Michigan this past spring,” they said in the joint statement.
Hospital executives released the statement as COVID-19 cases are beginning to consistently tick up in Michigan. The state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on Friday reported 1,826 new COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths. The state has surpassed 154,000 total cases and 7,140 deaths.
State and local health officials also expressed concern over their findings that hospitalizations have risen by 80% in recent weeks. Ten days ago, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun — the state’s chief medical executive — warned that this could be indicative of a second wave.
A number of business leaders signed off on a separate letter urging state legislative officials and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to unify to combat the virus. Thirty-two executives — including the CEOs of General Motors and Meijer, plus representatives from the Detroit Regional Chamber, Michigan Manufacturers Association and more — gave the letter to officials on Wednesday.
The letters come just weeks after the Michigan Supreme Court invalidated Whitmer’s use of a 1945 law to issue states of emergency and pandemic executive orders, such as her statewide mask mandate and restrictions on crowds.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has since handed down a limit on crowd sizes and a requirement that masks be worn at indoor and outdoor gatherings and enforced by businesses. The GOP-controlled state Legislature have consistently fought to strip away Whitmer’s emergency powers throughout the pandemic.
House Republicans announced this week a COVID-19 plan that shifts responsibility to local health departments, including whether or not to observe the DHHS mask mandate. State Reps. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso), Julie Calley (R-Portland) and Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) said it would give local officials more control.
The Chicago-based Committee to Protect Medicare said the plan lacks details on mass mask adoption, when stay-home orders would be triggered, rapid testing in schools, personal protective equipment shortages and more.
“Physicians and health professionals have begged policymakers for the masks, tests and science-based leadership that we need to help us protect people and save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the only comprehensive strategy we’ve seen so far has come from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her public health experts,” said Dr. Rob Davidson, executive director and an emergency physician in West Michigan. “From a medical perspective, we’re concerned about the obvious gaps in the Republicans’ plan that fail to address basic standard work in public health.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) opposes a mask mandate and has questioned the scientific consensus on their effectiveness. He also told MLive earlier this month that he’s “a big believer that there’s an element of herd immunity that needs to take place,” although he later attacked the reporter, who stands by the story. A group of physicians condemned his statement and said that would mean 6.5 million more Michiganders would have to get COVID-19 and 30,000 more people would likely die.
Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) have refused to issue a mask mandate for the state Capitol, despite at least four lawmakers getting COVID-19 and one, state Rep. Isaac Robinson (D-Detroit), dying in March. Several staff members have contracted coronavirus and at least one has died.
Spokespersons for the state House and State Senate did not respond to requests for comment Friday about the letters.