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As Detroit ICUs fill, officials ask outstate hospitals to share the load

As coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket in Detroit and surrounding areas, the state is asking hospitals outside of southeast Michigan to offer 10 percent of their hospital beds for Detroit-area hospitals that are overflowing with patients. 

“Many of our hospitals particularly in southeast Michigan are at or near capacity. Intensive care units are full and emergency departments are overloaded,” chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said during a news conference Thursday morning. “The only way we’re going to be able to effectively handle this outbreak is by coming together and coordinating our health care resources as a state.”

Some hospitals have already offered space, which will be used for both coronavirus and non-coronavirus patients as needed, officials said. 

As Bridge reported Wednesday, Detroit has one of the highest rates of coronavirus infection in the nation, with 705 of the state’s 2,294 cases as of Wednesday. Detroit coronavirus cases make up around a third of total cases in the state, despite the city having less than 10 percent of the state’s population. Michigan overall currently has the fifth-highest number of confirmed cases of any state in the country. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that the rapid rate of spread could be related to the city’s density, but Khaldun said it’s also about the “social determinants of health.” Detroit residents are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and pneumonia than the rest of the state or country. 

“When you have generations of concentrated poverty… when you have pandemics like this it’s going to hit those places harder” from both a health and economic perspective, said Khaldun, who formerly worked as the director of the Detroit Health Department. “It all is really hitting Detroit much harder.”

Officials said they are also looking to “alternative sites” such as hotels and now-empty college campuses to help serve as relief hospitals, particularly spaces close to hospitals. The Army Corps usually takes three to four weeks to set up a field hospital; Whitmer is asking them to do it much quicker, she said. 

Finding more beds is the top priority right now because “we are still in the upslope” of the epidemic, Khaldun said. 

“Right now we’re a few weeks out from meeting the apex” of cases in Michigan, Khaldun said. “But it all depends on what everybody does” and whether they adhere to the stay at home order. 

Whitmer also said during the press conference: 

  • She sent a request to President Donald Trump today for a major disaster declaration for the state, as he had granted for other states such as California, New York and Washington. If approved, Whitmer said it would help the state provide more meals, rental assistance, temporary housing, counseling, additional capacity to build field hospitals. 
  • There is still a pressing need for more personal protection equipment for health care workers. By working with companies in and outside of Michigan, the state has gotten 13 million N95 masks, 226,000 surgical masks, 35,000 hospital gowns, 4 million gloves, around 100,000 face shields, 250 beds and thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer. She didn’t say when health care workers would get this PPE.
  • The state’s major auto manufacturers, Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, are working to manufacture PPE, respirators and ventilators. 
  • The state lab, hospitals and private labs have run at least 9,100 samples across the state, but they are not yet reporting numbers on recoveries. “It’s really so early we don’t have an accurate number of people who have recovered,” Khaldun said.
  • Whitmer could not report any citations or other enforcement related to the stay at home order. 
  • It’s still not clear when K-12 students will be allowed to go back to school or whether they’ll be able to use online learning toward required credit hours. A Whitmer spokesperson said the governor “can act through executive actions” but she is working with schools, the Legislature and the Michigan Department of Education to determine the best way forward.



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