Flint, MI— As COVID-19 cases continue to spike, hospitals in Flint and Genesee County are approaching patient capacity.
According to data by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, McLaren Flint is at 88% capacity, Hurley Medical Center is at 93% and Ascension Genesys Hospital in Grand Blanc is at 90%.
The increase in bed occupancy directly correlates with the uptick in COVID-19 cases, Dr. Debra Furr-Holden said, director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions and Associate Dean for Public Health Integration at Michigan State University.
“Our infection rates have tripled over the last three weeks,” she said.
Among those who get tested for COVID-19 in Genesee County, 14.8% have positive results, Furr-Holden said, adding that this is the average across the state but higher than the 11.9% national average.
Previously, Genesee County was seeing positivity rates as low as 1%, she said.
There is no one reason for the increase in coronavirus cases, it’s multifaceted, Furr-Holden said.
While those who don’t practice social distancing, don’t wash their hands or refuse to wear masks contribute to the increase, there are larger, systemic issues at play, she said.
“The problem is we don’t have all of the appropriate provisions in place to protect all of our population equitably. So, not having enhanced unemployment for people who are not able to shelter in place is a problem. We need better occupational protection so that people who have to go back to work are able to do so safely without putting themselves, their families and their communities in harm’s way. We need ongoing policy interventions at the local, the state and at the national level. And those things, unfortunately, are all contributing to the increase in the spread of the virus.”
If the trend continues, hospitals could become overwhelmed and will have to refuse some patients.
“It’s going to be what we had before, they’re going have to turn people away. Or you’ll have people on gurneys in hallways. We already know what this leads to,” she said.
Due to the surge, recent data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows shortages in personal protection equipment and medical devices necessary for treating COVID-19, like ventilators.
Furr-Holden said there’s still time to get ahead of a potential crisis situation like the U.S. saw in March. In addition to wearing masks, basic hygiene and sheltering in place when possible, she recommends what’s known as “cadence testing,” which means getting tested for COVID-19 regularly.
“The cadence of your testing needs to match the rhythm of your exposure. So, if you are not leaving your house at all, you don’t need to get tested that often. If you’re going to work every day, if you’re out shopping a lot, if you’re engaged in the community… you absolutely should be getting tested every week,” she said.
Individuals can have the virus but not show symptoms, which is why it’s important for everyone to know their status, Furr-Holden said, adding that there’s been an underutilization of the testing that’s available in Flint.
In the upcoming weeks, numbers will likely rise again due to the Thanksgiving holiday, Furr-Holden said.
“There’s no one group who can solve this problem. And we really are now at the point where, in the absence of a safe vaccine, we really need people to honor the protocols and practice masking up, washing their hands and social distancing. That is our best strategy right now.”
By press time hospital officials were not available for comment.
For information about no-cost COVID-19 testing sites in Flint, visit the Genesee County Health Department’s website.