Michigan expands COVID-19 treatments amid highest case rate in nation


DETROIT, MI – APRIL 06: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks to members of the press about the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in Michigan and the vaccine availability before receiving a dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine at Ford Field on April 6, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. As the US reaches a milestone in vaccinations, a surge of new Covid-19 cases has swept through the US with Michigan seeing the highest numbers of new cases. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

LANSING, Mich. (NewsNation Now) — Michigan will expand the use of a COVID-19 treatment in hopes of substantially reducing climbing hospitalizations and deaths, state officials announced Wednesday as they continued to confront the nation’s highest infection rate.

Additional doses of monoclonal antibodies will be given to hospitals and other providers, which will be asked to expand the number of infusion sites. The treatment, delivered intravenously, has concentrated doses of lab-made antibodies to fight coronavirus infections and is geared toward people who are at high risk for severe symptoms or having to be hospitalized.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the treatment could save lives. Preliminary data suggests more than 6,600 residents have been treated with the medicine, with 65% reporting feeling better within two days and under 5% requiring hospitalization following treatment.

“Michiganders who contract COVID-19 should ask their health care providers about receiving this treatment, and I urge providers to assess if their patients qualify,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive. “We have seen successful use of this therapy in long-term care facilities and even in home use by EMS providers.”

Michigan on Wednesday reported 7,955 more confirmed cases of the virus and 33 additional associated deaths. The state has now had a total of 764,519 confirmed cases since the pandemic started in March 2020 and 16,619 related deaths.

Michigan has the worst coronavirus surge in the nation, with the case rate rising for seven straight weeks, the seven-day average of the test positivity rate above 18% and more than 2,750 confirmed cases of the more transmissible variants — more than any other state. The number of deaths has increased nearly 40% week-over-week and the state now ranks eighth in the nation in both highest number and rate of deaths.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer again encouraged Michigan residents to double down on washing their hands, practicing social distancing and wearing masks, as well as called on them to get vaccinated as soon as possible, to combat the state’s current coronavirus surge.

“We’re in a tough spot, Michigan,” Whitmer said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference in Lansing. “I know how hard this year has been on all of us. I know we’re all feeling pandemic fatigue, but we’ve got to remember we’re in this together. It’s going to take hard work to beat this pandemic, but Michiganders are used to hard work and we can beat this virus together.”

While the state still has a mask mandate, capacity restrictions and high school sports testing requirements in place, Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services did not issue any new restrictions Wednesday.

While blaming the surge on the success of previous mitigation and therefore having a larger population still vulnerable to the virus; wide spread of variants; and lax compliance with restrictions that are in effect, Whitmer has cited increased understanding of the virus and the vaccine rollout as her reasons for not issuing new rules.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said hospitals are reporting they are at or near capacity. Michigan has the highest hospitalization rates in the country with more than 18% of all hospital beds in the state treating COVID-19 patients. The state posted record highs of confirmed COVID-19 inpatients two days in a row this week — though not on Wednesday.

Khaldun, who is a working emergency room doctor, said she is seeing the surge stress health care infrastructure and exhaust her fellow health care workers.

“We are seeing more and more people who are being diagnosed with COVID-19,” she said at the governor’s briefing. “Many of them are younger than what we were seeing with previous surges. … Patients are again lining our hallways like they were last spring.”

“The surge we are seeing now is very troublesome,” added Dr. Adnan Munkarah, the executive vice president and chief clinical officer for Henry Ford Health System in metro Detroit, explaining his hospital system has seen a nearly sixfold increase in COVID-19 inpatients in the last four weeks.

He echoed the governor’s call for everyone to follow coronavirus mitigation protocols and get vaccinated.

“Families continue to lose their loved ones to COVID-19 and all struggle to cope with loved ones who are getting very sick and hospitalized,” Munkarah said. “Our care teams are emotionally and physically exhausted. They are more than committed and dedicated to provide the best care; however, they are frustrated to see people coming in, very sick and die of an infection that we can control.”

The state has received more than 6.2 million vaccine doses (all brands) and more than 5.5 million of those have been administered. More than 42% of the state’s population over the age of 16 has received at least one shot. The goal is to reach 70%.

NewsNation affiliate WOOD and The Associated Press contributed to this report

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