Though COVID-19 cases up, SW MI hospitals say treatments are better

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Health leaders in Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties held a virtual roundtable Thursday afternoon to ease some fears about the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Southwest Michigan and across the state.

Dr. Martinson Arnan from Bronson Healthcare, Dr. Thomas Rohs from Ascension Borgess and Dr. Summer Liston-Crandall from Oaklawn Medical Group joined Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Medical Director Dr. William Nettleton to discuss actions area hospitals have taken as case numbers rise.  

Nettleton started by sharing test positivity rates in Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties. As of Thursday, Kalamazoo’s rate was 12.7% and Calhoun’s 14.6%. 

“It’s not due to the fact there’s more testing. It’s due to the fact that there’s more of the virus circulating in our community at this time,” Nettleton noted.  

All three doctors said they are seeing closer to 20% positivity rates in tests conducted by their hospitals. Arnan said Bronson was were seeing 1 in 40 patients test positive in June. Last week, 1 in 5 tests were positive.

Doctors are encouraging people to seek medical treatment if they start to see “alarming symptoms.”

“We will keep you safe and we have the capacity to take care of you. It’s different than it was in the spring. It’s better than it was in the spring,” Rohs said.

Arnan agreed COVID-19 treatments have improved since the spring, noting doctors are using steroids more often and have more access to the antiviral remdisivir. Rohs added they have learned since early on that remdisvir is more effective when they use it “upfront” and they’re able to keep more people out of the ICU.  

Oaklawn Hospital faces different challenges than its larger regional neighbors, Liston-Crandall said, but agreed it is more prepared than it was in the spring. It has a stockpile of personal protective equipment and knows more about the virus.

“Knock on wood, we’ve had fewer ventilated patients,” she added.

Liston-Crandall said Oaklawn has had to make some changes in staffing, cutting back on some services like colonoscopies so it could move nurses and respiratory therapists to care for COVID-19 patients.  

Rohs said Borgess is also moving staff around in “creative ways.” It has had to press people back in to clinical service from administrative roles. He noted Borgess has tried to hire temporary nurses but that isn’t working because all hospitals in West Michigan experience staffing shortages and are pulling from the same pool.

All of the doctors on the roundtable agreed the news of highly effective vaccines nearly ready for emergency approval is a light at the end of a tunnel, with Rohs saying it was “the best news” he has heard in a while. He said he was hoping for a 60% efficacy so getting a vaccine that has 90% or more efficacy is encouraging.

Rohs said The Family Health Center will be one of the first places to get the vaccine in Kalamazoo County. Nettleton said the health department is planning distribution and getting sites ready with the freezers that will be necessary to keep the vaccine cold.  

The final message from all the doctors dialed in to the roundtable was a word of thanks to the community to supporting their staffs. They encouraged people to continue the mitigation efforts — wearing masks and washing hands regularly — that they’ve been championing for months.

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