State officials urge you to get vaccinated amid ‘critical’ COVID-19 surge

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — New variant, same message: With the COVID-19 surge in Michigan continuing, hospitals struggling to treat everyone and the omicron variant now identified here, state health officials on Friday renewed their call for everyone to get vaccinated.

“For individuals who have not yet been vaccinated, I want to be absolutely clear: You are risking serious illness, hospitalization and even death,” Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said during a virtual press conference. “If you are not fully vaccinated, it is not a matter of if you will get sick, but when.”

She called the state’s coronavirus trends “deeply concerning,” and the state’s chief medical officer Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian called the situation “critical.” The case rate is higher right now than it was at this time last year at nearly 650 per million people per day and state health officials are still expecting a post-Thanksgiving surge. The death rate, the last metric to change in any surge, is climbing; in the last week, 87 people died of COVID-19 each day.

With the hospitalization rate increasing for 20 weeks, the state is seeing the most COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began — about 21.5% of all the hospital beds are serving COVID-19 patients. That figure had not previously topped 20%. Hospitals are overtaxed and it’s affecting their ability to treat all patients, not just those with COVID-19. As evidence of that, non-COVID-19-related deaths are higher than usual.

Health care workers are exhausted, doctors say, and some are leaving the sector due to burnout. And on top of everything, hospitals, like every other industry, are struggling to deal with supply chain disruptions.

On Thursday, the state’s first omicron case was confirmed in Kent County. The patient, whose gender and age weren’t released, was vaccinated but not boosted and had a mild case, Bagdasarian said. Omicron is believed to be more transmissible than the original strain of the virus. So far, it isn’t believed to cause more severe cases, but it is still being studied.

Health officials say the COVID-19 vaccines will help protect you against a severe case of omicron, especially if you get a booster. People who aren’t vaccinated are more than four times more likely to contract the virus and over nine times more likely to die of it. Three out of four COVID-19 hospital inpatients have not been vaccinated.

“We do see breakthrough cases but that is expected as the number of people vaccinated grows,” Bagdasarian said. “But we can say the risk of becoming ill or dying is much higher in those who are unvaccinated.”

Experts say only about 2% of all vaccinated people have tested positive for the virus.

“What we’re seeing is that this is primarily a surge of the unvaccinated,” she said.

She said about 76% of COVID-19 inpatients, 87% in intensive care and 88% of patients on ventilators are unvaccinated.

Hertel reminded younger people that they’re at risk, too.

“Even people under the age of 65, including individuals in their 20s and 30s, are testing positive and ending up in the hospital,” she said. “In fact, in the past seven days, 30- to 39-year-olds are experiencing our highest cast rates.”

About 56% of all Michigan residents are vaccinated against the virus.

Hertel and Bagdasarian urged everyone to get their shots, including a booster, and to continue following mitigation protocols like wearing masks in public, social distancing and washing your hands frequently. The U.S. on Thursday approved Pfizer booster shots for 16 and 17 years old, and MDHHS is encouraging those eligible to get the booster.

Hertel and Bagdasarian also called on people to get tested for the virus if they are sick, may have been exposed or before holiday gatherings.

“We’re really at a critical place in this pandemic and it’s really time for everyone to do their part,” Bagdasarian said.

Hertel indicated there was no plan to reinstate statewide mitigation restrictions right now, saying the focus was on encouraging people to get vaccinated and boosted.

If you have questions or concerns about the vaccines, go see your family doctor to learn more.

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