LANSING, Mich. (AP) — People who haven’t been vaccinated for COVID-19 are taking up too many beds at Michigan’s strained hospitals, as the state prepares for the rapid spread of omicron variant, the governor said Tuesday.
The omicron variant is already the dominant strain in the U.S. and is expected to spread rapidly through Michigan in the near future, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a news conference in Grand Rapids where health officials also spoke.
“I have come to appreciate the fact that because this virus is mutating and it’s spreading so quickly, every one of us is likely going to have some exposure at some point,” Whitmer said. “What is our goal? To stay out of the hospital and to stay alive. And the best way to do that is through vaccination and through being boosted.”
Much remains unknown about the omicron variant, including whether it causes more or less severe illness than previous strains. Early studies suggest that the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing omicron infection, but that even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death, health officials said.
Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state health agency, said that although the state’s positivity rate has decreased to 16.2%, that is still too high. During the seven-day period that ended Dec. 9, Michigan recorded 756 COVID-19 deaths.
“That’s over 100 people every day, in one week, who won’t be here to celebrate the holidays or ring in the new year,” Hertel said. “And there could be hundreds or thousands more who won’t be at our tables next year.”
Hertel said that from Jan. 15 through Dec. 3, people who were unvaccinated or weren’t fully vaccinated made up 85.1% of the state’s recorded COVID-19 cases, 88.1% of its coronavirus-related hospitalizations and 85.5% of its deaths from the disease.
Health officials on Tuesday asked anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated to do so, if not to save their own lives but to save those of people who are the most in danger if they catch COVID-19 or who can’t get vaccinated.
Dr. Shelley Schmidt, a pulmonary and critical care doctor at Spectrum Health, talked about the daily experience of watching children crying over a dead parent and severely sick or dying parents asking doctors what more they could have done for their children and spouses?
“Since the beginning of this pandemic, I have never taken care of a patient dying from the vaccine,” Schmidt said. “I have taken care of dozens and dozens who are dead from this virus.”
Whitmer didn’t say whether the state could expect a return of mask mandates like those seen earlier in the pandemic, but she encouraged people to wear them and Hertel suggested people should upgrade the quality of the ones they wear.
“Our focus has to be on making sure that people get boosted and the unvaccinated get vaccinated, and that our kids get vaccinated,” Whitmer said. “Sweeping mandates are less likely to influence and encourage that population to get vaccinated.”
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