ROYAL OAK, Mich. (AP) — Eric Gala passed up an opportunity to get ain Michigan, and he admits not taking the virus seriously enough. Then he got sick with what he thought was the flu. He thought he would sweat it out and then feel back to normal. Before long, the 63-year-old Detroit-area retiree was in a hospital hooked up to a machine to help him breathe. He had COVID-19.
“I was having more trouble breathing, and they turned the oxygen up higher — that’s when I got scared and thought I wasn’t going to make it,” a visibly weary Gala told The Associated Press on Wednesday from hisat Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, north of Detroit. “Many people tell me this was a fake disease.”
Gala’s situation illustrates how Michigan has become the currentand hospitalizations at a time when more than half the U.S. and other states have seen the virus diminish substantially. At least 734 Henry Ford .
Doctors, medical professionals, and publicpoint to several factors that explain how the situation has gotten so bad in Michigan. More contagious variants, especially the mutation first discovered in Britain, have become more prevalent here than in other states. from harsh, lengthy state restrictions on dining and crowd sizes, abandoned mask-wearing, and social distancing, especially in rural, northern parts of the state that had avoided severe outbreaks. The state has also had average vaccine compliance.
Michigan hasover the last two weeks, despite improvements in the numbers in recent days. By comparison, that is more cases than California and Texas had combined in the same period.
Beaumont Health, a centralin Michigan, recently warned that its hospitals and staff had hit critical capacity levels. numbers across the eight-hospital health system jumped from 128 on Feb. 28 to more than 800 patients.
“A year ago, the phrase was the tsunami,” said Dr. Paul Bozyk, assistant chief of critical care and pulmonary medicine at Beaumont Royal Oak. “It was chaotic. People were overwhelmed with what they were seeing: Death and dying., it’s more of a slow, rising flood. No big surge of patients, but we keep getting more each day. We’re full.”
A year ago, Detroit was an early epicenter when the virus first arrived in the U.S., prompting aggressive measures by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to stop the spread. That made her a target of then-Presidentand right-wing protesters. She vilified her as the epitome of government overreach in a year when Michigan played a pivotal role in the presidential election.
Toni Schmittling, ain Detroit, says that when Detroit was hard-hit, and her hospital had to double-up ventilator patients in one room, the rest of Michigan wondered why restrictions were needed.
“We’d say, ‘Are you kidding me? Peoplehere,'” Schmittling said. Nt Sinai-Grace, Beaumont Royal Oak, and other hospitals across the U.S., patients are younger than before, in their 30s to 50s, but don’t seem to get quite as sick.
Cases are spreading more, and rural areas are getting hit hard. Dr. Mark Hamed, medical director in the emergency department at McKenzie Hospital in Sandusky, Michigan, and for several counties in the state’s northern region, says the area was spared from rampant COVID-19, and that may have created a false sense of security, especially among the region’s farmers and blue-collar workers who suffered economically from the pandemic and already were feeling COVID fatigue.
“Businesses weren’t enforcing mask-wearing,” He said manyin the region shunned them anyway. Now, with and many people still unvaccinated, his area “is being hit pretty hard,” Hamed said. “Our ER is swamped beyond belief.”
The current surge has left medical staff beleaguered. Unlike their colleagues in other states where the virus is relatively under control, Michigan doctors and nurses are enduring another crisis — more than a full year after hospitals in Detroit were besieged.
“We start to gain some hope when the plateau hits, and then here we are with another surge,” said Lizzie Smagala, aICU, where masked-up hospital personnel quietly and methodically tend to the sick. “I think the people outside of our situation don’t understand the depths of what we’re going through, how long we’ve been going through it here in the hospital, and that COVID’s not ever left.”
COVID’s toll in Michigan has been much more than emergency rooms and ICU departments packed with the ill and thousands of people self-quarantining due to fear of contracting the virus. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost, and Detroit, which is 80% Black and has a high poverty level, has been especially hard hit by the virus and economic woes.
Schools were closed fors, reopened, and shuttered again this month in Detroit after the virus returned with a vengeance. In-person classes for the remainder of the school year in Detroit.
“Frankly, we have a lot of folks in the community that is just done with the pandemic,” said Bozyk. “It’s hard to be in social isolation for 13 months. Nobody wants that. That’s not good for psychological health. But as a medical practitioner treating COVID, I wanted to make COVID disappear. I would tell everyone to stay home until we get herd immunity.”
At the same time,has been an issue in Michigan. About 40% of the state has — about the same as the national average. 16 and older in Detroit have received at least one dose of vaccine. The city plans to go door-to-door to urge people to get — many of which are manufactured in Michigan at Pfizer’s plant near Kalamazoo.
When vaccinations began, it felt like “there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Schmittling said. “Then, what happens to Michigan — we’re like highest in the nation. What are we doing? What’s happening in Michigan? I wish I had the answers for that.”
Officials hope that the latesthas started to recede. More than 400 COVID-19 patients were Thursday morning at six Henry Ford Health in the Detroit area, down 10% from earlier in the week.
Still, the health system is seeing a softer vaccine demand: roughly 10,000 doses thiscompared to nearly 20,000 in recent weeks, said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, a chief clinical officer at Henry Ford.
The Gala was expected to be sent home from Beaumont Royal Oak this week. His brother-in-law, who caught the virus around the same time, died a fewago at another hospital. Gala still wonders when and how he saw the virus.
“I was, and sometimes I wasn’t,” he said. “I was never out in public without a mask. My biggest regret is I didn’t get vaccinated. This is a life-changer for me.” Associated in Detroit contributed to this story. Eggert reported from Lansing, Michigan. Tanner said from Three Oaks, Michigan.
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