Michigan's record high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations could peak in late January or early February before beginning to drop, state health officials said Tuesday, while urging residents to help control the height of the crest.
“We have a choice to make: Do we want to work on bringing that peak down or do we just want to let this omicron surge explode?” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state's chief medical executive, who estimated the variant accounts for around 90% of infections in some regions.
Health leaders, who are reluctant to reinstate capacity restrictions or masking mandates, continued to implore people to voluntarily be vaccinated, get a booster shot if eligible, wear a well-fitting mask in public and avoid large gatherings.
They should upgrade to an N95 mask or wear two masks that fit well, said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Those who are sick but not in need of emergency medical care should avoid the emergency room and instead go to an urgent care or their physician and get tested at home or at a test site.
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The number of hospital patients with the coronavirus, now roughly 5,000, could rise to around 8,000 under the most pessimistic scenario or increase slightly under the most optimistic model. The figure is being closely watched because hospitals already “are under immense strain,” Hertel said.
She announced that the state is distributing free at-home COVID-19 tests to some public libraries, including in Detroit, Taylor and rural towns.
Also Tuesday, the Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools again called for state and county orders requiring masks in schools, noting that more than two-dozen districts or charter schools and four universities have recently pivoted to online learning due to staffing and attendance issues. K-12 districts with masking mandates cover 55% of students statewide — lower than before following the expiration of some orders that had been tied to those ages 5 to 11 becoming eligible for the vaccine.
One-third of residents ages 5 to 19 are fully vaccinated.
"Our state is on fire, because too many of those in power have not used that power to keep us from getting to this point,” Kathleen Lucas, an Ottawa County parent, said in a written statement. “Our children and educators, and our health care workers and those who need their care, are suffering needlessly due to this dereliction of duty.”
In northern Michigan, the school district for Traverse City and nearby counties reinstated a mask requirement — effective Wednesday — after letting it expire over the holiday break. Board members said it is designed to save in-person classes after middle school and high school students temporarily transitioned to virtual instruction this week.
The state health department strongly encourages school masking requirements but is not ordering them as it did for the entire 2020-21 academic year.
“What we're really talking about are masks that adhere well to your face — masks that form a good seal around your face and that are multi-layered," Bagdasarian said. “Those are now more important than ever, especially in settings like schools.”