UPHS CEO: Surge of unvaccinated coronavirus patients was ‘largely preventable’

The coronavirus transmission rate is high in all but one Upper Michigan county, according to the CDC.
Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 10:31 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - As Upper Michigan hospitals are now seeing more patients during this wave of the pandemic, the leader of the largest health care system in the area says the hospitalizations could have been avoided.

“This was largely preventable, based on the fact that we’re seeing the overwhelming majority be unvaccinated individuals,” said Gar Atchison, UPHS - Marquette CEO.

The coronavirus transmission rate is high in all but two Upper Michigan counties, according to the CDC.

As of Thursday, 49 of 62 available adult ICU beds in Upper Michigan hospitals are filled. That number is higher than one month ago, when 45 of 59 beds were filled. There are seven coronavirus patients in the ICU right now, which is five more than this time last month.

Atchison says his hospital is taking in more younger coronavirus patients.

“We’ve had admitted patients recently as young as 30,” he said Thursday.

This increase in coronavirus patients comes at the end of an already busy summer at U.P. hospitals. The latest state data shows 86% of beds at UPHS-Marquette are filled.

“Having to layer on additional COVID patients is definitely putting stress on the health care system,” said Atchison.

Amid the stress, health care workers are quitting.

“We’ve seen this across the country,” said Atchison. “People have left the field of medicine.”

Atchison and UP Health System - Marquette pediatric cardiologist Dr. James Reinhart say everyone 12 and older should talk to their doctor about getting vaccinated.

“It works better than any other defense we have. It drastically lowers the chances of somebody getting COVID. It, at least 30 times, reduces the chance of being hospitalized with COVID, including in those kids that are high risk like I see,” said Reinhart. “So vaccine’s the number one.”

Dr. Reinhart says with kids younger than 12 unable to get vaccinated right now, masking up is key. Few U.P. schools are requiring masks; however masks are required to be worn on school buses under a CDC order.

“In school, especially when you’re close to each other and indoors for a long time, masks are the best way to help prevent spread in that classroom and keeping kids healthy and in school,” he said.

In the meantime, UPHS has increased its protections for front line health care workers.

“Based on the risk profiles it’s back into N-95s and eye protection at all times on the clinical floors,” Atchison said.

Atchison says the general feeling among hospital staff right now is disappointment as more people in Upper Michigan go to the hospital because of the coronavirus and more people are dying. The hospital had another coronavirus death Wednesday.

Between June 1 and Sept. 1, coronavirus vaccinations in Upper Michigan have increased by 4.9 percentage points, according to state health department data, however transmission rates are up, especially among the unvaccinated. The U.P.’s overall vaccination rate stands at 57.5%.

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