Even as Michigan's Covid hospitalizations dip, health care workers warn state still in crisis

This week brought good news and bad news on the Covid front. For the first time in nearly 50 days, the number of Michigan's hospitalized COVID-19 patients fell. 

According to state data released Wednesday, 4,361 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. That's about 150 fewer patients. 

Wednesday's silver lining came with dire warnings from health officials that the numbers "are not easing off."

"It's a crisis we have witnessed, but almost every hospital in the state is seeing," said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, chief clinical officer at Henry Ford Health System. 

The Metro Detroit hospital chain has seen a 34% increase in new patients infected with COVID-19. Currently, it's managing some 500 patients - 75% of which are unvaccinated against the virus. Munkarah said about 85% of those in the ICU or on ventilators are unvaccinated. 

Michigan's hospitalization rate is the highest of the pandemic, despite the availability of vaccines and scientific backing of masks and social distancing as protective measures. But with the holiday season in full swing and the omicron variant projected to become the dominant strain in the U.S. by January, a small dip in hospital numbers means little to the physicians that are anticipating the surge climbing even higher.

RELATED: Doctor who caught omicron at super spreader event says pandemic isn't just due to the unvaccinated

The spike in numbers is creating a double crisis for hospitals as staff burnout is reaching a tipping point. 

Bob Riney, Henry Ford Health System's Chief Operating Officer warned that the hospital is relying heavily on contracted staff and dipping deep into overtime hours for current employees to stave off the increase in patients. 

"This current condition is a crisis. There's no way around it, no way to sugarcoat it. Our emergency rooms are at capacity," he said.

"Combining soaring numbers with staff shortages that were only made worse by the pandemic, we have a very troublesome situation."

RELATED: National Cathedral to ring funeral bell 800 times in memory of 800K Americans lost to COVID-19

Riney advised anyone looking to get tested should go to their local pharmacy and not the hospital. Some non-urgent surgeries have also been delayed at Henry Ford Health hospitals. 

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Munkarah said he was encouraged by initial reports the omicron variant, while far more transmissible, may not generate severe health outcomes like the delta variant. 

But the danger remains and until more people get vaccinated, the "pandemic of the unvaccinated" won't end, Munkarah said. 

Jacqueline Pflaum-Carlson, M.D., a Henry Ford critical care and emergency medicine physician, works on the ICU floors at one of the hospitals. She described the scenes she witnessed as "heartbreaking," knowing severe infection is preventable.

"We know that patients are led astray by social media or false information," she said. "A majority who did get sick all regret not getting vaccinated."

Earlier this week, the number of Americans that have died from a COVID-19 eclipsed 800,000

On Wednesday, the state recorded an additional 330 deaths and 11,722 cases over a two-day period. The portion of tests coming back positive in Michigan has exceeded 15% for a record 39 consecutive days.