By Jessica Mathews /

Michigan will expand the use of a COVID-19 treatment in hopes of substantially reducing climbing hospitalizations and deaths.

COVID-19 cases continue to surge both locally and across Michigan. At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun provided an update on COVID-19 cases, vaccines, and variants, and discussed the state’s efforts to expand the use of monoclonal antibody therapy to help those diagnosed with COVID-19 avoid hospitalization.

Whitmer said more than 5.4 million vaccines shave been administered to over 3.4 million Michiganders but cases continue to rise, the case positivity rate is hovering around 18% and two dozen hospitals are at 90% capacity or higher. She said the state is in a tough spot and difficult weeks lie ahead as the more infectious B117 variant continues to spread. Whitmer said everyone is experiencing pandemic fatigue but people need to get vaccinated and help slow the spread by taking proper safety precautions and mitigation measures.

Whitmer discussed what she described as promising therapeutic antibody treatments that are available to help those diagnosed with COVID to avoid serious symptoms and stay out of hospitals as the state faces a continuing surge in cases. She said the Regeneron and Eli Lilly monoclonal antibody treatments have been authorized for emergency use by the FDA and can be effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths for those diagnosed with COVID-19. Additional doses of monoclonal antibodies will be given to hospitals and other providers, which will be asked to add infusion sites. The treatment has concentrated doses of lab-made antibodies to fight coronavirus infections and is geared toward people who are at high risk for severe symptoms or hospitalization.

As for what’s causing the continuing case surge, the Governor said people are abandoning protocols and there’s more mobility, coupled with new variants that are very present in Michigan and easier to spread. She noted the state was very successful for a long period of time but people have dropped their guard because of pandemic fatigue. Whitmer stressed that they need to find ways to keep people safe and out of hospitals – adding public health laws in place to mitigate spread including a masked mandate, capacity limits on indoor gatherings, and mandatory testing for sports.

Dr. Khaldun said she is incredibly concerned about the state’s COVID data, noting this week Michigan surpassed the number of cases and hospitalization rates seen in the fall. She says data indicates broad community spread and the state is tracking roughly 1,152 outbreaks in counties across the state – with new outbreaks in K-12 schools, manufacturing, and construction, long-term care, re, child care, retail, restaurants, bars, and youth sports teams. Khaldun said the number of hospitalizations is increasing and many facilities are at or near capacity and people need to be using every tool possible to get cases and hospitalizations down.

Khaldun commented that she worked in an ER department last weekend and called it exhausting. She says they’re seeing more and more people being diagnosed with COVID and many are younger than what they were seeing with previous surges. She says hospitals are trying to take care of both types of patients, those with COVID and those coming in for other medical issues, but it is really putting a strain on staff, resources, and bed space - all of which are spread way too thin. Khaldun said patients are again lining the halls like last spring and the situation is very serious.

As for whether more restrictions will be implemented, Whitmer said they have been having a lot of conversations about what makes sense to bring down the spread and have been consulting with national experts. She said there are still some of the strongest protocols in Michigan, which many other states have dropped. Whitmer said the high positivity rates are not a question about policy but rather a testament to the fact there are combining issues. She says variants are very present in greater numbers than other states, there are reservoirs of people who didn’t get COVID but are now vulnerable to variants, and there’s exhaustion and fatigue with people dropping their guard. Whitmer said that’s why instead of mandating closing things, they are encouraging people to do what they know works – stressing there is a variant and compliance problem and people need to continue taking this seriously.