East Lansing Continues to See Covid Deaths, as Local Hospitals Deal with Case Surge

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

Ingham County is currently experiencing approximately one thousand new cases of Covid-19 a week, according to Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail.

East Lansing’s 48823 zip code has had three deaths each week for the last three weeks, having now reached a total death count from the covid-19 pandemic of at least 32 people in 48823. Ingham County is currently seeing about fourteen deaths total per week.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that the East Lansing area is part of a troubling trend. Deaths in college communities have risen more quickly than elsewhere. In their reporting, the Times referred to Dennis and Sharon Neuner, an East Lansing couple in their 70s. Both contracted the disease but were unsure how. Sharon died of the disease in November.

At her weekly press conference this Tuesday, Vail told reporters that the number of hospitalizations is plateauing but are at some of the highest numbers since the pandemic began. According to Vail, the number of people needing ventilators has been trending up even as hospitalizations have been leveling off.

As of Tuesday morning, 157 people were hospitalized for Covid-19 in Ingham County’s two hospitals – Sparrow and McLaren. Of those, two were pediatric cases, 21 were people in intensive care units, and 25 were on ventilators.

On Monday afternoon, ELi spoke to Sparrow spokesperson John Foren, who said that Sparrow Lansing had 109 Covid-19 patients.

ELi also spoke to a representative from McLaren who explained that the hospital was focusing on vaccine distribution and could not provide detailed information at that time.

Clinical treatment has been improving for those suffering from Covid-19 as medical experts have learned more about the disease, but hospital capacity and staffing shortages are now significant concerns.

Sparrow Lansing was at 93 percent capacity as of Monday afternoon, according to Foren, Sparrow’s representative. Patients with Covid-19 account for roughly 20 percent of all inpatients at all Sparrow’s hospitals – including community hospitals outside Ingham County – stated Foren.

“Capacity is kind of a nebulous issue at a hospital,” Foren told ELi, explaining that the hospital has plans to accommodate roughly 150 Covid-19 patients but could adapt other units if that threshold is reached.

Sparrow is still permitting elective procedures and accepting patients from the wider region for critical care, relying on its community hospitals to accommodate patients with less critical needs. Sparrow has also opened over 20 beds at its St. Lawrence campus in Lansing.

While Foren said that Sparrow does not have major concerns about supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), staffing does represent a major concern.

“Staffing is where we feel it,” said Foren.

As of Monday, roughly 90 caregivers employed in the Sparrow system were currently positive for Covid-19, with most believed to have contracted the disease outside the hospital.

Right now, Sparrow has close to one thousand job openings for all specialties (not just positions that deal directly with Covid care). Medical providers who work at Sparrow tell ELi that the hospital is now offering big bonuses to anyone who recruits new employees in the most critically-needed areas, including respiratory therapy.

This week, some hope is on the way as the first deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are being delivered across the United States.

Vail said that the Ingham County Health Department was slated to receive a shipment of vaccines on Tuesday. Currently, vaccines are being distributed according to the State of Michigan’s plan, which prioritized EMS workers (paramedics and ambulance drivers); general medical floor, emergency room, and ICU workers in hospitals; and skilled nursing facilities.

Sparrow and McLaren will use the vaccines they receive for their frontline workers, and ICHD has several health care workers that it also needs to vaccinate.

At Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting, City Manager George Lahanas referenced the likelihood of East Lansing Police and Fire Departments soon receiving vaccines from ICHD.

Related: See ELi’s Adan Tomas Quan’s report on how ELPD and ELFD are working to protect their staff during the public health emergency.

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