We must now look beyond the stay-home order

By Sen. Curt VanderWall
35th Senate District

On March 23, as the number of COVID-19 cases in Michigan grew to more than 1,000, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued her first stay-at-home executive order. The reasoning behind the order was to ensure that our hospitals were not overwhelmed and that hospitals and health care workers were prepared to take care of the sickest people as the number of cases increased.

Wayne County has been Michigan’s hotspot for the COVID-19 pandemic since it began, with more than 40% of the state’s confirmed cases being reported there and more than half of Wayne County’s cases coming from the city of Detroit. Accordingly, the hospitals in Wayne County and Detroit have been hit hard.

There was fear that the outbreak might overwhelm the Detroit hospitals. Thankfully, we are seeing those fears subside. On April 16, Henry Ford Health System announced it had resumed outpatient surgeries in designated rooms at its five hospitals. Other health systems made similar announcements.

To help alleviate an anticipated surge, the TCF Center in Detroit was opened as a nearly 1,000-bed field hospital, while Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi opened with 250 beds. These moves proved unnecessary, as fewer than 40 patients have needed care at these two field hospitals.

The stay-at-home order has succeeded; hospitals are able to handle cases of the virus. In fact, the number of cases and deaths in the state appear to have plateaued. On April 26, Michigan reported that 41 Michiganders died from COVID-19, the lowest number since late March.

Three days before she issued her first stay-at-home order, the governor issued Executive Order 2020-17 banning all “nonessential medical and dental procedures.” The president of the Michigan State Medical Society, Dr. S. Bobby Mukkamala, said on April 29 that the governor should rescind that order.

“MSMS encourages Gov. Whitmer to rescind EO 2020-17 because the number of COVID-19 cases have declined since it was ordered,” he said in a statement to Gongwer News Service. “Physicians are highly trained in microbiology and are capable of providing care during the pandemic using safe office guidelines. The aggressive response to the pandemic has saved lives. Now is not the time to negatively impact those very lives by further deferring important medical care.”

I agree with Dr. Mukkamala. We must stop delineating “essential” versus “nonessential” health care and work, as the governor continues to do. Many medical procedures the governor deems “nonessential” are essential for those who are suffering, and as Dr. Mukkamala points out, they can be accomplished safely.

All workers are essential, and all livelihoods have meaning — especially when depriving them means depriving a family of the money it takes to put food on the table.

As we turn our attention to returning to work, we need to continue to track important hospital data throughout the state: the availability of hospital beds; intensive care unit capacity; the number of ventilators. Thankfully, both the state and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association are now doing this.

This information will be important as we move forward. But it is not all we need.

We need Gov. Whitmer to come to the table with the Legislature and agree to commonsense changes to her current approach to dealing with this outbreak.

Senator Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Health Policy and Human Services. He serves the residents of the 35th Senate District, representing the counties of Benzie, Crawford, Kalkaska, Lake, Leelanau, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Ogemaw, Osceola, Roscommon and Wexford. He can be reached at 517-373-1725 or [email protected].