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Sault Michigan hospital braces for potential COVID surge

War Memorial Hospital president says outbreak at Kinross prison, ongoing community spread could divert staff from surgical procedures, treating other serious illnesses
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War Memorial Hospital in Sault Michigan is bracing for an influx of positive COVID-19 cases following a reported outbreak at a state prison in nearby Kinross.  

A total of 63 prisoners and 16 staff at Chippewa Correctional Facility have tested positive for the virus, according to a report from Michigan Department of Corrections Wednesday. The cases were identified through COVID-19 testing at six prisons in the Upper Peninsula by the Michigan National Guard this week. One inmate and 12 staff have also tested positive for the virus at Kinross Correctional Facility. 

Appearing on Sault Michigan radio earlier this week, War Memorial Hospital President and CEO David Jahn told Mark SanAngelo of WSOO 1230 that he had knowledge of an outbreak at one of the prisons in Kinross, which could potentially put a strain on staff and resources at War Memorial Hospital. 

Jahn said there are a total of six COVID-19 patients at War Memorial Hospital, three of them in intensive care. Half of the intensive care unit beds at the hospital are now being used by COVID patients. 

The hospital president says UP Health System and McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey are not taking patient transfers from War Memorial Hospital due to being maxed out, noting that the 28-patient COVID unit at the hospital in Petoskey was at full capacity.  

“If we continue to see increases in COVID admissions and we have to divert our staff from doing elective procedures or other surgical procedures because we need them to take care of the COVID patients, then that creates issues as well for our community,” said Jahn during Tuesday’s radio interview. “It’s not just here, it’s everywhere."

"So when Petoskey can’t accept patients anymore, at least in the short term, you hear UP Health System can’t accept patients anymore – we’re pretty much going to have to do it on our own.”   

The hospital president said a prison outbreak, combined with community spread, could contribute to stressing out the healthcare system. 

Jahn pointed to Monday, when 420 COVID-19 tests produced 40 positive cases, marking a single-day high in new cases for Chippewa County. 

“Even if you don’t believe in the COVID virus, and you don’t think you’re going to get sick from it or you’re going to die from it, understand that by the resources the COVID patients are taking up in every hospital in state and the country, you could be in a situation where that hospital doesn’t have the resources to treat your other serious illness, because they’re so busy treating the COVID patients.” 

Citing a "tremendous rate of acceleration" of COVID-19 infection rates in Chippewa County, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. City Council passed a resolution Monday calling on the federal government to implement a three-week pause on any exemptions to international travel between Canada and the United States across the International Bridge, with the exception of the transportation of the critical goods and services and people directly involved in the care and treatment of patients in a hospital setting.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 181 confirmed cases and 219 probable cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Chippewa County. No deaths have been reported.