ROYAL OAK, Mich. – Eric Gala passed up an opportunity to get a coronavirus vaccine when shots became available in Michigan, and he admits not taking the virus seriously enough.
Then he got sick with what he thought was the flu. He thought he would sweat it out and then feel back to normal.
Before long, the 63-year-old Detroit-area retiree was in a hospital hooked up to a machine to help him breathe. He had COVID-19.
“I was having more trouble breathing and they turned the oxygen up higher — that’s when I got scared and thought I wasn’t going to make it,” a visibly weary Gala told The Associated Press on Wednesday from his hospital bed at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, north of Detroit. “I had so many people tell me this was a fake disease.”
Gala’s situation illustrates how Michigan has become the current national hotspot for COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations at a time when more than half the U.S. adult population has been vaccinated and other states have seen the virus diminish substantially.
Doctors, medical professionals and public health officials point to a number of factors that explain how the situation has gotten so bad in Michigan. More contagious variants, especially the mutation first discovered in Britain, have taken root here with greater prevalence than other states. Residents have emerged from harsh, lengthy state restrictions on dining and crowd sizes and abandoned mask wearing and social distancing, especially in rural, northern parts of the state that had largely avoided severe outbreaks. The state has also had average vaccine compliance.
Michigan has recorded a highest-in-the-nation 91,000 new COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, despite improvements in the numbers in recent days. By comparison, that is more cases than California and Texas had combined in the same period.
Beaumont Health, a major hospital system in Michigan, recently warned that its hospitals and staff had hit critical capacity levels. COVID-19 patient numbers across the eight-hospital health system jumped from 128 on Feb. 28 to more than 800 patients.