Crain’s Saturday Extra: Sold out by omicron, e-bike and rail tunnel possibilities you should know

A common sight in drugstores in the Detroit metro and a sign of the disarray we are all going through right now. Photo by Scott Bragg.

A year ago, things were improving. In December 2020, the world cheered as trucks loaded with the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine rolled out of the Pfizer plant near Kalamazoo.

“There was a great sense of hope,” Wright Lassiter III, CEO of Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System and Crain’s 2021 Editor of the Year, said in his interview with Newsmakers. “We were delighted to begin the process of immunizing the wider community. We had the opportunity to see the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror opposite the windshield.”

But as 2022 approaches, the mood is not so happy. Michigan reported a daily total of more than 20,000 COVID-19 cases on Friday. Some argue that the number of daily cases is no longer the best mileage marker for where we are in this pandemic. But hospitalizations are also increasing again, at the same time as thousands of health workers are in quarantine. Beaumont Health alone had more than 430 employees in quarantine on Thursday, up from 154 on Tuesday. The healthcare system sent out an SOS this week: “Our healthcare systems are overwhelmed. If you’ve ignored our calls for help before, now is the time to act,” said Nick Gilpin, medical director of prevention infections and epidemiology in Beaumont. urging people to get vaccinated, boosted and masked.

Beyond the numbers, confusion and uncertainty have made it almost impossible to return to “business as usual” in the New Year. Omicron is making the worker shortage even worse, as many workers quarantine themselves and many more do not feel safe returning to work in person. Several public school districts became estranged this week, and parents lucky enough to be able to work from home divide their time between work and care. (Count me among them, again: My toddler’s daycare classroom was closed for COVID exposure this week.)

We even live in those old familiar rhythms of the early days of the pandemic: scrambling to find tests and browsing empty grocery store shelves.

How does it end? The optimistic scenario is that the omicron wave recedes rapidly and, if we’re lucky, leaves a lot of immunity in its wake. (This “best case” scenario still includes a lot of serious illness, disability, and death.) Could Omicron finally help us resolve the structural issues that have stuck us in this pandemic for nearly two years, leading to improvements in testing capacity, better and clearer public health messages, stronger paid sick leave policies in the workplace, strengthening our tattered child care system? One can only hope, since the emergence of another variant that is more contagious, more deadly or both is also a possibility.

I wanted so badly to write about something other than COVID-19 today. Experiencing this is exhausting, writing about exhaustion is exhausting. But that’s where we are now. We cannot resume our activities until we are done.

“There are no easier answers,” Lassiter told Crain. “No straw to end this thing. This period of leadership is, yes, painful. But we are still moving forward.”

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