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Officials plead for "simple precautions" as Kent County COVID-19 hospitalizations rise

Mick Haupt

Health officials in Kent County are pleading with people to take “simple precautions” as new COVID-19 case numbers rise, and hospitals throughout West Michigan see an increase in cases.

Spectrum Health, the area’s largest hospital system, reported 81 confirmed COVID-19 patients in its hospitals as of Thursday, an increase compared to the number of patients it treated for much of the summer.

“Most of those are occupying our general medical beds, rather than the ICU,” says Joshua Kooistra, Spectrum’s chief medical officer. “Although we do have a portion of those in the intensive care unit.”

Kooistra says quicker test results and improvements in treatment mean that COVID-19 patients face better chances than they did in the spring.  

But with cases continuing to rise, especially in Kent County, there are worries the situation could get worse.

"Our hospitals haven’t seen numbers like this since the first wave arrived in May,” said Adam London, health officer for the Kent County Health Department, in a video update Thursday.

“To be clear, the majority of these people are going to survive,” London said. “However, there will be fewer successful outcomes if the hospitals become overwhelmed.”

Kent County isn't the only one in West Michigan seeing an increase. Bronson Healthcare, which has four hospitals throughout West Michigan, is reporting a 154% increase in COVID-19 admissions across its system, according to a spokesperson. And Mercy Health reports its Muskegon hospital currently has the highest number of COVID-19 patients of any hospital in its statewide system.

Still, the increase in Kent County is alarming to health officials, in part because that's where the highest number of new cases are.

Data from the Health Department shows Kent County has had more new daily cases of COVID-19 than Wayne, Oakland or Macomb counties for most of October. That's even though Kent has a lower overall population. 

And London noted that, while cases in the county have risen dramatically, the number of COVID-19 tests administered has not. This week, nearly six percent of COVID-19 tests came back positive, a rate that’s about double the positivity rate for the county during much of September.

There’s no one explanation for why cases have been increasing in Kent County. Kooistra says some of the increase has been due to “hotspots” such as colleges, many of which re-opened in September. But, he says, that doesn’t explain all of the increase in the county.

“I think we’re seeing an increased number due to just fatigue of mask-wearing, of vigilance, of the community really being proactive to try and prevent the spread,” Kooistra says.

In the Kent County Health Department’s video update posted Thursday, London pleaded with people to continue to wear masks, keep their distance from others and wash their hands.

He said the virus is not a political issue.

“I implore all of you to please set aside divisiveness about this one issue,” London said. “Please do the right things, do the patriotic thing and follow the simple precautions that can prevent illness, injury and death.”

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Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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