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In some Michigan communities, COVID-19 deaths doubled in November


During the month of November alone, the number of people who died from COVID-19 doubled in certain hospitals and health systems across Michigan. 

Sparrow Health System recorded 50 deaths between March and October. In November, it recorded 47. (Those numbers are considered unofficial, and could change after officials review the medical records.)

Similar trends were recorded in Muskegon County and Ottawa County, both in West Michigan.

Tina Ray, a nurse at Sparrow and president of the Lansing hospital's bargaining unit for the Michigan Nurses Association, says her colleagues are tired of watching patients die.

“And they don’t see any end in it at all," she says. "They feel like they’re on a wheel, and it’s just going around and around and around, and nothing’s changing.”

As of December 3, 94% of beds in Sparrow’s main hospital in Lansing were full, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Of 120 COVID patients, 18 were in the intensive care unit.

Staff at Mercy Health Muskegon hospital, listed as 100% full on December 3, are feeling downtrodden too.

“It’s difficult,” says the hospital’s chief medical officer Dr. Justin Grill. “There’s no way around the difficult nature of putting your heart and soul into the care of patients time after time after time, (when) despite your best efforts, that care ends in death.”

Muskegon County, where Mercy Health is the only hospital, confirmed 86 COVID deaths between March and October, and 93 in November.

Those numbers are consistent with the rise in cases over the last month and a half, says health officer Kathy Moore. 

Moore says people who’ve been exposed to the virus should act immediately so as to reduce the spread of the virus and give overwhelmed case investigators and contact tracers some relief.

“We’ve advised them to please do not wait to hear from the public health department, to please isolate, and contact their close contacts and ask them to quarantine," she says. 

Just south, in Ottawa County, deputy health officer Marcia Mansaray confirmed a similar pattern: November deaths — 80 — almost equaled those in all previous months of the pandemic: 78.

She says that even with hospitalizations appearing to decline, she’s not ready to rest easy.

“We’re in quite a dire situation,” she says. “We are beginning to see plateau right now. But I’m not putting a lot of confidence in that until I see a decrease that’s significant.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post said the number of COVID-19 patients at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing was 138 as of December 3. The correct number is 120.

Will Callan, a reporter for Michigan Radio, hails from the Bay Area, where he lived in Oakland and San Francisco and reported for local newspapers and magazines. He enjoys a long swim in chilly water (preferably followed by a sauna) and getting to know new cities. That's one reason he's excited to be in Ann Arbor, which he can already tell has just the right combo of urban grit and natural beauty to make him feel at home.
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