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Vaccine eligibility expands in West Michigan as hospitals see "surge" in new COVID-19 patients

Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio

West Michigan’s largest vaccination site is opening up to everyone over the age of 16, effective immediately.

Anyone who wants to sign up can schedule their COVID-10 vaccination at the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic here. The clinic is located at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids.

Spectrum Health, the largest hospital system in the region, says 12,500 people got a dose of the vaccine at the clinic on Monday, the largest single day mass-vaccination in the state so far. And they plan to vaccinate more than 50,000 at the clinic this week.

“This is how we will get through this,” said Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, which is one of the partners that operates the clinic.

Elmouchi and other leaders at Spectrum Health announced the vaccine eligibility expansion Tuesday afternoon, while also noting a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases for the state and the region.

"This is strangely and sadly reminiscent of what we felt in the fall."

Spectrum Health is the largest hospital system in West Michigan and Elmouchi says it has seen the number of inpatient COVID patients nearly triple in the past two weeks.

These patients are, on average, younger than the patients Spectrum Health hospitals saw during the fall surge, but many still require critical care. Elmouchi says COVID-19 ICU admissions have doubled in the past four or five days at Spectrum hospitals.

“This is strangely and sadly reminiscent of what we felt in the fall,” Elmouchi said. “As a matter of fact, the slope of that curve – or the increase – is actually a bit faster than we saw in October – November time frame.”

Elmouchi says the situation could worsen in the coming weeks, though he predicts test results may not reflect an increase in cases, because people may not seek a test during Spring Break.

“The next few weeks are going to be a little bit of an unknown,” Elmouchi says.

Leaders at Spectrum Health stopped short of calling for any new restrictions on dining or schools, and instead asked people in the community to take their own measures to stop the spread of the virus.

“We need to treat this surge seriously,” said Spectrum Health CEO Tina Freese Decker.

Freese Decker encouraged people to sign up for a vaccine, noting that, so far, Spectrum has not seen a single COVID-19 patient in its hospitals who had received the vaccine. For those who haven’t been vaccinated yet, she asked people to take the usual precautions: wearing a mask, washing hands, and keeping distance.

“It is hard,” she said. “It takes endurance to get to this herd immunity. It takes patience and vigilance. But I’m hopeful that this will be our last surge.”

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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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