GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This COVID-19 surge is different than the previous ones, Spectrum Health officials say.
“We’re definitely facing yet another surge and quite honestly, this is one of the worst we’ve seen since the pandemic began,” Spectrum Health West Michigan President Dr. Darryl Elmouchi said during a virtual briefing Wednesday afternoon.
The virus is now infecting people who are younger, he explained. He said the average age of its COVID-19 inpatients is 57, nearly a decade younger than the last surge. Fifteen percent of the patients are younger than 40.
“Just to describe what we’re seeing: The length of stay of patients in our hospitals during the surge over the winter was long. It shortened in the beginning of this (surge) because we were seeing a younger demographic that had less co-morbidities and was healthier, but over the last couple of weeks, our length of stay increased yet again, showing that people are in fact becoming sicker and having more complicated courses,” Elmouchi said.
Elmouchi and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital President Dr. Hossain Marandi added that plenty of the people — including children — coming in with the virus have been otherwise healthy.
“We’ve seen many kids that have had a very healthy life and very active that are now presenting with symptoms from COVID-19,” Marandi, a pediatrician, said. “As the incidence of the illness is lower in children, we are seeing some kids who are having significant issues with this virus now.”
He urged parents to model good mitigation practices their kids to help limit spread among children and to get vaccinated to help limit opportunities for them to get the virus. He also reminded parents that recent guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics says children as young as 2 can safely wear cloth masks to help protect them.
Spectrum Health had 291 COVID-19 inpatients as of Wednesday, 17 fewer than the day before. However, the total is 20% higher than the previous week and 35% higher than two weeks ago. Nearly 70 of the inpatients, including five children, are in intensive care.
But Elmouchi said that while Spectrum hospitals are “very, very busy,” they are not near or at capacity because they operate as a system.
Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said she was hopeful it saw its peak over the weekend.
During the fall surge, the hospital system peaked at 350 inpatients in late November.
STATE TOPS 800,000 CASES, 17,000 deaths
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday announced 5,584 more confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the total in the state to to 804,724 since the start of the pandemic. That means about 1 in 12 people in the state have contracted the virus.
The state also recorded 45 more related deaths for a total of 17,031.
On Tuesday, labs tested 46,581 samples for the virus and 5,720 were positive, a rate of 12.28%. The number of positive tests is not the same as the number of new cases because people may be tested more than once. Additionally, testing numbers are from a single calendar date, while the number of new cases lists the increase since the last time the state compiled the data; these two time frames do not match up precisely.
Kent County confirmed 390 more confirmed cases of the virus, bringing its total since the start of the pandemic to 61,236. The number of deaths remained unchanged at 708.
Other West Michigan counties did report additional deaths:
- Barry County: One more death for 54 total; 4,616 total confirmed cases since March 2020.
- Berrien County: Two more deaths for 242 total; 12,847 total cases.
- Branch County: One more death for 88 total; 4,015 total cases.
- Calhoun County: One more death for 247 total; 11,008 total cases.
- Muskegon County: One more death for 310 total; 12,630 total cases.
Wayne County, hit hardest by the virus, reported 973 more confirmed cases for a pandemic total of 136,168 and 13 more deaths for a total of 4,220. Neighboring Oakland County has had 92,282 cases (695 more than the previous day) and 2,026 deaths (four more). Macomb County has had 83,422 cases (594 more) and 2,017 deaths (four more).
While the state continues to see high case and test positivity rates, the case rate appearing to have leveled off somewhat and the test rate having declined slightly. Still, the state continues to have the worst outbreak in the country, with the highest case rate and numbers.
The state also has the second most confirmed cases of the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, behind only Florida, at 3,455. B.1.1.7 was first identified in the United Kingdom. Michigan also has 15 confirmed case of the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa; 78 cases of B.1.427/B.1.429, which came out of California; and 26 of P.1, first identified in Brazilian travelers.
“The virus is very clever and it continues to evolve,” Freese Decker said. “The COVID-19 that is circulating now is not the same virus that we prepared for last spring nor that we experienced last fall. It is this B.1.1.7 strain that is most dominant in Michigan.”
She explained B.1.1.7 is between 50% and 75% more contagious than previous strains.
“It has the propensity to spread faster and cause larger outbreaks, particularly among unvaccinated persons,” Freese Decker said, “and it also appears to have a higher propensity to spread in infected elementary school children in contrast to previous circulating strains.”
That means we’re seeing more COVID-19 in kids.
“Even young, healthy people and children with no preexisting conditions can get very, very sick with this virus,” Freese-Decker said. “So we’re asking you to take COVID-19 seriously. Do your part to stay healthy and well by practicing prevention and getting the vaccine.”
She and Elmouchi pointed out that the vaccine is effective against B.1.1.7, so it is still key in combating the surge.
“It’s some of the strains coming from South Africa, Brazil and new strains you hear about every day where there’s some questionable, decreased efficacy,” Elmouchi said. “But against the U.K. strain, very effective, so this should be all the more reason we all get vaccinated.”
Statewide, a large number of people continue to be hospitalized with the virus, with more than 3,900 adult inpatients confirmed to have it — still more than during the fall surge. No other state has as high inpatient bed or ICU bed utilization.
Elmouchi said hospitals on the east side of the state, which saw a worse surge this time than during the fall, seem to have entered a plateau early last week. This week, things started looking a little better here on the west side.
“Every day over the last, quite honestly, month, it’s been the same or worse each day in terms of number of admissions. Today was the first day that I can remember where finally it felt like things were maybe easing,” he said. “…We think we might be headed down a bit, but I don’t want anyone to be lulled into a false sense of security here. This absolutely is both real and could easily jump back up if people let their guard down.”
While the statewide number of daily deaths isn’t as high now as it was at this point of the fall surge, the number is climbing. It increased 25% last week from the week before. Michigan ranks eighth in highest number of deaths and 11th in highest death rate, dropping three spots in the latter.
Elmouchi said about 5% of Spectrum’s COVID-19 inpatients are dying, about half the percentage during the fall surge. He suggested that with more older people who are more likely to die of the virus vaccinated, the death toll from this time around could be lower than previous surges.
But he also warned that the rate could rise in coming weeks — it’s a metric that lags behind others.
The state has received more than 8 million vaccine doses and more than 6 million of those have been administered. Nearly 46% of the state’s population over the age of 16 has received at least one shot and nearly 32% has finished their doses. The goal is to reach 70%.
Spectrum Health says that it has administered more than 352,000 doses and it has the capacity to do more.
“The vaccines work. They’re effective, they’re safe,” Elmouchi said, explaining Spectrum had seen that among its own employees who have gotten them. “They’re the best way we’re going to get back to normal.”
MDHHS says it has tracked 694 cases in which someone contracted the virus after they were considered fully vaccinated — that is, 14 days after their final shot. That’s less than .03% of the more than 2.5 million people in Michigan who have finished their doses. The state says 14 of the people also died, 12 of whom were older than 65.
Spectrum Health says it has detected 16 such “breakthrough” cases. Seven of those patients came in with COVID-19 symptoms. The others didn’t have symptoms but were “incidentally discovered” as Spectrum conducts widespread screening among people who come in with other ailments.
MDHHS epidemiologists have noted that none of the vaccines have a 100% efficacy rate and that the number of breakthrough cases is within the expected range.
“These vaccines … are incredibly effective,” Elmouchi said. “And if someone (who have been vaccinated) were to have COVID, the likelihood to have severe disease, as was shown in those clinical trials, remains incredibly low.”
Vaccination appointments are becoming more widely available. The Ottawa County Department of Public health is hosting a walk-in clinic Wednesday until 6 p.m. at the Holland Civic Center Clinic at 150 W. 8th St. for those 16 and up. People can get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
People age 18 and up can also walk in or schedule an appointment at Holland Hospital Urgent Care this week to get their first dose of the Moderna vaccine.
Finally, a walk-in clinic will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Walgreens Clinic at Grand Valley State University’s Holland Campus at 515 S. Waverly Road.
Bronson Healthcare is looking for pharmacy technicians, medical assistants and patient representatives to help run clinics throughout Southwest Michigan. You can apply for full-time and part-time jobs on Bronson’s website.