Local hospitals ready for more patients as COVID-19 surge continues

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan health systems say they are preparing for the already growing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to surge even further.

The state of Michigan is leading the nation in coronavirus cases. While the surge is happening everywhere, a map included in a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services briefing this week shows the majority of cases are in the Detroit area and nearby Southeast Michigan.

Hospitals in West Michigan say they are expanding their intensive care units, preparing for the possibility that the trend could travel west. 

“I am a little worried that we might follow suit with (Detroit). The east side’s spring break was about a week earlier than ours on average,” Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, the president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, said Thursday.

Spectrum hospitals are now treating more than 270 patients for COVID-19 — 100 more than just two weeks ago but still lower during the fall surge peak. The hospital is seeing its highest test positivity rates in people under the age of 18.

“We are really seeing a lot of sick people with COVID — a lot of sick, young, otherwise healthy people,” Elmouchi said. “The public, as much as they can, just needs to understand this is not a fake disease.”

Mercy Health says it recorded a positivity rate of about 23% this past week. Public health officials say a rate around 3% indicates community spread is controlled.

As of Thursday afternoon, it was treating 45 patients at the Grand Rapids facility and about 40 people in Muskegon.

“It’s still cold and more and more people are getting together in group events and families are getting together because the people that were most traditionally at risk were the older people in the family and they are now protected (with a vaccine),” Mercy Health’s infectious diseases division chief Dr. Andrew Jameson said.

Both hospitals say while the spike in cases has not been followed proportionally by hospitalizations or deaths, as seen during the fall surge, they are seeing a significant uptick in both. 

“What typically happens is two to three weeks after that (positivity) rate starts going up, we start seeing hospitalizations. So I would feel pretty confident in saying there is some kind of disconnect right now and I suspect it’s because we have such a high percentage of those over 65 vaccinated,” Jameson said.

They also say they have seen a few patients in their facilities who received a vaccine. 

“It is still doing its job to prevent severity of illness, but it’s not 100%,” Jameson explained. “I really want our community not to push it.”

Health care workers say while the numbers are concerning, there is hope that this storm will soon pass. 

“Everybody is tired. I mean, the good news is they know what to do, it’s not as much of a mystery anymore, kind of like seasoned veterans,” Elmouchi said.

Both Spectrum and Mercy are encouraging people to continue getting vaccinated. Both say they have openings for appointments on Friday. 

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