Spectrum Health opens COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Spectrum Health is opening up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to everyone over the age of 16 and allowing everyone to schedule vaccination appointments online, no longer relying on its registration list.

An email went out Tuesday informing people of the change and Spectrum Health officials confirmed it during a virtual media briefing in the afternoon.

“Our goal is to put as many shots in arms as possible,” Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, said.

Those who wish to get vaccinated can schedule an appointment directly at SpectrumHealth.org/vaccine. Be aware that slots may fill up quickly. Keep checking back to see if new ones have been added. You can also call 833.755.0696 for an appointment if you need help.

So far, Michigan has received nearly 5 million vaccine doses and more than 4.2 million of those have been administered, reaching about a third of the state’s population over the age of 16, with a larger percentage of those over the age of 65 already haven gotten the shot. The goal is to reach at least 70%.

“In this latest surge we are seeing, it shows the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine. People showing up in our hospitals with COVID-19 are significantly younger on average than during the fall surge, and we have yet to care for someone who has been fully vaccinated,” Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said. “On our teams and in our communities, the vaccine is working.”

Spectrum says it has distributed 145,000 first doses and 82,000 second doses. The mass vaccination site at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids — which Spectrum is helping to run in conjunction with the Kent County Health Department and other area hospitals — gave 12,534 shots in about 12 hours Monday.

“As best we know, that is a record across the United States,” Elmouchi said.

State officials had already confirmed to News 8 that it appeared to be a record in Michigan.

The DeVos clinic isn’t the only option for getting your shot. Spectrum said it is holding many different types of clinics, including some targeted to vulnerable people “who have been underrepresented and underserved,” like those with transportation struggles, said Jon Ashford, chief operating officer for Spectrum Health United and Kelsey Hospitals.

Effective next week, everyone in Michigan age 16 and up will be eligible to get the shots, though it will still take time for enough doses to come into the state to reach everyone.

In addition to Spectrum, some cities and counties have already opened access to everyone. Kalamazoo County did so Wednesday; by 10:45 a.m., every appointment for the entire week had been filled. Health officials there say you can keep checking back with its website throughout the week to see if there have been any cancellations. Sets of next week’s appointments will open up for scheduling Monday at 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. If you can’t sign up online, you can call the COVID-19 Call Center at 269.373.5200.

VIRUS SURGE CONTINUES

On Tuesday, Michigan reported 5,177 newly confirmed coronavirus cases and 48 associated deaths.

Of the deaths, 20 were discovered during a routine check of death certificates to find any that had not already been reported to the state.

Michigan has now seen 665,948 total confirmed cases of the virus since it was first detected here in March 2020 and 16,082 related deaths.

On Monday, labs tested 27,630 samples for the virus and 4,255, or 15.4%, were positive. 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’s total death county rose by four to 683. It also confirmed 171 more cases for a total of 52,821.

A few other West Michigan counties also recorded additional deaths:

  • Barry County: Two more deaths for 50 total; 3,796 total confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
  • Branch County: One more death for 84 total; 3,639 total cases.
  • Ottawa County: One more death for 325 total; 23,122 total cases.

The number of deaths in Kalamazoo County was revised down by one to 289. This has not been uncommon as cases are double-checked and sometimes moved between jurisdictions. It has had 15,012 total cases.

Wayne County, the state’s most populous, saw nine more deaths for a total of 4,021 and 1,060 more confirmed cases for a total of 108,659. Neighboring Oakland County has had 74,590 confirmed cases (665 more than the previous day) and 1,947 deaths (five more). Macomb County has had 65,809 cases (846 more) and 1,918 deaths (three more).

Michigan is seeing cases surge again, with the average case rate and testing positivity rates now higher than they have been since mid-December. The seven-day average of the positivity rate is nearly 12%, four times the 3% public health officials look for to show community spread is controlled. So far, the daily death rate has remained low.

Hospitalizations keep rising, including at Spectrum.

“Over the last one to two weeks, we’ve really seen our inpatient admissions jump up dramatically. As a matter of fact, the slope of that curve or the increase is actually a bit faster than what we saw in the October-November time frame,” Dr. Elmouchi explained. “Just about two, two and half weeks ago, we were sitting in the low 50s across our whole system with the number of inpatients with COVID-19. As of so an or so ago, we’re up to 139. So we’ve really come close to tripling where we were just a few short weeks ago.”

The average age of Spectrum’s COVID-19 patients last fall was 73. It has now dropped to 60.

“One thing we were hoping would be a bit delayed was ICU status or more people needing ICU-level care. And unfortunately over the last four to five days, we’ve now seen a jump up in our ICU census of COVID patients. Those numbers are still far lower than we saw at the worst, which for us was right around Thanksgiving, but nonetheless on the rise,” Elmouchi said.

ICU numbers have doubled over the last four days, he added. Additionally, the hospital’s average test positivity rate is nearly 13%.

“We need to treat this surge seriously,” Freese Decker said. “To protect everyone in our communities, it’s critical that continue to practice those safety preventions: Wearing as mask — they do work — washing your hands often and being socially distance.”

Even as the vaccine is rolled out, people shouldn’t fall victim to a false sense of security, Elmouchi said, especially as the more contagious and deadly variant B.1.1.7 that was first identified in the United Kingdom continues to spread. Michigan has the second highest number of those variant cases in the country.

He said testing numbers and total positive cases may go down over the next two weeks, attributing that to people leaving the area and traveling for spring break.

As hospital staff celebrated Doctor’s Day Tuesday, there was mixed feelings among staff.

“I think that hope is carrying us along,” Elmouchi said.

Working to identify and contain outbreaks, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says it’s working to get more people tested for the virus. It says it has sent some 1.4 million antigen tests to long-term care facilities, is launching student-athlete testing Friday and is planning several free pop-up testing sites to serve people after spring break travel. Coming next will be testing cites at Michigan welcome sites and airports for people who are coming home after a trip.

“Now is the time for us all to come together and do what’s necessary to end this pandemic,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said in a Tuesday statement. “We are making progress in the fight against the virus with more than 4 million doses administered and 2.6 million Michiganders having at least their first dose of the safe and effective COVD-19 vaccine. It is important, now more than ever, that we double down on the things that work: wearing masks, social distancing, getting tested and making plans to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

—News 8’s Emily Linnert contributed to this report.

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