‘Edge of a cliff’: Spectrum Health sees record COVID-19 patients

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Monday was a record breaker in a bad way for Spectrum Health as West Michigan’s largest hospital system reported highest number of COVID-9 patients ever.

Spectrum Health had 151 inpatients with COVID-19 as of Monday, nearly 80% higher than the previous record set in the spring.

“This is as serious as it’s been for West Michigan, period,” Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, said.

“I would say right now we are standing on the edge of a cliff,” he continued, “and we could, if everyone does the right thing and we get a little lucky over the coming days to weeks, we could be able to walk back and not see these COVID numbers exponentially rise.”

Looking at the COVID-19 patients within Spectrum over the past six weeks, you can see a jump of 120 more positive patients.

Elmouchi blamed the increase in cases in part on pandemic fatigue.

“Quite honestly, with people being very  tired of masks and social distancing and so forth with these numbers, there is a possibility that we’ll see a lot of COVID,” he said.

The rising percentage of positive tests shows it’s likely. Statewide, the seven-day average of that rate is above 5% and it’s nearing 6% in West Michigan— double the 3% health experts would like to see to demonstrate that community spread is controlled.

“The worry you see when you look at other places, that (high testing positivity rates) precedes really a lot of hospitalizations by a couple of weeks. So our big concern is what happens next week or the week after,” Elmouchi said.

Spectrum Health has nearly 2,000 beds across all of its 14 hospitals and the hospitals are not full. Still, there is always an increase of patients this time of year because of the flu. That, in conjunction with other surgeries and procedures that were pushed off in the spring, could push them to capacity.

“If you are smart, if we are all smart, we are hoping to stave this off,” Elmouchi said.

He pointed to the key mitigation practices that authorities have been urging for months: washing your hand frequently, practicing 6-foot social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and wearing a mask in public.

Ottawa County health officials say they’re watching as cases spike in their area too. They say the positivity rate in the county is around 5.4%.

“This is very concerning for public health officials,” said Kristina Wieghmink with the county health department. “As that number keeps getting bigger, we’re going to see more and more snowball effect of cases spreading more throughout the community.”

Wieghmink says the department is working to track down the events that may be associated with the spike in cases but they believe a lot of the spread could be attributed to people becoming relaxed on safety guidelines.

“What we’re seeing right now, there’s not really a common denominator. We’re seeing community wide spread throughout the county through all ages,” Wieghmink said.

Health officials say as flu season approaches, the biggest concern will be to avoid overwhelming local hospitals.

“If you look at what’s happening in other parts of the country and you look around us for people that are just tired of all of this. I very much worry that we would  see very large numbers of COVID patients in the next few weeks, potentially maximizing all of the health systems capabilities. Not just Spectrum Health but University of Michigan, St. Mary’s, and that would be the problem,” Elmouchi said.

Local health departments say contact tracing will be critical over the next few weeks as they work to slow community spread. They’re asking people to take safety measures seriously and if you do contract the virus, be transparent about your travels.

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