GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Public health leaders in Michigan remain “concerned” about the slow uptick in COVID-19 positivity rates.

At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has placed seven southwestern counties in the “substantial” risk category for transmission of the virus, including Kalamazoo, Allegan, Barry, Van Buren, Calhoun, Cass and St. Joseph.

Ionia and Muskegon counties are also in the “substantial” risk zone, while Kent, Ottawa, Montcalm and Newaygo counties remain in the “moderate” risk category.

If you live in a county labelled “substantial” risk, the CDC recommends you return to wearing masks, even if you’re fully vaccinated.

It’s a suggestion the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department fully supports.

“We know that we’ve moved into a more critical stage here,” said Jim Rutherford, the county’s health officer, in a Zoom interview Monday with News 8.

“We have an increase in the amount of positive cases. We’re not seeing a significant increase in our hospitals, but sometimes (an uptick in cases) is sentinel. So, what we’re experiencing now, the hospitals could be experiencing a couple weeks from now.”

Rutherford said the health department plans to issue a news release reiterating precautions its residents should take.

The department will also meet with school districts soon as the start of the educational year draws near.

Meanwhile, Spectrum Health is also expressing concern regarding the increase in positivity rates.

The health system’s own lab is reporting a 5.3% test positivity rate, compared to 3.5% one week ago, and 1.6% five weeks ago.

That’s still far below the positivity rate experienced during the spring surge, which was in the mid-teens.

Additionally, Spectrum currently has 37 COVID-19 inpatients, compared to 23 last week.

Again, that’s nowhere near the 300-plus COVID-19 patients admitted to Spectrum in the spring.

Still, Spectrum’s leadership is closely watching the upward trend.

“There is growing concern based on the statistics we’re monitoring every day,” said Brian Brasser, chief operating officer at Spectrum Health. “We’re seeing emergency room activity on the increase, which has been a very accurate predictor of inpatient activity. So, we’re seeing that gradual uptick over the last week to two weeks.”

While the delta variant has been detected in Michigan, the state is so far not experiencing the variant-fueled spike some states in the South are enduring.

“We have made great strides in vaccination rates (in the state) but given the presence of the delta variant in Michigan, we remain concerned about the continued increase in COVID-19 cases we are experiencing,” wrote Lynn Sutfin of the state health department in an email to News 8.

“The safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is our best defense against the virus and the way we are going to end this pandemic. MDHHS urges all eligible Michiganders to get vaccinated as soon as possible. To find a vaccine, visit”