MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Muskegon County could become the third county in West Michigan to extend its state of emergency. County leaders say the number of new COVID-19 cases has continued to go up since the beginning of March.

Kent and Ottawa counties have also extended their states of emergency. It’s the only way counties can hold virtual meetings for no reason because the amendment to the state’s open meetings law has expired.

If the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners approves the extension, it’ll run through the end of the year. Commissioners can end it earlier if they want to, but they say remote meetings not only protect public health but sometimes also get more of the public involved.

According to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard, Muskegon County hit a low point in cases at the end of February and early March but has been trending upward again through March and early April.

Citing a surge in patients, Mercy Health Muskegon on Monday declared an “internal disaster,” which it said is comparable to a municipality declaring a state of emergency. The hospital said the posture allows it to make changes in staffing and resource allocation.

Despite the state reporting a rapid surge in COVID-19 cases, Mercy Health says they only have 29 COVID-19 in-patients at their Muskegon facility as of Tuesday. They say COVID-19 is a factor in the current surge, but not the driving force behind it. 

“It’s a mix of everything. Our traumas are still coming in. With the weather, we’re seeing an increase in motorcycle accidents, unfortunately, but just generally sick people,” David Ogren with Mercy Health said.

On April 5 at 4:45 pm, Mercy Health Muskegon declared an “internal disaster” event for hospital capacity and patient surge. This internal declaration is similar to what a local government municipality might do in an emergency to allow for a wider range of options to handle the situation including staffing and resource allocation. Hospital leadership and Emergency Management are closely monitoring the situation. Mercy Health remains ready to meet the highest quality of care for our community during this event and patients should not avoid seeking emergency medical treatment at this time.

Mercy Health Muskegon

The hospital has 64 emergency beds and three trauma bays. Ogren says the declaration gives the hospital more options to meet the needs of patients.

“Resource allocation, moving employees that normally wouldn’t be working in a certain department to a different department to meet the need, and that’s the flexibility that it gives us internally as an organization,” Ogren said. 

Ogren says while things are stressful now, their building was made for this. 

“Obviously, we did just merge. We closed down Hackley Hospital and merged into our brand new building, which we’re so grateful for,” Ogren said. “These numbers that we’re seeing aren’t anything that we haven’t predicted when we built the facility. It is extraordinary measures that we’re seeing right now with COVID-19 and the complexity of that. I would say our facility is built to handle that.”

Across the Trinity Health system in Michigan, which includes all Mercy Health hospitals and Saint Joseph on the other side of the state, there are 273 COVID-19 inpatients. On March 1, they had 55.

The Board of Commissioners meets virtually at 4 p.m. on Tuesday on Zoom and Facebook Live.