With COVID-19 cases surging once again, Spectrum Health leaders urged residents to get vaccinated and take safety precautions to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
“We need to treat this surge seriously,” said Tina Freese Decker, President and CEO of Spectrum Health.
Just two weeks ago, Spectrum Health treated 52 patients with COVID-19 in its hospitals.
By Tuesday, March 30, that number had almost tripled—to 139 patients with COVID-19.
Also, the seven-day positivity rate for COVID-19 tests at Spectrum Health has risen to 12.8%.
“People who are showing up in our hospitals are significantly younger than in the fall surge,” Freese Decker added.
The average age of patients has dropped from 73 years old in the fall to 60 years old today.
As a sign of the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, Freese Decker said: “We have yet to care for someone who is fully vaccinated.”
The recent surge in cases is “strangely and sadly reminiscent of what we felt in the fall,” said Darryl Elmouchi, MD, President of Spectrum Health West Michigan.
“In the last one to two weeks, we have seen our inpatient admissions jump up dramatically. As a matter of fact, the slope of that curve or increase is actually a bit faster than we saw in the October-November timeframe.”
The medical team hoped to see a delay in the rise of admissions to the intensive care unit, but those numbers already are rising.
“Unfortunately, in the last four to five days we have seen a jump up in the ICU census,” Dr. Elmouchi said.
The increase in cases has affected children, as well, he said.
In the past couple of months, doctors have seen a growing number of children with active cases of COVID-19 or with Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, an inflammatory condition that can occur after a COVID-19 infection.
With many students on spring break next week, medical leaders worry the surge may continue in the coming weeks.
Yet the health leaders also see reasons for hope—as more people become vaccinated.
“Our goal is to put as many shots in arms as possible,” Dr. Elmouchi said. “This is how we will get through this.”
More eligible for vaccine
More than 12,500 people received COVID-19 vaccines in 12 hours on Monday, March 29, at the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic, a collaboration of the Kent County Health Department, Spectrum Health, and Mercy Health.
“As best we know, that is a record across the United States,” Dr. Elmouchi said.
Although vaccine availability has been a limiting factor, he hopes there will be a greater supply in coming months. This week, about 50,000 doses are scheduled.
Effective Tuesday, all residents 16 and older are eligible for the vaccine.
And scheduling a vaccine is now easier.
Those 18 and older may self-schedule their vaccine on Spectrum Health’s COVID-19 vaccine page.
To schedule a vaccine for someone ages 16 or 17 or for those needing special assistance, call 833.755.0696.
A wide array of clinics
By Monday, March 29, more than 145,000 people have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine through Spectrum Health clinics, and 82,000 received the second dose, said Jon Ashford, Chief Operating Officer for Spectrum Health United and Kelsey hospitals.
To reach as many people as possible, Spectrum Health offers a wide variety of vaccine clinics, he said.
They include hospital-based clinics and a home-based primary care program that delivers vaccines to homebound patients.
And clinics hosted in partnership with community organizations—including New Hope Baptist Church and Cesar Chavez Elementary School—are ensuring vaccines reach underserved communities and those hit hard by COVID-19.
The clinics help to break down barriers and make vaccines more accessible to vulnerable populations.
Faith leaders from 50 Kent County churches have aided that effort, supporting vaccination efforts as they received vaccines at a recent event.
“It has been a phenomenal support,” Ashford said.
A need for vigilance
Dr. Elmouchi also addressed the rise in cases of COVID-19 variants, particularly the UK variant. The variant, which is more contagious, is rising at such a rate that it may account for 50% of all cases in Michigan after spring break, he said.
“It is clearly a concern for all of us,” he said.
However, he said, studies of the vaccines have found them to be effective against the virus, including the new variants.
“I believe these vaccines are truly phenomenal,” he said. “These vaccines really prevent serious illness and death.”
He urged others to help address vaccine hesitancy by letting people know that in clinical studies the vaccine was found to be “safe and effective.”
“It is the only way we are going to get back to normal,” Dr. Elmouchi said.
Freese Decker stressed the role everyone in the community plays in curbing the spread of COVID-19.
“It takes endurance to get to this herd immunity,” she said. “It takes patience and vigilance, but I am hopeful that this will be our last surge.”