GRAND RAPIDS — Spectrum Health’s chief executive hopes the present surge of COVID-19 cases that has been affecting younger people and children more than prior strains may have peaked in recent days.
The case surge of late that has pushed some hospitals to capacity comes largely from a coronavirus variant that is 50 percent to 75 percent more contagious than prior strains and “has the propensity to spread faster and cause larger outbreaks, particularly among unvaccinated persons,” Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said today during a media briefing.
COVID-19 cases at Spectrum Health remain high, although “we are hopeful that we have reached a peak this past weekend. But what is concerning is the virus is very clever and it continues to evolve and the COVID-19 that is circulating right now is not the same virus we prepared for last spring, nor that we experienced last fall,” Freese Decker said.
The variant also appears to have more of an effect on elementary-aged children, “so we are seeing an impact of more COVID-19 in kids,” she said, emphasizing the need for people over 16 years old to get a vaccine and to continue wearing face masks.
“Even young, healthy people with no pre-existing conditions can get very, very sick with this virus,” Freese Decker said.
The present case surge has been affecting a younger population and “is one of the worst we’ve seen since the pandemic began” more than a year ago, and “our hospitalizations remain quite high,” said Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan.
Despite indications that cases are peaking and “finally it felt like things were easing,” Elmouchi urged caution against getting “lulled into a false sense of security here. This absolutely is both real and could easily jump back up if people let their guard down.”
As of today, Spectrum Health’s coronavirus test positivity rate averages 16.4 percent over seven days, four times higher than at the start of March, Elmouchi said. Statewide, Michigan has a positivity rate of 13 percent, he said.
Spectrum Health’s 14 hospitals today had 221 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, a 20-percent increase from last week and 35 percent higher than two weeks ago. Seventy of the COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units.
“Definitely, a large number of people are quite ill with this strain,” Elmouchi said.
The length of stay for COVID-19 patients has been increasing as well, “showing that people are in fact becoming sicker and have more complicated (disease) courses,” he said.
“Really the key to getting out of this surge and the key to definitely preventing another is for everyone to play their part, to do all of the things that we’re sick of doing, and definitely to get vaccinated,” Elmouchi said.
Statewide as of Monday there were 4,379 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 906 of whom were in an intensive care unit (ICU), according to state data. That compares to 4,172 as of Thursday last week with 838 patients in an ICU.
Bronson Healthcare this morning had 78 COVID-19 patients at its hospitals in Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Paw Paw and South Haven with 13 patients in an ICU, CEO Bill Manns said.
Manns hopes cases will plateau within the next week and that “we’re seeing the worst of it in this particular surge,” he said.
Like other hospitals, Bronson has seen the variants hit a younger population. Bronson today has five patients in its pediatric ICU, Manns said. During prior surges, it never had more than two at a time and many weeks had none, he said.
“That’s been the scariest part” of the latest case surge, Manns said.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services today reported another 5,584 confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the case total in the state since the pandemic began in March 2020 to 804,724. The state reported another 45 deaths for a total of 17,031.