The heads of two West Michigan public health agencies say they are unconcerned about the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases here as death tolls remain relatively flat and hospitals haven’t reached capacity.
The increased and targeted testing among vulnerable populations — including at nursing homes, long-term care facilities and homeless shelters — have caused cases to rise but not hospitalizations.
Kent County leads the region with 2,016 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 40 deaths as of Wednesday. Over the past few weeks, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Kent County rose sharply, roughly doubling in each week during the second half of April.
Still, the increase in cases is “not concerning at all for me. In fact, I think they have been a little bit misrepresented,” said Kent County Health Department Director Adam London. (A full interview with London appears in Monday’s edition of MiBiz.)
Muskegon County Public Health Director Kathy Moore agreed, saying the increase in cases was expected.
“Our stats for positive cases is simply a reflection of our testing strategy,” Moore said. “As we expand testing, we’re going to see more positive cases.”
In both counties, which lead the region in case numbers and deaths, residents who tested positive are largely asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.
Kent County has ramped up testing to about 1,000 per day, while Muskegon County had issued 2,678 tests by May 4, with 2,355 coming back negative. Muskegon County has 335 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 19 deaths as of Wednesday.
The death toll statewide reached 4,250 on Wednesday, although the daily death toll dipped below 100 for the fourth consecutive day. Positive cases now exceed 45,000.
London said a key lesson learned from the state’s initial outbreak in Southeast Michigan is keeping hospitals below capacity. He said Kent County hospitals are reporting “fairly flat numbers in terms of admissions,” and COVID-19 hospitalizations have remained below 100.
Muskegon County prepared extra hospital capacity at Muskegon Community College, although Moore said it won’t be needed.
“I’m feeling extremely good and positive about that,” Moore said. “The hospital is in very good shape to handle a surge in cases, but we’re not anticipating a major surge.”
Since early April, hospitals across West Michigan have sought and quickly received state regulatory approval for about 1,500 temporary beds to handle a surge in COVID-19 patients.
They include 300 beds for Bronson Healthcare and 105 beds for Ascension Borgess in Kalamazoo, and 200 beds at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids.
Spectrum Health secured approval to add more than 400 temporary beds at facilities in the Grand Rapids area, plus 45 at Spectrum Health Lakeland in St. Joseph. Among Spectrum Health’s surge plans are 250 beds at the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences across Michigan Street from the Butterworth Hospital campus in downtown Grand Rapids for non-COVID-19 patients.
On May 5, Spectrum Health received approval from the state for another 53 temporary beds at the Butterworth Hospital campus, 26 of which would go for COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care. Spectrum Health also received state approval May 1 for nine temporary beds at Spectrum Health Pennock Hospital in Hastings.
MiBiz Senior Reporter Mark Sanchez contributed to this report.