OTTAWA COUNTY, MI – As new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are soaring across West Michigan, Ottawa County health officials say the region is at a crucial point amid a surge in the pandemic.
“We are not at the crest of the wave – we are at the base of the mountain,” said Jennifer VanSkiver, chief communications officer for North Ottawa Community Health System. “If we don’t take a step back and dial it back, that’s the trajectory we’re on, and that mountain looks very steep.”
New daily cases have skyrocketed in Ottawa County over the past month. At the start of October, the county was reporting a 7-day average of 39 new cases per day, according to COVID-19 data from Oct. 2-8.
The county’s 7-day average is now at 190 new cases per day, almost five times what it was a month ago.
Total COVID-19 cases rose to 6,524 in Ottawa County on Friday, Nov. 6, according to data from the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. There have been 78 deaths linked to the novel coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
The county hit a new one-day record this week, reporting 234 new cases on Tuesday, Nov. 3. The county’s positivity rate for the past week was 9.6%.
Hospitalizations are also surging in Ottawa County – and across West Michigan – as more people have contracted the virus, hospital officials say.
Holland Hospital has been “crowded” with COVID-19 patients in recent weeks, said Robert Schwartz, Holland Hospital vice president of quality, IT, medical records and risk management.
“Honestly, we have more (COVID-19 patients) than we’ve had since (the start of the pandemic),” Schwartz said.
“The good news is the patients are not staying as long, and they’re not requiring quite the same level of, you know, ventilation and oxygen support, people are getting healthier – or at least healthy enough to be transferred out – much more quickly.”
Holland Hospital currently has 26 COVID-19 patients and zero patients in the ICU, according to statewide hospital bed data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. That’s roughly 90% capacity of the hospital’s capacity.
“We’re not at capacity but we’re approaching capacity,” Schwartz said.
Hospital officials across the region are collectively pleading with the public to do their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in order to prevent hospitals from reaching capacity limits, Vanskiver said.
“It’s an alarming picture, but it is the reality,” she said. “We need the public to heed the message: We need you to keep our hospitals open and keep our staff safe, because we are at the base of a mountain and it will take everybody (to slow the spread).”
Countywide hospital bed data shows 21% of all hospital beds are currently in use by COVID-19 patients across Ottawa County’s three hospitals: Holland Hospital, North Ottawa Community Health System and Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital.
County health officials have seen higher in-patient COVID-19 numbers over the past two weeks than at any point throughout the pandemic, Ottawa County Senior Epidemiologist Derel Glashower said.
Unlike past surges of COVID-19 in Michigan, the fall surge doesn’t seem to have any kind of pattern to it, the epidemiologist said. Instead, the recent rise in coronavirus cases in Ottawa County seems to impact all groups of residents regardless of age, race or location.
“Each of the waves (of the pandemic) has had some sort of theme to it,” he said. “Early in the pandemic, we saw more cases in long-term care facilities and food processing plants. In the summer months, we saw more cases among younger people, often affiliated with the bar or restaurant scene. In September, we saw cases affiliated with college settings.”
“Now, we’ve reached another phase in the pandemic, and when I look at the data in Ottawa County, I see the tide rising everywhere and for almost everyone. There’s not one particular age demographic, ethnicity or race that’s necessarily more affected; it’s affecting all of our geographies and populations.”
Glashower said he thinks the primary cause of the recent surge in cases is “pandemic fatigue” – residents who may be getting tired of safety procedures like mask use and social distancing. He also thinks colder weather has pushed people indoors, limiting air ventilation.
“People are just tired, and I don’t blame them,” he said. “We’ve all been dealing with COVID-19 since earlier this year. But those same strategies we used in March, we have to continue now.”
Because of the rise in COVID-19 cases, contact tracing efforts have recently been delayed in Ottawa County, the health department announced in a news release Friday.
“With significantly increasing cases, contacting everyone quickly is not always possible,” Ottawa County Administrative Health Officer Lisa Stefanovsky wrote in a prepared statement.
“Take action right away if you test positive for COVID-19 by isolating and notifying your close contacts. If you’ve been exposed to the virus, please quarantine. We ask for you to stay home and away from others. These are critical steps to contain the spread of the virus within our community.”
Michigan reported 5,710 new coronavirus cases Thursday, bringing the statewide total to 197,806 positive cases, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Thirty of Michigan’s 83 counties now have a coronavirus test positivity rate above 10%, compared to only eight counties a week ago. The seven-day average for the entire state is now 8.6%, up from 6.5% a week ago.
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