Spectrum Health: COVID-19 affecting younger, healthier people

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This COVID-19 surge is different than the previous ones, Spectrum Health officials say.

The virus is now infecting people who are younger, doctors at the West Michigan-based hospital system explained during a virtual press conference Wednesday. Spectrum Health West Michigan President Dr. Darryl Elmouchi said the average age of its COVID-19 inpatients is 57, a decade younger than during the last surge.

He and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital President Dr. Hossain added that plenty of the people — including children — coming in with the virus have been otherwise healthy.

Spectrum Health had 291 COVID-19 inpatients as of Wednesday, 17 fewer than the day before. Elmouchi said 70 of the inpatients are in intensive care.

Hospital system President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said she was hopeful it saw its peak over the weekend. During the fall surge, the hospital system peaked at 350 inpatients in late November.

STATE TOPS 800,000 CASES, 17,000 deaths

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday announced 5,584 more confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the total in the state to to 804,724 since the start of the pandemic. That means about 1 in 12 people in the state have contracted the virus.

The state also recorded 45 more related deaths for a total of 17,031.

On Tuesday, labs tested 46,581 samples for the virus and 5,720 were positive, a rage of 12.28%. The number of positive tests is not the same as the number of new cases because people may be tested more than once. Additionally, testing numbers are from a single calendar date, while the number of new cases lists the increase since the last time the state compiled the data; these two time frames do not match up precisely.

Kent County confirmed 390 more confirmed cases of the virus, bringing its total since the start of the pandemic to 61,236. The number of deaths remained unchanged at 708.

Other West Michigan counties did report additional deaths:

  • Barry County: One more death for 54 total; 4,616 total confirmed cases since March 2020.
  • Berrien County: Two more deaths for 242 total; 12,847 total cases.
  • Branch County: One more death for 88 total; 4,015 total cases.
  • Calhoun County: One more death for 247 total; 11,008 total cases.
  • Muskegon County: One more death for 310 total; 12,630 total cases.

Wayne County, hit hardest by the virus, reported 973 more confirmed cases for a pandemic total of 136,168 and 13 more deaths for a total of 4,220. Neighboring Oakland County has had 92,282 cases (695 more than the previous day) and 2,026 deaths (four more). Macomb County has had 83,422 cases (594 more) and 2,017 deaths (four more).


While the state continues to see high case and test positivity rates, the case rate appearing to have leveled off somewhat and the test rate having declined slightly. Still, the state continues to have the worst outbreak in the country, with the highest case rate and numbers.

“We think we might be headed down a bit, but I don’t want anybody to be lulled into a false sense of security,” Elmouchi said.

He urged people to keep up with mitigation practices and get vaccinated as soon as possible to keep fighting the virus back.

The state also has the second most confirmed cases of the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, behind only Florida, at 3,455. B.1.1.7 was first identified in the United Kingdom. Michigan also has 15 confirmed case of the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa; 78 cases of B.1.427/B.1.429, which came out of California; and 26 of P.1, first identified in Brazilian travelers.

Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said B.1.1.7 is now the dominant strain the state. It’s between 50% and 75% more contagious than previous strains, she said, and also appears to be more prone to spread among infected elementary school-age students. That means we’re seeing more COVID-19 in kids, Freese Decker said.

But Elmouchi pointed out that the vaccine is highly effective against B.1.1.7, so it can help combat the surge.

A large number of people continue to be hospitalized with the virus, with more than 3,900 confirmed adult inpatients now — still more than during the fall surge. No other state has as high inpatient bed or ICU bed utilization.

While the statewide number of daily deaths isn’t as high now as it was at this point of the fall surge, the number is climbing. It increased 25% last week from the week before. Michigan ranks eighth in highest number of deaths and 11th in highest death rate, dropping three spots in the latter.

Elmouchi said about 5% of Spectrum’s COVID-19 inpatients are dying, about half the percentage from the fall surge. He suggested that with more older people who are more susceptible to the virus vaccinated, the death toll from this surge could be less serious than previous surges.

But he also warned that the death rate could rise in coming weeks — it’s a metric that lags behind others.


The state has received more than 8 million vaccine doses and more than 6 million of those have been administered. Nearly 46% of the state’s population over the age of 16 has received at least one shot and nearly 32% has finished their doses. The goal is to reach 70%.

Spectrum Health says that it has administered more than 352,000 doses and it has the capacity to do more.

“The vaccines work,” Elmouchi said, explaining Spectrum had seen that effectiveness among its own employees who have gotten them. “They’re the best way we’re going to get back to normal.”

MDHHS says it has tracked 694 cases in which someone contracted the virus after they were considered fully vaccinated — that is, 14 days after their final shot. That’s less than .03% of the more than 2.5 million people in Michigan who have finished their doses. The state says 14 of the people also died, 12 of whom were older than 65.

Spectrum Health says it has detected 16 such cases — referred to as breakthrough cases — to date. Seven of those patients had COVID-19 symptoms. The others didn’t have symptoms of COVID-19 but tested positive as Spectrum conducts widespread screening.

MDHHS epidemiologists noted that none of the vaccines have a 100% efficacy rate and that the number of breakthrough cases is within the expected range. They also pointed that those who were vaccinated and still tested positive were less likely than unvaccinated people to show symptoms, require hospitalization or die.

Vaccination appointments are becoming more widely available. The Ottawa County Department of Public health is hosting a walk-in clinic Wednesday until 6 p.m. at the Holland Civic Center Clinic at 150 W. 8th St. for those 16 and up. People can get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

People age 18 and up can also walk in or schedule an appointment at Holland Hospital Urgent Care this week to get their first dose of the Moderna vaccine.

Finally, a walk-in clinic will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Walgreens Clinic at Grand Valley State University’s Holland Campus at 515 S. Waverly Road.

Bronson Healthcare is looking for pharmacy technicians, medical assistants and patient representatives to help run clinics throughout Southwest Michigan. You can apply for full-time and part-time jobs on Bronson’s website.

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