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Kent County issues public health warning as COVID-19 positivity rates surpass 15%

The COVID-19 risk level for Kent County is now considered 'highest risk,' the health department said Friday.

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — The Kent County Health Department issued a public health warning Friday, reporting the county has a community-wide positivity rate of more than 15%.

“Our local infection rates have reached dangerous levels,” said KCHD director Dr. Adam London.  “We need to take decisive, community-wide action to protect the health of our residents and to alleviate the pressure on our hospitals, frontline healthcare workers and public health case investigators and contact tracers."

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The public health warning expands on and reinforces parts of the three-week epidemic order issued by Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services. 

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It encourages residents not to gather with multiple households, places of worship to cease in-person services and high schools to remain remote through January 15. The recommendations will likely remain in place until mid-January at the earliest, as London said he expects many will still gather at Christmas and New Years. 

"So, that 14-day buffer in early January, allows us time essentially for quarantine, and for separation of people after those holidays," London said Friday, Nov. 20.

The average number of new daily cases has increased more than ten-fold over the past eight weeks. The county is also reporting nearly seven new COVID-19-related deaths per day. Hospitals are nearing their capacity with patients that healthcare professionals say are much sicker than patients were in the spring.

KCHD is urging anyone with symptoms "broadly associated with COVID-19" to immediately isolate. It also recommends anyone ages 65 years and older and those with underlying health conditions to avoid gatherings or time in public places. 

"We're actually not seeing many other respiratory illnesses in the testing that's being done by healthcare providers. So, anyone who does have those symptoms that are broadly associated with COVID-19, ought to assume that it is COVID-19," London said.  

The warning also encourages people to minimize time inside businesses by opting for delivery or pickup, when possible. 

High school programs serving special needs populations, students with cognitive disabilities and center-based programs may continue under the county's recommendations. Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff said the district will be looking more closely at the data to determine how it will proceed. 

Read the full public health warning here. 

London said public health orders have been and will continue to be considered at the county level. 

"However, what we've heard loudly from people is that recommendations, can be a better approach that people want to voluntarily participate," he said. "We know that orders in a lot of instances have caused protests, they've caused and inspired civil disobedience. And so right now we're at a point where we're making a heightened recommendation, hoping that everyone can voluntarily comply with this."

He said there isn't a particular threshold for when an order would be issued, but he is hopeful that Kent County residents will abide by the recommendations. 

"I truly hope that we don't need to follow through with orders at a later point," London said. "This is not a hoax, and we need everyone to recognize that, right now."