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'Pretty serious situation': West Michigan hospitals see rapid rise in COVID patients

"It's an important message for people to recognize that this is a pretty serious situation that we're dealing with, and we all still need to be vigilant."

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — West Michigan hospitals are seeing the number of COVID-19 patients rapidly increase as cases numbers continue to mount. 

At its peak last fall, Mercy Health Saint Mary's was treating 82 patients for the virus. As of Thursday morning, the Grand Rapids hospital had 45 patients, which does not account for those in the emergency room. 

"We're definitely seeing a pretty steep rise in the number of admissions," said Matt Biersack, interim president and chief medical officer of Saint Mary's. 

He said the "concerning" rise has put a strain on staff, as multiple COVID-19 patients are being admitted a day recently. But Biersack said the hospital is able to remain open to all services, right now, and is encouraging patients not to put off care. 

"Like we've seen in the past, I'm worried that folks will see those rising numbers and avoid their routine medical care," he said.

Credit: Mercy Health & St. Joe

The number of inpatients at Spectrum Health, the largest health system in West Michigan, has nearly tripled over the last two weeks. Spectrum's hospitals are currently caring for 229 COVID-19 patients. 

Metro Health - University of Michigan has 24 patients, and Holland Hospital's inpatient numbers have doubled in two weeks from nine to 19 people. 

Biersack said he wasn't sure how helpful further restrictions would be. Michigan still has a mask mandate and limits on venues and gatherings, but many restrictions have been rolled back. 

"I don't know to what degree new restrictions and restrictions on specific things will have an impact or not, because there's so many factors at play," Biersack said. 

Health officials have attributed the current surge in cases to a multitude of things, including COVID-19 fatigue and variant cases. 

Since the start of this year, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' Bureau of Laboratories has collected over 4,200 samples for whole genome sequencing, the process to identify variant cases. 

The samples collected are usually linked to outbreak investigations and not random samples. In Kent County, the number of identified B.1.1.7 cases has more rose from 15 to 31 in the last week. 

Vaccinations are increasing and supply is better meeting demand than in previous months. But Biersack said Saint Mary's continues to treat primarily unvaccinated individuals. 

"I think it's an important message for people to recognize that this is a pretty serious situation that we're dealing with, and we all still need to be vigilant," Biersack said. 

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