GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Tuesday, Spectrum Health reported 103 patients being treated for COVID-19. Brian Brasser, Spectrum Health's chief operation officer, said hospitalizations for the disease have increased in the past two to three weeks.
One reason behind that increase, according the the Kent County Health Department, is a shift in demographics of those who are catching the disease.
"This summer and early fall, a lot of our cases were in our younger populations, or college-age students, kind of younger, middle age folks," said Brian Hartl, Kent County Health Department's supervising epidemiologist. "But for the past three weeks, we've definitely seen that shift of who is getting sick here in Kent County."
Hartl said it's more older and more vulnerable people getting sick, similar to the beginning of the pandemic. Many of whom are in long-term care facilities.
He said the Health Department does not know exactly what is causing the shift in demographics. However, they have raised concern for further spread to a broader community for months.
"We've warned against this for a long time," said Hartl, "that younger populations have the potential to bring infections to those who are older. We kept harping on the fact that it's potential, or there is potential, for us to bring those infections to our parents, our grandparents, other relatives, and people in the community who are more vulnerable. I think that's kind of what we're seeing now."
Spectrum said their hospitalized patients range in age, but they are generally seeing more people than this summer and fall. Brasser said there are certain attributes that put some patients at a higher risk of poorer outcomes—one group being the elderly.
"Right now, I think our youngest is somewhere in the teens, our oldest is in the 90s," said Brasser of their COVID-19 patients.
Earlier in the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about "flattening the curve" to protect hospital workers from being over-inundated with COVID-19 patients. Brasser said as far as personal protection equipment (PPE) goes, Spectrum Health is in good shape. Due to higher production worldwide, and preservation efforts from Spectrum team members, that is less of a concern now.
However, there is concern about the higher COVID-19 hospitalizations as flu season looms.
"This is a very dangerous disease," said Brasser. "While we are very pleased with how many patients have gone home (who have recovered from) COVID-19, we also recognize that we have patients who, unfortunately, have succumbed to the disease."
COVID-19 patients at Spectrum Health are still restricted from having visitors. Brasser said they work very hard to connect their patients with their families and loved ones through virtual meetings.
"It's meaningful for sure," said Brasser. "But at the same time, we recognize the burden that that places on family members, on the patients, and truly on our team members as well."
Fatigue over health and safety precautions, Hartl said, is also a factor in the higher number of COVID-19 cases statewide. However, now it is more important than ever to stay socially distant, wear a mask, and practice proper hygiene.
"Those are warning signs that show that it might be shifting back to what we saw early in the pandemic, here locally," said Hartl.
He also stressed getting a flu shot to prevent double outbreaks this year.
Recently, Kent County has also seen an increase in COVID-19 related deaths. Hartl said there have been six in the past seven days.
"While we were kind of lucky this summer, where we saw milder infections and healthier populations getting sick," said Hartl, "Now we're seeing signs that that's changing. We feel like it's going to get worse before it gets better."
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