WEST MICHIGAN – Doctors and other professionals from Spectrum Health had an online press conference via ZOOM Wednesday, April 21 to help update the public about COVID-19.

Opening remarks were made by Spectrum Health president and CEO Tina Freese Decker, “Today we wanted to share an update with you on the status of COVID-19 in our community, as well as the positivity rate, the case amounts and the hospitalizations. Currently, they remain high, but we are hopeful that we have reached a peak this weekend. What is concerning is the virus is very clever and continues to evolve.

“COVID-19 that is circulating right now is not the same virus that we prepared for last spring nor experienced last fall. It is the BB17 strain that is most dominant in Michigan and it is at least 50 percent to 75 percent more contagious than those previous strains. It has the propensity to spread faster and cause larger outbreaks. Particularly among unvaccinated persons and it also appears to have a higher propensity to be spread by infected elementary students (compared to previous strains).”

She said that Spectrum Health is seeing a higher impact of COVID-19 in kids.

Also, there to answer questions were Dr. Hossain Morandi, president of the Helen Devos Children’s Hospital; Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan; and John Throop, president of emergency care specialists.

“Well, we all are excited for the vaccine and the promise for a better future we are definitely facing another surge, and quite honestly it is one of the worse we’ve seen since the pandemic began. Our hospitalizations are quite high and as we all know in our state, especially in West Michigan, is much higher than it should be,” said Elmouchi.

He said this is the case in not only Spectrum Health’s Grand Rapids hospital, but also in all of its regional hospitals as well.

“In the State of Michigan, the positivity rate is around 13.7 percent and hear at Spectrum Health, our rolling seven-day average is 16.4 percent. And I should note we’ve increased our positivity in our lab collection since the beginning of March by almost 400 percent,” Elmouchi.

“So, it is a very rapid uptick, much quicker than the surge we saw in the winter.”

Across all of the Spectrum Health hospitals there are currently 291 patients admitted with COVID-19. Dr. Elmouchi said this number is a 20 percent increase from the previous week and over a 35 percent from the last two weeks.

“Of the 291 in-patients that we have almost 70 are in our ICUs. So definitely a large number of people that are quite ill with this strain,” said Elmouchi.

Elmouchi said the age of patients is decreasing, with the average age at the hospitals being 57, a decade younger than the last surge. He said that 15 percent of those hospitalized at Spectrum Health are under the age of 40.

“So, I tell everyone, ‘If you are 16 and over now get vaccinated.’ To date we have supplied 352,000 doses of vaccine since it came out, said Elmouchi.

“We can do more and do thousands each day.”

Morandi, at the time of the press conference, said over the past seven to 10 days doctors at Helen Devos Children’s Hospital has seen a shift in the kids coming into the emergency room showing COVID-19 symptoms.

“We’ve seen an uptick in those needing admission to our floors and needed intensive care unit care. Definitely, a change we have seen since last year and even a few months ago it is just not those with underlying condition coming in, but also kids who led a very healthy life and were active that are now presenting with symptoms of COVID-19,” said Morandi.

“As a father of two with two young kids, as we all know kids cannot get vaccinated under 16, we still don’t have a vaccination for them. It really comes down to us as adults doing everything we can to keep them well.”

Behaviors he said that will help to keep kids safe is to wear masks and model good behavior such as getting vaccinated and washing your hands.

It was asked during the press conference whether people that have been already vaccinated have also tested positive for COVID-19. The answer to the question was yes, but not many.

“To date now we have had 16 patients admitted to our hospital that have been fully vaccinate,” said Elmouchi. “They did test positive for COVID-19, but to be clear of those 16, seven showed symptoms for COVID-19.”

He said those seven patients came into the hospital for COVID-19, and the other nine were discovered through screening tests they conducted on patients who came in for other reasons.

are incredibly effective. And if someone were to have COVID the likelihood to have severe disease as shown in those critical trials remain incredibly low.”

During the meeting it was mentioned that the B117 strain is now the predominant strain in the United States and in Michigan. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently being used have been shown to be effective against this version of COVID-19.

However, Dr. Elmouchi did say that the vaccine may not be as effective against strains from South Africa and Brazil.

It was mentioned during the presentation that there have been some people who have contracted COVID-19 that have had multiple lingering effects. Dr. Elmouchi mentioned that Spectrum Health is in the process of building a multi-disciplinary clinic since the organization believes there will be a long term need for such.

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