Mercy Health says COVID continues to be ‘unprecedented’ in West Michigan

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The coronavirus continues to hit West Michigan hospitals hard, including Mercy Health. Wednesday afternoon, top doctors with the hospital group held a virtual town hall to update the public on what they were seeing.

“I’ll start by once again characterizing the situation in Michigan, in Kent County as unprecedented,” said Dr. Matt Biersack, president of Mercy Health St. Mary’s. “We’re seeing daily case averages in excess of a thousand, daily death rate in excess of four, and case positivity now stands around 40 percent.”

He said the dominant strain that they’re seeing is the Omicron but it’s producing milder disease than the Delta variant.

“Our biggest concern at this point is the ability to keep our workforce healthy. We have just under two hundred Mercy Health colleagues here in Grand Rapids who are on leave due to COVID,” Dr. Biersack said during the virtual town hall. “This is a number and rate that we have not seen previously, and the impact to healthcare workers really affects the whole continuum of the acute care system.”

Dr. Biersack went through a number of slides that illustrate how the staffing crisis continues to impact daily operations.

“You see here the delays in ambulance transport. We’ve seen transfers be delayed for critical patients, and inner-hospital transfers have taken up to seven hours,” Dr. Biersack said. “We’ve had to transport patients via helicopter to southeast Michigan because ground transportation wasn’t available.”

RELATED: The omicron variant is causing young children to develop croup

He added that at Mercy Health St. Mary’s doctors have had to postpone surgeries since before Thanksgiving, and it’s causing an “increase[d] number of people to needlessly suffer.”

So, to keep the numbers low he implored the public to practice healthy eating habits, exercise, abide by the CDC’s COVID guidelines, and to get vaccinated.

“These boosters are highly effective. They really are great at increasing your antibody levels and decreasing your chances of getting Omicron right now,” said Dr. Jameson, division chief of infectious disease. “The big reality that we do need to come to grips with in medicine now, in response to COVID-19, is that the vaccination prevents disease. It does not prevent infection.”

However, he added that when a vaccinated and boosted person gets COVID, it keeps them out of the hospital.

“What we are seeing still even with boosters is some of our antibodies waning,” he said. “So, people are getting infected with COVID even after getting a booster. The fact of the matter is those individuals do amazingly well.”

Dr. Jameson said it’s the reason for some optimism. He added that the rates are still dropping even for the unvaccinated and it’s due to more antibodies in the community.

Nevertheless, like Dr. Biersack, he encouraged people to follow CDC guidelines. It helps everyone in the long run.

“Get vaccinated,” Dr. Jameson said. “Get boosted. Decrease your transmission. Decrease the duration of symptoms. Decrease long COVID risk and protect those around you.”

RELATED: Michigan health department urges residents 12+ to receive Pfizer booster

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