Muskegon in desperate straits’ as COVID-19 deaths, health care worker cases soar –

MUSKEGON, MI –- Muskegon County is in “desperate straits” with coronavirus deaths soaring by 22 in less than a week, three nursing homes where all residents are positive for COVID-19 and a call for the National Guard to help care for the hospitalized.

That’s according to Kathy Moore, director of the Muskegon County Health Department, who said people are getting sicker from a rapidly spreading virus that appears to be more “aggressive.”

Testing for COVID-19 may have to be restricted due to a shortage of personnel, and a potential shortage of supplies, Moore told MLive on Thursday, Nov. 12.

It was a grim report from the health director of a county that has among the highest test positivity rates in the state – nearly 20 percent over the previous seven days.

“We’re really in desperate straits right now,” Moore said. “Think about Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s coming. We could be putting ourselves in a terrible situation.”

She said residents need to be socializing only with members of their own households. Contact tracing is finding positive cases among “social butterflies” who are attending parties, going to movies and church and dining out with those with whom they don’t live, she said.

“I really think we all absolutely have to work together going forward,” she said. “Otherwise, we’re going to dig a bigger hole.”

The county reported 3,955 cumulative cases of COVID-19, 2,299 of them considered “active,” as of Wednesday, Nov. 11. That’s an increase of 940 cases since Nov. 5. Deaths stood at 107 – an increase of 16 just since Monday.

“The severity of the positive cases has increased, as indicated by the hospitalizations, and now also the deaths,” Moore said.

Related: Employees describe ‘chaos,’ fear and tears at Mercy Health in Muskegon ravaged by COVID-19

Mercy Health Muskegon reported “over” 120 inpatient cases on Wednesday, more than double the 58 less than a week earlier. Mercy officials have said they are at capacity, with the biggest concern being a lack of staff aggravated by COVID-19 infections among them.

Another 54 employees at Mercy Health Muskegon were reported infected with COVID-19 in the past day, according to Andrea Avoceda, president of SEIU Healthcare Michigan, which represents 1,800 employees at the Muskegon hospital system. That brings the total to 179, she said.

A shortage of staff to care for the growing number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, as well as a lack of space for them at Mercy hospital, prompted Moore to seek help from the state. She said she requested National Guard health clinicians to help care for patients at a 20-bed unit officials would like to open at Hackley hospital, which Mercy Health closed a few weeks ago.

The state responded that it was working on a more regionalized effort, without committing to helping Muskegon specifically, Moore said.

In a message to the community Wednesday, Mercy Health Muskegon President Gary Allore said he was “imploring” residents to keep gatherings to a maximum of 10 people as well as be vigilant about handwashing, social distancing and mask wearing.

He said there have been more than 120 COVID-19 positive patients at Mercy in recent days, compared with a peak hospitalization of 33 this past spring.

The surge in COVID-19 has hit older citizens particularly hard. Three nursing homes in Muskegon County have had all residents – a total of about 60 – test positive for the virus, Moore said. The test positivity rate for their employees was 40 percent, she said.

Related: Coronavirus outbreak reported at second Muskegon prison

Among the 22 deaths in the past week, 11 were among people age 80 and older and five were among those in their 70s, according to health department data.

There were five deaths among people in their 60s, including one who had no “underlying health conditions,” Moore said. There also was an additional death of a person in their 40s, according to health department records.

Moore said contact tracing is finding more people who have had contact with COVID-positive people are also testing positive. However, testing may have to be scaled back because of a “capacity issue,” including insufficient personnel to process tests as well as uncertainty on testing supplies in the future.

“I think we’re getting to a point where we may have to pause and implement restrictions on testing,” she said. “That’s because of the sheer numbers.”

Health department figures show there were 8,334 tests administered Nov. 5-11, health department figures show.

Cumulative results of testing, as of Wednesday and reported by the health department, show 374 cases among young people under age 20, up 67 from Nov. 5; 629 among people in their 20s, up 146 since Nov. 5; 583 among those in their 30s, up 131; 586 among those in their 40s, up 145; 640 cases among those in their 50s, up 161; 533 cases among those in their 60s, up 143; 326 among those in their 70s, up 89; and 282 among those age 80 and older, up 58.

Total deaths in Muskegon County include 57 people who were age 80 and older, 21 who were in their 70s, 22 who were in their 60s, five who were in their 50s and two were in their 40s.

Ottawa County reported 8,330 cases on Wednesday, up 1,541 since Nov. 5, and 91 deaths, up seven.

There have been 789 cases and eight deaths reported in Oceana County.

Also on MLive:

West Michigan hospitals know the virus better now, but do they have enough staff for another surge?

Wait times for COVID-19 testing on the rise with new cases

Coronavirus overwhelming Michigan hospitals, leaders warn; ‘the system can capsize’