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COVID-19 death toll surpasses 17,000 as some see signs of a peak in current surge

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courtesy of Spectrum Health
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The state confirmed another 5,584 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic above 800,000. More than 17,000 people in Michigan have now passed away due to COVID-19.

That update comes as some hospital leaders in West Michigan expressed hope that the current surge may be reaching its peak. Nearly 4,000 people are currently hospitalized because of COVID-19, and 530 are on ventilators, according to the state.

“We are hopeful that we have reached a peak this past weekend,” says Tina Freese Decker, CEO of Spectrum Health, in an update with media on Wednesday.

Despite that hope, leaders at Spectrum Health say it’s not time for anyone to let their guard down. They urged people to continue wearing masks, keeping distance and signing up for a vaccine.

“I realize that it may seem like we’re having the same conversation over and over again, but we are not out of this pandemic yet,” Freese Decker says.

Particularly worrisome, she says, is that the current dominant strain of the virus seems to be making young people sicker than in previous stages of the pandemic.

“The COVID 19 that is circulating right now is not the same virus that we prepared for last spring, nor that we experienced last fall,” Freese Decker says. “And it also appears to have a higher propensity to be spread by infected elementary school children, in contrast to previous circulating strains. So we are seeing an impact with more COVID-19 in kids.”

Dr. Hossain Marandi, leader of Spectrum’s Helen Devos Children’s Hospital says there’s been an increase in kids with COVID-like symptoms showing up in the hospital’s emergency room.

“It’s not just the ones that have underlying conditions that are coming in,” Marandi says. “We’ve seen many kids that have had very healthy life, and that are very active, that are now presenting with symptoms from COVID-19.”

Marandi said 10 patients are currently admitted at Helen Devos Children’s Hospital with symptoms of COVID-19, with five of them in the ICU.

As of Wednesday, the state reported a total of 50 children hospitalized with COVID-19. That’s nearly triple the number reported at the peak of the fall surge in Michigan.

One positive sign so far is that the current surge hasn’t led to as many deaths, according to Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan. In the fall, Elmouchi says about 10% of the patients admitted to Spectrum’s hospitals with COVID-19 died from the disease. Now, the mortality rate is about half that. But, Elmouchi says he expects the number could rise as some of the people in the hospital now eventually succumb to the illness.

“I can tell you that we have absolutely seen mortality in a younger demographic than we did during the prior surge,” he says. “Including people that have died that were young and otherwise healthy under the age of 40.” 

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