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Hundreds of west Michigan hospital staff test positive for COVID

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

More than 700 staff members at Spectrum Health's 14 west Michigan hospitals have tested positive for COVID-19 since Nov. 1, a health system official said during a briefing with media Thursday. 

Case investigations by the health system point to a majority of the workers contracting the disease out in the community rather than at work, Spectrum Health West Michigan President Dr. Darryl Elmouchi said during the media call. The health system employs about 31,000 workers.

Security personnel check potential patients for COVID-19 symptoms outside the emergency department at Spectrum Health Hospital in Grand Rapids.

"We actually do very vigorous contact tracing internally, and find the vast majority, over 60%, know where they got it, and almost always it's in the community — they went to dinner with a friend, the next day tested positive," Elmouchi explained.

"We have about 20% who are unsure where they got it, and another 20% that generally believe they might have gotten it at work — and most of those exposures are from other staff. 

"From a staffing standpoint, we are doing OK now, but much like the community, we have a lot of staff that have contracted COVID-19 in the community, and therefore are calling in sick," Elmouchi said.  

It's part of a surge in COVID-19 cases that's occurring across the state. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported 7,592 new cases on Thursday, with 134 more deaths.

Michigan shattered its weekly coronavirus case record last week with a total of 44,019 new cases reported, the fifth consecutive record week for confirmed infections.

Spectrum's West Michigan hospitals had 345 coronavirus inpatients on Thursday, a nearly 20% increase over the same day last week when 289 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized.  

"The situation has definitely worsened since last week," Elmouchi said. "Across the 13 counties that are our primary service area, it keeps going up and thus far hasn't shown (any) signs of declining. We are seeing rises in COVID-19 across the entire state, and the rise is increasing rapidly."

Employees have also had to miss shifts because of local school closures that have required them to stay home to take care of their kids. But the health system has been able to maintain staffing levels by moving workers around, Elmouchi added. 

Nurses and doctors who don't normally work in the ICU received training last spring to enable them to work with COVID-19 patients, he said.

"We've had drills and training for this," Elmouchi said. "Thankfully we have a large team and a very robust team, and so people have been picking up the slack and other people have been taking those shifts." 

In the past two weeks, the health system has expanded its number of intensive care beds by about 30% to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients, he added. 

"If you went through our hospitals now you'd find on certain floors, they now have rows of equipment now that were never there that we've been stocking for use in emergency situations," Elmouchi said.

Twitter: @kbouffardDN