Local epidemiologists explain why COVID-19 cases in West Michigan continue to rise

Posted at 9:20 PM, Apr 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-21 09:39:37-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — For a virus that is leaving an unexpected impact on people’s daily lives, health officials in West Michigan say they saw this coming.

“That’s kind of what we always expected,” said Brian Hartel, an epidemiologist at the Kent County Health Department.

Monday, Michigan reported the lowest number of new, single day cases since March 26 and lowest number of deaths since April 5.

“We are doing the smart thing and we’re seeing results,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer during a news conference Monday.

However, much of the decline is near Detroit and when further analyzed, data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shows continued increases in numerous West Michigan counties.

During her briefing, Whitmer showed a graphic that showed the coronavirus is now spreading faster in West Michigan than other parts of the state.

“We kind of assumed we’d get to the point where we’d see kind of a greater slope in the number of cases we see each day,” said Hartel.

Hartel said it’s not as bad as it seems. He explained that last week, the state relaxed its testing criteria, meaning almost anybody with symptoms can now be tested which is likely the reason behind the rise.

“We’re seeing a lot more people getting tested over the course of the last few days which in turn would lead to more identification of cases,” said Hartel.

Dr. Martinson Arnan with Bronson Medical Group agreed. He adds because the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect before the area’s peak, it slowed the initial spread.

“It’s rising so slowly that it allows all of the hospitals here to have room and capacity to care for the patients that come in with COVID19,” said Arnan.

West Michigan’s peak could be in early to mid-May, according to both health officials. West Michigan resident may need to continue staying home and practice social distancing, even if other parts of Michigan reopen within the next few weeks.

“You can’t pay attention to what’s going on in Detroit, or southeast Michigan, you have to pay attention to what’s going on in your backyard,” said Hartel.

They say any additional pressure than what local hospitals are expecting could lead to what no one wants in West Michigan.

“People have to be very mindful of the fact that this, is not a sprint, it's a marathon,” said Arnan. “People have to be very wise about maintaining proper social distancing, washing your hands, and really taking care of themselves in this time.”