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Kent County working through testing shortage, preparing hospitals

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Posted at 5:09 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 17:15:59-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Kent County's total of positive coronavirus cases has reached 28 according to state data, and officials believe many more undiagnosed.

Health officer Adam London said the testing currently available to them is not adequate and the department expects there are many more positive cases out there. As of Monday afternoon, Michigan had the fifth-highest confirmed cases in the U.S. as the total exceeded 1,200.

"As far as testing goes, I'm starting to lose confidence in the — we've heard a lot of promises at a lot of different levels about more tests coming, more tests coming. And we're just not seeing an awful lot of that," London said. "But to be honest, we're also at a point where the value of testing, at least a community level, is starting to wane. Because I believe there is already enough COVID-19 out there in the community that the relative value of testing is starting to diminish somewhat."

In Kent County, many of the people who have tested positive have no history of travel or interaction with people who have tested positive for COVID-19. London says that means there is a substantial amount of communitywide transmission happening.

"What's important for people to know is what's in the community and doing everything they can to reduce their exposure to that through social distancing, through the handwashing and through avoiding gatherings as much as possible is what we can do to protect ourselves," London said.

London said the health department's models show the peak of the epidemic curve will come sometime between late April and early May.

"I hope to flatten the peak as much as possible, but regardless that peak is going to be a pretty substantial hit for communities everywhere to take all at one, so that's why it's important that we take these extreme measures now in order to absorb the blow and to lessen its impact as much as possible," London said.

Monday morning, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an order requiring all Michigan residents to stay home except for necessary tasks like getting food, seeking medical care and taking care of loved ones, among other exceptions.

London said the county is having better communication with state and federal officials every day, as well as with local governments.

"I think maybe that's where most of the success is happening in the partnership between cities, townships and villages, making sure we're aligning our resources and we're all speaking in one voice to our communities," he said.

The health department is working with area hospitals to expand access to testing and to prepare for the expected surge of respiratory issues.

"... We need to all do what we can to decrease the burden on our health care systems. They're going to get hit. They're going to get hit right now, they're going to get hit a lot harder in the coming weeks," London said. "... This is the time, if we're going to make a difference, the time is right now. It's in these days right now that's going to affect the size of this epidemic curve."