As local health officials have tracked the number of positive COVID-19 cases throughout Ottawa County, they’ve been able to pinpoint specific populations responsible for the spread of the virus.
First, it was long-term care facilities, then food processing and manufacturing plants. In July and August, teens and people in their early 20s accounted for many of the new cases, followed by a rapid outbreak at Grand Valley State University.
Today, however, health care officials are concerned that numbers continue to steadily climb throughout the community with no specific population responsible for the increases.
That fact is concerning as the county and surrounding region nears the highest risk level in the state, according to Derek Glashower, senior epidemiologist for Ottawa County.
“What we’re seeing now is not one consistent theme, where all the previous waves had one theme we could target and one way we could use our resources to have an impact,” Glashower said during a recent Ottawa County Board of Commissioners meeting. “Grand Valley is not driving the current increase.”
Ottawa County is averaging nearly 40 new cases a day since Sept. 26, with a high of 76 new cases on Oct. 9. There were 43 new cases Wednesday.
“If you look at our Grand Rapids region, we’re in Risk Level D, which is the second-highest level,” Glashower said. “Ottawa County had a three-day surge alert on Sunday indicating that our case counts had increased 10 percent every day for three straight days.”
Glashower said the continued increase in the number of cases locally increases the risk of others coming in contact with someone infected with COVID-19.
“The issue with all of this, with more and more cases and higher and higher positivity, is that our risk level will go up, which may impact our ability to do things like conduct in-person learning,” he said. “Schools are a very major part of our social fabric and important for the education of our kids.”
Glashower pointed to statistics from Arizona, which showed a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, leading individual regions to institute mask and social-distancing regulations. Once those regulations went into place, case numbers plummeted.
“Coming back to Ottawa County and seeing our own increase in cases, it’s just really important to remember to mask up, to social distance and to wash our hands. Those are all effective ways to prevent the press of COVID-19,” he said. “Our decisions about masking and social distancing affect all of us.”
Lisa Stefanovsky, the county’s administrative health officer, said another key in limiting the spread of COVID-19 is to make sure those who have had direct contact with a positive case be diligent about quarantining for 14 days.
“This is a tricky virus that doesn’t always act the same in every situation,” she said.
Stefanovsky noted that an employee at the Ottawa County Department of Public Health had a household contact with someone who tested positive. That employee began exhibiting symptoms, and was tested three times before finally receiving a positive response on the third test.
“They weren’t showing enough to detect the virus in this individual’s system,” Stefanovsky said. “The quarantine is so so important. If you’re a household contact or close contact at work or friendships, it’s so important to stay in quarantine.
“Some people think that means I just can’t go to work, but I can still go to my kid’s soccer game. That’s just not the case,” she added. “Quarantine means you have to stay away from people for 14 days. That’s work, that’s play, even family if you want to protect family members from exposure.”
As of Wednesday, Ottawa County has 4,104 lab-confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, with 70 deaths. The county lists 3,078 people as having recovered from the coronavirus.
More information can be found online at miottawa.org/Health/OCHD/corona virus.htm.