Coronavirus surges in Grand Rapids area, bucking trends in rest of Michigan

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases is rising in Kent County, with a big spike among the homeless population that spent its nights at Mel Trotter Ministries near downtown Grand Rapids. Those who tested positive have been taken to another facility to recuperate.

April 26 update: Grand Rapids area coronavirus cases climb over 1,000

Coronavirus cases are rising sharply in Kent County even as numbers decline statewide, and local officials attribute the increase to an uptick among those who are homeless.

In the past week, Kent County recorded 430 new cases, up from 152 the prior week and 108 two weeks ago. The daily average of 60 per day for the past week is triple than just last week.

County officials say the caseload likely will peak in mid-May, about six weeks after Michigan’s statewide peak.


“It’s real,” said Brian Hartl, an epidemiologist for Kent County. “We’re seeing community spread.”

Kent County is home to Grand Rapids and Michigan’s fourth-most populous county. On April 1, it had 119 cases, two fewer than Ingham County (121) and less than two dozen more than Livingston County (101).

As of Friday morning, Kent County had 815 total cases, while Ingham had 370 and Livingston had 312.

The increase comes after county health officials noticed that homeless people were testing positive for the virus and tested 250 people at the Mel Trotter Ministries’ shelter in Grand Rapids. About 70 tested positive.

Health officials partnered with another homeless shelter, Guiding Light, to accommodate those who tested positive or were sick and awaiting a test result, said Joann Haganson, a registered nurse and director of community wellness for the county health department.

Thirty-nine people were in the Guiding Light facility as of Thursday.

Kent County’s caseload is surging as those of neighboring counties are growing as well, but at a far smaller rate: Neighborhood Ottawa County’s average rate has jumped from three per day last week to 10 now, while Muskegon’s average has increased from five to 11 over the same time.


The increase comes as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday extended her stay-home order until May 15 and relaxed portions of it, allowing motorized boating, some golfing and other activities.

In west Michigan, business leaders are lobbying to reopen the economy and ease restrictions, sending a letter this week to Whitmer and Republican legislators noting that dire case predictions have yet to occur.

“Data is accumulating concerning unprecedented costs that are being imposed on Michigan citizens due to the ongoing idling of our economy,” the letter read. 

“More Michigan workers have lost their jobs than anywhere else in the continental United States.”

The group called for a “phased, data-driven approach to reopening our economy” that trusts Michigan businesses to keep workers safe, according to their letter to Whitmer.

Both Hartl and Hoganson, however, said they remain cautious about a quick relaxation of restrictions. 

“I would hate to see all the work done up to now and the gains reversed because we couldn’t wait another week or two weeks,” Hoganson said.

Hartl said he understood the imperative to reopen the economy. But with Kent County’s numbers trending up, he said it might not be the time.

“From a public health perspective it makes me wary that we’re talking about putting people in contact with one another,” he said. “I prefer we would be seeing declines in cases rather than the other way around when we’re talking about reopening the region.”


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Fri, 04/24/2020 - 9:04pm

Coronavirus or Covid-19. The common cold is a form of Coronavirus. If you are referring to Covid-19 then its because testing has surged. Nothing else has changed. I’ll bet that if we stopped testing, we will see a plateau in numbers.

All very funny
Sun, 04/26/2020 - 7:53pm

Please don't blame the homeless. Blame the churches that serve the homeless at the shelters. Churches and protesters in West Michigan are spreading the virus to everyone, including the vulnerable homeless population.

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 1:25pm

Oh, those terrible churches! What a rotten thing to do, to serve the homeless! Sorry, homeless people, go back to sleeping in dumpsters, it's getting warmer now anyway. I agree that churches should be conducting services entirely online, but I say bless those who care enough to put themselves at risk to serve those less fortunate.

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 5:10pm

LH, so you can infect the poor homeless after you attend your protest? How charitable! [that's disinfectant sarcasm]

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 12:11pm

"I’ll bet that if we stopped testing, we will see a plateau in numbers."

I want to know how you typed that out without thinking, "man that just makes me sound ignorant." really? if we stop testing, the numbers will plateau? well hell, man, you just found the cure! stop testing! smh.

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 9:56am

And HOW many of the infected were in Lansing protesting?

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 4:50pm

Since the uptick is among homeless persons, probably not many. That’s not to say that those who were at the Lansing protest haven’t carried the infection to or from Kent County. It’s unfortunate that there is no way to determine if there is some correlation because it would certainly demonstrate the need for social distancing.

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 3:21pm

I wouldn't be hard at all if we did contact tracing.

Bobby Joe
Sat, 04/25/2020 - 10:55pm

Zero. There is more evidence that you infected more people around you, Don, then there is that the protesters infected anyone. Both numbers are zero. There is zero evidence for sure that the protesters infected anyone. I guess though we don't know for sure what you've been up to.

No Bobby Joe
Sun, 04/26/2020 - 7:56pm

Guns and God. So we saw the guns at the protest, then we saw the homeless were at church run shelters. No connection? What more do you need, Thomas?

Tom Madden
Sun, 04/26/2020 - 6:53pm

From our Michigan Constitution:

Right of petition and assembly.

Sec. 10. The people have the right peaceably to assemble together to consult for the common good, to instruct their representatives, and to petition the Legislature for redress of grievances.

Oh - and they have the right of free speech too!

Sun, 04/26/2020 - 7:59pm

Absolutely, but those rights are subject to reasonable state action and in a pandemic, it is reasonable to require staying in your cars and wearing masks if you get out, staying six feet apart. But you probably would prefer the government inject you with disinfectants or deregulate and sell you snake oil.

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 10:11pm

Constitutional rights are not "subject to reasonable state action". In fact, the Michigan Constitution makes this perfectly clear- Section 21 reads that " All acts of the legislature contrary to this or any other article of this Constitution shall be void."

You can come on here and argue that the governor should act illegally if you want. You can come on here and post that the Governor should ignore civil liberties and civil rights. You can come on here and advocate in favor of dictators and tyrants and make all the arguments you want about those. But don't come on here and lie about what is legal and constitutional.

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 3:24pm

Are you saying you can hold a parade without a permit?

Trump a tyrant?
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 3:26pm

Trump is making people around him wear masks! President Donald Trump’s new spokeswoman, Kayleigh McEnany says we should wear masks in public. Is she a tyrant or just working for one? Please answer, it's a serious question for anyone not afraid to stand behind their principles.

middle of the mit
Sun, 04/26/2020 - 9:53pm

You also have the right and ability to chose to exercise the personal responsibility that you espouse soooo much.

Don't ya?

Why do you chose to ignore that responsibility?

DeVos family sucks
Tue, 04/28/2020 - 5:05pm

Don, probably a lot of them. While previously trending downward, today Michigan recorded an upspike of 1,052 new cases, coincidentally right after the incubation period since the April 15 DeVos-funded protest:

Meanwhile we just learned the:
Leader of Reopen N.C. Protests Tested Positive for COVID-19; Refused to Say If She Attended Crowded Rallies

Peon to Empress...
Sun, 04/26/2020 - 8:41am

Any comments the "liberal" counting policy going on? Since facts matter. The higher the count, the fewer the deaths. Science.

Gloria Gonzalez
Sun, 04/26/2020 - 10:04am

Wrong, many many more out of work in New York and Las Vegas. Governor Witmer is responding with care and data driven decision not by emotions as the Republicans are doing. They are loosing support every day with the moderates because of their lack of cooperation to save lives not pocket books.

Sun, 04/26/2020 - 8:02pm

It's refreshing, given the orange dolt in the WH who appears for two to three hours daily briefing us and suggesting bleach injections.

What What
Wed, 04/29/2020 - 7:50am

I think you are grossly mis-informed, Gov. Whitless has not acted with science and data she is acting to get the VP nod, also i think the Republicans are gaining votes because they want to get people back to work in a sensible FACT and data driven way!

Whitmer fan
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 3:30pm

Then how did we flatten the curve? Her orders were science-based and the majority of us obeyed.

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:47pm

According to the CDC, the incubation period for COVID-19 is 2-14 days. How many days has it been since the Marching Morons descended on Lansing? Ten when this article was published, twelve, as of today. But no, Kent County officials blame it on the homeless...

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 5:20pm

Today there's a spike in new cases 1,052 so far, after many days trending downward around 400. Actually it's kind of cool that this reckless behavior will knock the daylights out of rural Michigan closer to the election. As they like to say "thinning of the herd" is good. Why are we even trying to help them?

What What
Wed, 04/29/2020 - 7:54am

Do you think maybe the spike is because we are testing 2X the amount of people from two weeks ago???? The number you should be watching is the testing positive percentage, 12% or below = Good!

GOP Death Panels
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 3:41pm

Even better, how about the number of people dead from COVID19? Anyway you look at it, it's not good, but hey I can't tell you how to feel about your grandma or your kids who are now showing symptoms of other serious problems. I know, it's not a lot of them, so you really don't care.

"TRUMP 2020 embrace premature death!"

Grim Reaper
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 4:03pm

45 dead in Kent county. Remember when Trump said there was only one positive case in the US and that person may or may not live? Now over 80,000 people in the US have died. Shame that some people don't care to take this seriously.

What What
Wed, 04/29/2020 - 7:51am

Maybe they are saying its the homeless BECAUSE they tested the homeless! Duh

Buy a crowd
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 3:37pm

The kind of people the DeVos family buses into the protests? The people at the protest looked homeless.

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 7:44am

What is the Positive test percentage in Kent County? Is the increase in cases because they are testing more? I see they are just randomly testing homeless shelters, where they doing that before? So we don't test for two months and then we start testing even asymptomatic individuals and freak out about a rise in positives??? I wonder how high it would have been 6 weeks ago prior to the peak??

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 3:50pm

"Is the increase in cases because they are testing more?" No. Statewide the more testing, the less percentage of positive cases they find.

Kent County, home to Grand Rapids, which has had 478 new cases in the last week, reported 51 new cases.

Testing continues to increase as positive rates continue to decline. Of the 12,657 people tested for the coronavirus on May 9, the latest date for which data are available, 7 percent tested positive. So far, 290,000 people have been tested, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's medical executive said in a news conference Monday.

For more interactive maps and charts, see the Michigan Coronavirus Dashboard, showing case numbers by day, locations, deaths and demographics.

West Michigan continued to see elevated case counts, with Kent County adding 68 on Sunday and nearly 500 for the past week. Of counties with at least 100 cases that saw case counts rise by 25 percent or more over 7 days, only Monroe (25.1 percent, from 311 to 389) was not in West Michigan.

Ottawa (which rose 41 percent to 388), Allegan (rose 33 percent to 150), Kalamazoo (rose 32 percent to 601), Berrien (rose 30 percent to 391) and Kent (rose 28 percent to 2,281) are all in West Michigan.

Testing again was strong, with more than 12,000 tests on Friday with just under 7 percent recording an infection. Experts have said that the rate of “positive” tests should be below 12 percent before reopening the economy. – Mike Wilkinson