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Published in Health Care
A screener takes the temperature of workers before they start their shifts at Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids. A screener takes the temperature of workers before they start their shifts at Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids. COURTESY PHOTO

Health officials: Kent Co. employee screening program helping to limit COVID spread

BY Friday, August 14, 2020 12:01pm

An employee health screening program that includes dozens of Kent County businesses is helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community and keep key statistics at a relatively low and steady rate, health experts said today.

Since launching in mid May, the “Kent County: Back to Work Safely” program now includes 130 companies that perform health screenings as employees arrive at work. In July, the program collected 183,000 screenings, or about 46,000 a week, Norman Beauchamp, Michigan State University executive vice president for health sciences, reported during a press conference today.

Of those screenings, about 335 employees were sent home after either reporting COVID-19 symptoms, contact with someone who tested positive or travel.

The partnership between the county, area health care systems and the private sector is meant to be a coordinated effort to track COVID-19 regularly and, when applicable, prevent further spread in workplaces.

Kent County Health Director Dr. Adam London said the results show the program is paying off. Kent County has reported just two deaths in August while its mortality rate — the number of deaths per positive cases — is at 2.2 percent for a seven-day average, or 153 deaths in 7,021 cases.

“That is remarkable,” London said, adding that the statewide mortality rate is at 7 percent, or 6,288 deaths in 90,392 cases. “Most communities see case mortality much higher than what we’ve seen in Kent County.”

Meanwhile, the county’s testing has continued to ramp up, now averaging about 2,200 a day and is what London described as “readily accessible.”

Spectrum Health CEO Tina Freese Decker said West Michigan hospitalizations have continued to decline as well. As of today, fewer than 20 patients were being treated for COVID-19 at Spectrum hospitals, she said. 

The health system now has the capacity to run more than 6,000 tests per day, which Freese Decker hopes to increase to 10,000.

She agreed that Kent County’s 2.2 percent mortality rate is “fantastic” relative to other states and even other areas of Michigan. 

London said a key component to the countywide program is helping to stop employees from spreading COVID-19 at work. He said since the program launched, about 900 people were “excluded from work” after being screened.

“A significant number of those individuals did have COVID, and clusters of COVID were prevented,” London said. “It allowed places to stay fully opened, fully staffed and helped prevent illness in the community. The program has been very effective because its very existence encouraged people who felt sick to not even bother showing up.”

London added that he has received calls from “colleagues around the country” about how the mortality rate, overall case numbers and deaths have remained relatively low.

The Back to Work Safely program is “without a doubt” one of the reasons, he said: “That’s not happening everywhere.”

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