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Community updates: Thursday, Dec. 17

COVID-19 vaccinations begin in West Michigan; Mel Trotter Ministries, partners prepare winter emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness; and Rosa Parks Circle Ice Rink opening on Friday.
Spectrum Health Butterwoth Hospital in downtown Grand Rapids.

Spectrum Health Butterwoth Hospital in downtown Grand Rapids. /Spectrum Health

COVID-19 vaccinations begin in West Michigan

After months of living with COVID-19 in West Michigan, hundreds of related deaths, and tens of thousands more in positive cases, the first area vaccinations have begun.

The Pfizer vaccine, authorized by the U.S. FDA on Dec. 11, arrived in limited supply to area hospitals on Monday. Frontline health care workers at Grand Rapids’ Spectrum Health Butterworth Hosptial were among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations in the state.

Among other local hospitals and health organizations to receive Pfizer vaccine vials were Mercy Health, Metro Health, and the Kent County Health Department (KCHD). All will be administering COVID-19 vaccines following CDC guidance, which prioritizes frontline health care workers, followed by staff and residents of long-term care facilities. Vaccinations will be administered on a voluntary basis.

“We are so excited to go on offense and to start building immunity in our community,” KCHD Director Dr. Adam London said. “We’re working so hard right now to make sure that we can bring this vaccine to our community as quickly and as safely as possible. That’s going to begin in the next few days with our frontline health care workers and our EMS workers.”

Vaccine distribution will roll out across Kent County and the state over a series of weeks. As supplies increase, those at lower risk will qualify. The KCHD expects enough vaccine will be available for all people 16 years and over by mid to late 2021.

There will be no out-of-pocket costs for Americans receiving Pfizer’s vaccine, as vaccine doses were purchased by the federal government using taxpayer dollars. However, healthcare providers may bill a patient’s insurance company for administrative costs.

Even with COVID-19 vaccinations starting in Michigan and worldwide, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is continuing to urge Michiganders to practice virus mitigation measures such as physical distancing, face covering use, and frequent hand-washing.

"The arrival of this vaccine in Michigan signals that the end of this pandemic is near," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the MDHHS' Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy for Health. "However, it will take several months before we are able to have enough vaccine to widely distribute it to the general population."

"Until then, and even for individuals who receive the vaccine," she continued, "we should all be doing our part to slow the spread of this virus by wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings, and washing hands."

With an abundance of information flowing from various sources about the start to vaccinations, the MDHHS and KCHD have both launched online portals to streamline accurate information. The MDHHS’ is available in the form of a COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard on its website. The KCHD’s, created in partnership a variety of other area health organizations, is available at


Mel Trotter Ministries, partners prepare winter emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness

Mel Trotter Ministries is partnering with Guiding Light Mission and the City of Grand Rapids to provide a new winter emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Grand Rapids.

Located across the street from downtown’s Heartside Park on Ionia Ave. SW, the shelter will provide overnight shelter and serve as a warming center during the day. It comes as a growing tent encampment has popped at Heartside Park, where those experiencing homelessness have sought shelter.

Organizers expect the new shelter to operate for five months. The 30,000 square-foot space, previously the Purple East smoke shop, will be able to accommodate as many as 100 adults per night, organizers say.

Between the coming snows and COVID-19, those experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable than ever this year,” said Mel Trotter Ministries CEO Dennis Van Kampen. “This is compounded by an anticipated rise in evictions in the coming year, which will put even more people at risk on the streets.”

Mel Trotter Ministries will operate day-to-day operations at the space. It will also work with people seeking shelter to obtain permanent housing, as it does with those staying at its main space at 225 Commerce Ave. SW. Its main space currently has a capacity of 425 adults nightly.

Safe affordable housing is increasingly difficult to come by in our community, let alone during these times,” Van Kampen added. “We are gratified by the willingness of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to join together to address this immediate need.”

The Ionia Ave. space is owned by Evergreen Companies, who agreed to lease the space to the partnering organizations.

The City of Grand Rapids has contributed $165,000 in rent support for the shelter. Guiding Light Mission is providing direct financial support, in addition to assistance with clothing, shoes, food, and personal care items.


Rosa Parks Circle Ice Rink opens Friday, with safety measures

The ice skating rink at downtown’s Rosa Parks Circle opens for the season on Friday, with public health measures in place. It remains open through Feb. 21, weather permitting.

This year, a maximum of 25 skaters will be allowed on the ice at one time, with face covering use required for visitors and skaters. Rather than arriving on a first-come, first-served basis, skaters will need to reserve one-hour blocks of skating time online or over the phone.

Ice skating at Rosa Parks Circle is one of the most popular winter activities our department offers,” said John Judnich, Recreation Supervisor for the city’s Parks and Recreation department. “With the added COVID-19 safety protocols in place, we intend to continue this community tradition in a safe way.”

Admission is $2 per person, which includes skates.

Registration details are available on the City of Grand Rapids’ website. Rink updates, including weather-related closures, will be announced on the rink’s Facebook page throughout the season and on its cancellation hotline at 616-456-3699.


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