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Community updates: Thursday, Sept. 17

Kent County Health Department urges COVID-19 caution among students as college-tied outbreaks emerge; City of Grand Rapids provides update on safety protocols for Nov. 3 elections; and Grand Rapids Police Department increasing officer presence amid recent gun violence.
Grand Valley State University's Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids.

Grand Valley State University's Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids. /Lola Audu

Kent County Health Department urges COVID-19 caution among students as college-tied outbreaks emerge

With colleges in and around Kent County reporting COVID-19 outbreaks among students and staff, the Kent County Health Department (KCHD) is urging students and young adults to remain vigilant in reducing its spread.

498 new COVID-19 cases have been tied to area colleges since the MDHHS began reporting school outbreaks this week. Colleges include Aquinas College, Calvin University, Davenport University, and Grand Valley State University (GVSU).

“Colleges and schools don't exist in a vacuum,” KCHD Director Dr. Adam London said in a Wednesday video update. “The students who attend those schools, they also work in the community, they shop in the community, they interact with people throughout the neighborhood in a way that can spread this virus to other sectors of the population.”

GVSU has the bulk of college-based cases in the area – 478 in total, all students. While its main campus and majority of on-campus housing reside in Ottawa County's Allendale, it has two Grand Rapids campuses and many students living in and commuting to the city.

With young people returning to school, London said they’re becoming an “enormous dynamic” in the spread of the virus. In September so far, 35.2 percent of the county’s new cases have been people between the ages of 20 and 29, and 17.9 percent between the ages of 10 and 19.

“Right now our investigators are are not seeing that many of these cases seem to be linked to the in-person classroom experience,” the director continued. “Certainly some are, but by far and away we're seeing that social gatherings is the point of exposure where so many of these cases are happening.”

London encouraged young people in the community to do their part to make it difficult for COVID-19 to spread by following proper mitigation measures. A full list of measures, such as six-feet distancing, frequent hand-washing, and more, is available on the CDC’s website.


City of Grand Rapids provides update on safety protocols for Nov. 3 elections

Grand Rapids City Clerk Joel Hondorp provided an update on safety protocols the city is implementing for the Nov. 3 elections, during a Tuesday City Commission meeting.

Hondorp said the following protocols will be in place:

  • All polling places will have personal protective equipment for workers – face shields, face coverings, and gloves – as well as hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and alcohol wipes.
  • All poll workers will be required to wear face coverings.
  • Voters won’t be required to wear face coverings, but each polling place will have signage encouraging their use.
  • Voting booths will be organized six feet apart for physical distancing and floor signage will remind voters of this guideline.
  • The city will add five absentee ballot drop-off boxes around the city, which will be emptied at least once daily.

The city will also will begin to mail absentee ballots later this month. Voters need to submit an absentee ballot application for each election, which can be requested on the city’s website.


Grand Rapids Police Department increasing officer presence amid recent gun violence

The Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) is increasing the presence of police officers throughout the city in response to its uptick in gun violence, Police Chief Eric Payne said Wednesday.

The increased presence means more police officers in neighborhoods who will work with residents to address concerns and gain information about the people responsible for the violence.

23 homicides have happened in Grand Rapids so far this year, according to the GRPD, with over half of them gun-related. Last year saw 18 homicides and nine the year before.

“By utilizing our department’s crime analysts and evidence-based enforcement efforts, the neighborhoods most impacted will see an increased presence of officers, but will not have to worry about getting caught up in a wide net,” said Payne.

“The goal is to have a high-visibility presence and stop violent activity before it occurs. We will utilize both enforcement and engagement, with our officers continuing positive non-enforcement interactions with community members to share information and build trust.”

The GRPD’s expanded use of non-enforcement interactions with the community aligns with its draft strategic plan for 2021-23. The plan aims to improve police-community relations and provides action steps with measurable outcomes to achieve this. It also acknowledges people of color and low-income residents as disproportionately impacted by policing practices and the criminal justice system, historically, and commits to eradicating this within the city.

GRPD investigators are encouraging residents with information about last weekend’s gun violence, which left one dead, to contact the department’s Detective Unit at 616-456-3380 or through Silent Observer at 616-774-2345 or its website.


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