SJMAA DAISY Winners Change Lives Through Kindness, Skill

Dan Tjarks, BSN, RN

11 East Progressive Care Medical Oncology Unit

January 2020 DAISY Award

Dan Tjarks, BSN, RN on 11 East Oncology, is the caliber of nurse anyone would hope to have care for a loved one. His calm, skilled and compassionate approach to the nursing profession helped ease the transition of a patient, while also ensuring the family was supported. Even though Dan had other patients, he made certain that a terminally ill patient received exceptional care by checking in hourly and staying in contact with the Attending and Palliative Care physicians to help ensure the patient was as comfortable as possible. All the while, Dan provided simple, clear but caring updates to the family so they knew what to expect and help prepare themselves for when the patient passed. The family expressed their sincere gratitude for Dan’s understanding and gentle care: “Dan Tjarks is the role model that all health care professionals should endeavor to emulate. From the bottom of our hearts we thank Dan for his knowledge, compassion and dedication to providing our dear sister the best care possible.” 

Remarkable nursing brings comfort and light to patients and their families when they need it most.  We are proud to honor Dan with this DAISY Award for being that caring light.

Amanda Coutts, BSN, RN

Unit – SICU (Surgical Intensive Care Unit)

July 2020 SJMAA DAISY Winner

Amanda Coutts, RN, BSN has been a member of the St. Joe’s Ann Arbor team since 2015, starting on 2 North PCU and then transferred to SICU in 2020. While working in the fast-paced SICU environment, Amanda continued her education to be a Nurse Practitioner.  This focused drive to improve is balanced with a deeply compassionate and level-headed way of caring for patients and supporting the entire team. 

Amanda was nominated for her DAISY award by a provider who first noticed her quick-thinking, ice-cool way of caring for a difficult, often abusive patient with dementia. In spite of having unpleasant comments yelled at her and the patient lashing out, Amanda not only remained calm and professional, but showed the patient remarkable compassion. The physician also observed Amanda leverage her extensive knowledge and incisive observations to effectively communicate potential issues to the care team, helping to address concerns before they developed into more serious problems. The general surgery physician who nominated Amanda also praised her for taking the time to teach the doctor a few technical skills that helped improve care, but the most vital lessons where around the human side of care: “The most valuable skill I learned from Amanda was about patient care, especially elderly patients… Amanda has the unique ability to diffuse tense situations, calm patients down, which helps prevent falls and other injuries.”

Thank-you Amanda for your commitment to improve the care and safety of our patients, colleagues and providers. Your dedication, heart and ability define the ideals of the DAISY Award.

Suzanne Farris, RN

Unit: Labor and Delivery

October 2020 DAISY Award

Suzanne Farris, RN is more than a dedicated, compassionate nurse.  She cares for her patients and their families with the utmost skill and care, using her more than two decades of experience to provide a positive experience that can last a lifetime. 

Sue has worked as a nurse at St. Joseph Mercy, Ann Arbor for over 22 years.  Patients and families alike often comment on the great care that they received from Sue.

A patient stated: “Sue forever has left an impact on my life and is one of the main reasons I had such a great experience at St. Joe’s.  She was more than my nurse during her shift, she was a friend and family to us.”  That thankful patient explained that Sue was caring for her leading up to the birth of a child, and once the delivery began, Sue stayed well beyond her shift coaching and encouraging the patient, ensuring she was completely comfortable. Because of COVID, the patient was not able to have full family support with her. Sue stepped up when needed and demonstrated the highest ideals of the nursing profession.

Sue’s kindness and compassion are amazing, and she truly deserves to be recognized by the DAISY Award for going above and beyond to provide great care for patients. St. Joe’s is extremely blessed to have her as part of our team. 

Caitlin Spencer, RN

Unit: MICU (Medical Intensive Care Unit)

November 2020 DAISY Award

Caitlin began working on 6N PCU as a new graduate nurse and quickly established an excellent reputation as someone willing to take on new challenges.  Her positive outlook and “can do” attitude had an immediate, positive impact on the team. During the COVID surge, Caitlin rapidly trained to work in the MICU – to meet the increased demand for support. Caitlin is always willing to do what she’s asked to do and more, she also stays laser-focused on the needs of her patients.  Caitlin is particularly gifted in connecting with her patients and their families and pours her heart into her work. The family who nominated Caitlin recounted how this talented nurse made every effort to provide their ailing mother with excellent, respectful care as she passed: “Caitlin gave my mother her last moments of dignity, that everyone deserves. I believe she does this for every patient. She didn’t do us any favors or provide us any special treatment, but it was her genuine way of working.  Caitlin’s understanding of human fragility and her humility makes her the best medical professional I have ever witnessed.”

She is not only a joy to work with and an asset to the team, Caitlin is that rare person who can provide personal, highly engaged care to all her patients, regardless of the situation. This balance of heart and skill make Caitlin a worthy DAISY Award winner. Congratulations and thank you.

Anna Brown, RN

Unit – 1 East Inpatient Behavioral Health

December 2020 SJMAA DAISY Winner

Legendary for her upbeat demeanor, kindness and gentle strength, Anna Brown, RN, is playfully referred to as 1 East’s own “Disney Princess.” However, this term of endearment also reflects the team’s immense respect for the intelligent, soft-spoken, yet determined approach to caring for people that won her praise from colleagues and patients over her eight-year career with the 1 East Behavioral Health Unit.  Patients feel blessed to have Anna involved in their care: “I will always remember her smile, kindness and gentle spirit,” said one such patient.  “Anna approached me in the most graceful and humble way during the hardest, most embarrassing and scariest time … I don’t state this lightly, but I credit Anna for saving my life…”   Anna is the definition of a compassionate, kind and caring nurse.

In addition to being a highly skilled RN, Anna’s deep faith is exemplified in her healing approach to patient care and her ever-lasting positive attitude, especially when unexpected events occur.  Being a good steward of people and resources comes naturally to Anna.

She is the recipient of several DAISY nominations – evidence that she is loved and appreciated by her colleagues.  Her approach to patient care and staff relationships is based on compassion and reverence for all she serves.

COVID-19 Vaccine Documentation Support at St. Joe’s Oakland

OAKLAND – Human Resources will be available in the St. Joe’s Oakland Cafeteria on the dates below to provide colleagues support with uploading their COVID-19 vaccine documentation.

If you would like assistance, please have your Trinity Health username and password available and bring your COVID-19 vaccination record.

Monday, 8/30/21Tuesday, 8/31/21
11:00a – 2:00p6:30a – 8:30a
6:30p – 8:30p11:00a – 2:00p  
Thursday, 9/2/21Tuesday, 9/7/21
6:30a – 8:30a6:30a – 8:30a
6:30p – 8:30p6:30p – 8:30p  
Wednesday, 9/8/21Friday, 9/10/21
11:00a – 2:00p6:30a – 8:30a
6:30p – 8:30p11:00a – 2:00p  
Tuesday, 9/14/21Wednesday, 9/15/21
6:30a – 8:30a11:00a – 2:00p
6:30p – 8:30p6:30p – 8:30p  
Friday, 9/17/21Monday, 9/20/21
6:30a – 8:30a11:00a – 2:00p
11:00a – 2:00p6:30p – 8:30p  
Tuesday, 9/21/21 
6:30a – 8:30a 
11:00a – 2:00p 

Kevin Barron Receives DAISY Award for Comforting Patient at End of Life

LIVONIA – While patients are always deserving of compassion, those reaching the end of life may require a special level of care. Kevin Barron, an RN in the ICU, was able to provide this for a patient recently. The family wrote the hospital to share their thoughts on Kevin’s kindness. His empathy made a true difference for a patient reaching the end of life, and earned him this month’s DAISY Award.

Kevin was nominated for the DAISY Award by a patient’s family member, who wrote, “Kevin was exceptionally kind and respectful in his interactions with my brother.  He took a genuine personal interest in [the patient] and in us.  He was patient and calm and honest in his explanations.  He truly gave [my brother] hope and compassion and he felt his caring.  He gave [my brother] the last good day of his life.”

Congratulations, Kevin, and thank you for being there when a patient needed you most.

Walk-in Sessions Start This Week to Help SJMAA, SJML Colleagues Submit COVID Vaccination Documentation

For colleagues who still need to submit COVID vaccination documentation, but need a little help or access to HR4U,  the Human Resources department will offer live support during several walk-in help sessions starting August 25 in Ann Arbor and beginning August 26 in Livingston.  

SJMAA Dates, times and locations are below

(Please note the 6:30 – 8:30 sessions are designated either AM or PM)

DateTimeLocation
Wednesday, August 2511am – 1pmAcross from Events Center
Thursday, August 266:30am – 8:30am
2:30pm – 4:30pm
Cafeteria Cafeteria
Friday, August 276:30pm – 8:30pmCafeteria
Monday, August 306:30pm – 8:30pmCafeteria
Tuesday, August 312:30pm – 4:30pmCafeteria
Wednesday, September 111am – 1pmAcross from Events Center
Thursday, September 26:30am – 8:30amCafeteria
Tuesday, September 72:30pm – 4:30pmCafeteria
Wednesday, September 86:30am – 8:30am
11am – 1pm
Cafeteria Across from Events Center
Thursday, September 96:30pm – 8:30pmCafeteria
Tuesday, September 146:30pm – 8:30pmCafeteria
Thursday, September 166:30am – 8:30am
11am – 1pm
Cafeteria Across from Events Center
Friday, September 172:30pm – 4:30pmCafeteria
Monday, September 2011am – 1pm
2:30pm – 4:30pm
Across from Events Center Cafeteria
Tuesday, September 2111am – 1pm
2:30pm – 4:30pm
Across from Events Center Cafeteria

SJML Dates, times and locations

DateTimeLocation
Thursday, August 2611:30am – noon
4pm – 5pm
Cafeteria HR Swing Office
Thursday, September 212:30pm – 1pm
4pm – 5pm
Cafeteria HR Swing Office
Thursday, September 9Noon – 1pm
4pm – 5pm
Cafeteria HR Swing Office
Thursday, September 1611:30 – noon
4pm – 5pm
Cafeteria HR Swing Office

Colleagues must have their network credentials (User ID and password) to log in.  To save time, please scan your vaccine documentation/CDC Card to your e-mail before coming to the clinic.  If you haven’t done that or you need help to do so, please take a photo of the documentation with your smart phone and be able to log into your personal or work email.  We can assist from there. Thank you for continuing to take remarkable care of our patients and supporting each other.

Additional Helpful Information

Ensure your CDC vaccination card or other documentation proof contains your first and last name, dosage dates, manufacturer and location/provider. ​​​​If this information is missing, your submission will be rejected.  

If you have already submitted your documentation, to check your status: 

1.     Look for the email from HR4U indicating that your submission case is closed in HR4U. It looks like this:  

2.     Log into the HR4U colleague portal

3.     Click on “My Requests” to view information on open or pending cases or “Closed” to view the approved or denied status of closed cases. 

MDHHS Launches Vaccination Record Website for Public

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) recently launched a new website – the Michigan Immunization Portal – that allows any individual 18 and older who has been immunized in the state of Michigan to check and obtain a copy of their vaccination record online. Once an individual provides the necessary information, their immunization record will be pulled from the Michigan Care Improvement Registry (MCIR) and provided to them. This function may be especially useful for providers who are contacted by individuals who may have misplaced their COVID-19 vaccination cards.

Tips for Faster Processing of your Vaccine Documentation  

  • On the COVID-19 vaccination form in the HR4U colleague portal, the Lot # is a required field but if unknown or unavailable, simply enter N.A. This field may not be left blank.  
  • Ensure your CDC vaccination card or other documentation proof contains your first and last name, dosage dates, manufacturer and location/provider. ​​​​If this information is missing, your submission will be rejected.  

MyChart Video Visits with Your Medical Provider

A convenient, safe alternative to an in-person visit

Can you identify with one of these situations?

You’re at work, and you really need to connect with your medical provider about a side effect of your new medication. You’d like to get answers to your questions today, but you can’t leave work for an appointment.

Your aging mother, who uses a wheelchair, has a follow-up appointment with the doctor about her diabetes. You accompany your mother to all her medical appointments, which often takes hours out of your day for a 20-minute appointment.

One of your three children has what looks like pink eye. Your family practice provider has an opening later today, but you’re dreading having to pack up the kids, drive to the office, and spend time in a waiting room with other patients.

You and your spouse are traveling to a warm location for the winter, and you want to be able to have access to your provider, even while you’re temporarily living miles away from home.

A convenient solution for these and many other situations is available to you in your MyChart account. It’s called a video visit.

Convenience

Regardless of your age, video visits can offer convenience and high-quality care from a provider without the extra time it takes to travel to the office, sign in, and wait for a room.

Video visits also offer the added benefit of your provider being able to hear and see you — something that a phone call or email exchange on your portal doesn’t allow the provider to do.

In a post-pandemic world, safety is another important consideration. Because you can remain at home or work during your virtual visit, you won’t be exposed to other patients in a waiting room.

The Simple Process

It is possible that some providers will send you a different process, but this is the most frequently-used process. Using your smartphone, computer or tablet, just follow these easy steps.

  • Log on to your Mercy Health MyChart account.
  • Select MyChart Video Visit.
  • You’ll receive a response that tells you what to do. You may be asked to complete a questionnaire in advance that streamlines the interaction with your provider who will review the reason for your visit in advance of the appointment.
  • Log on to your account 15 minutes before your video visit. Your provider will receive a signal that you are connected. Some providers will have you “visit” with a medical assistant first; the process may vary from office to office.
  • If you are making your video visit appointment in advance, you may electronically check in up to seven days in advance, which allows you to complete your registration, sign the consent for treatment, and review instructions regarding your computer software, etc.
  • Meet with your provider. Following the video visit, your chart will be updated.

CoMMON chronic conditions

Video visits are an excellent option for many circumstances and medical conditions that do not require a typical physical examination by a provider.

For certain chronic conditions, video visits are just as beneficial to a patient as an in-person visit. Many types of appointments could occur using this option without sacrificing the quality care and one-on-one attention you deserve.

Behavioral Health: Patients living with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues often benefit from remaining in a familiar environment. During appointments with such patients, providers rely on using their eyes and ears; no hands-on examination is necessary. For many behavioral health patients, a video visit can be more convenient and calming than an in-person visit because the patient may have a private conversation and not have to travel to do so.

Medication Management: At times, a provider will schedule a follow-up visit with a patient after a new medication has been prescribed. During a video visit, a provider can have a conversation regarding how the medication is working, answer the patient’s questions, and even order refills.

Laboratory/Test Reviews: When a provider orders tests or labs, the patient is notified about the results in MyChart. However, some patients want a follow-up discussion with a provider, and a video visit is ideal for this type of appointment.

Dermatologic Conditions: As an example, a patient with a rash takes a high-definition photo of it with a smartphone and sends the image to the provider before the video visit. The provider reviews the image before the appointment and then discuss causes and treatment options with the patient. If the image is concerning, the provider will schedule an in-person visit.

The Cost

Under the current federal pandemic emergency executive order, the cost to Medicare/Medicaid patients for video visits has been waived. At this time, most private medical insurance companies are also waiving copays for virtual visits. The current emergency executive order is expected to be in place through December 2021.

At this time, Congress is reviewing several pieces of legislation that would align the coverage and copays for virtual visits with those for in-person visits.

STAY TUNED FOR Future Enhancements for Video Visits

Using technology, even more conditions could be monitored and treated via video visits.

In the future, Mercy Health plans to find affordable ways for appropriate patients to have a Mercy Health at-home medical equipment kit. Each kit would be personalized with devices that make sense for your specific needs. These devices would be vetted by Mercy Health clinicians, approved for at-home monitoring, and calibrated in the provider’s office prior to use.

For example, a patient with diabetes might have a scale, a glucometer, and a blood pressure machine, each with the ability to upload data to the patient’s MyChart account and be reviewed by the provider. The kit for a patient with congestive heart failure might have a pulse oximeter, a scale, a blood pressure monitor, and even a stethoscope.

Video visits are a great option for patients who do not need a physical examination. They provide the quality, privacy, safety, convenience, and personalized care that patients are looking for. The benefits are significant and have the potential to lower overall costs for outpatient care.

Are you ready to connect? This would be a great year to try it out!

Chris Stokes, RN of St. Joe’s Livingston Employee Health Honored with Daisy Award

Chris was recently honored for her dedication and hard work during a DAISY Award ceremony at St. Joe’s Livingston. Chris was recognized by her colleague, Laurie Makins for her commitment to the St. Joe’s Livingston COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Chris worked tirelessly to make sure the clinic flowed smoothly and all protocols were followed. She made sure not a single vaccine dose went to waste during the clinic’s entirety. “Chris, you are amazing and much appreciated for all your work and dedication,” said Laurie.

Her hard work did not go unnoticed, many staff and patients noticed how well the clinic was run and provided their appreciation. In an unprecedented time, Chris showed her devotion to providing the best care to staff and patients.

Vaccines & Values

by Tara Hernandez

You can’t exactly pinpoint to the Bible and find, “Thou Shalt Get Vaccinated,” but when looking for answers about the COVID-19 vaccine, dealing with an international healthcare crisis, and serving our neighbor – there are several examples in Christian faith and in Trinity Health’s Mission, vision, and values that one can follow.

Our country has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 virus, and not just in health care settings. In the United States we have seen over 600,000 deaths, and a surge in variants. A COVID-related death occurs every seven minutes in the U.S., despite having treatments available.

In addition, we have seen division in our population related to COVID-19. Division in getting vaccinated, challenges among families and friends when making health care choices, and debates within our own health ministry regarding a recent decision to mandate colleagues to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Our core value of Safety calls on us to do everything we can to protect ourselves, our colleagues, our patients, and our communities. The Bible also calls on us to serve our neighbors and love them as we love ourselves.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22: 37-40

“One of the themes throughout the pandemic is that we have to look outside ourselves. It’s not about me,” said Joanna Bailey, manager of Spiritual Care at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids. “I really believe at the heart of spirituality is our neighbor and that being anyone who is not ourselves. We think about the Good Samaritan story or Cain and Abel asking, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ We are called to care for one another and one way we do that is to protect those in unsafe situations. The best way to do it in this current environment is to be vaccinated. Whether protecting patients or children that cannot be vaccinated. That’s something greater than ourselves.”

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), more than 96-percent of all physicians nationwide have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 75-percent of our Trinity Health colleagues have received it.

For colleagues on the fence about getting the vaccine or for those who feel torn between health and decision-making:

“I would encourage them to go back to their calling. Why did they want to be a part of health care? What is their motivation and how does this requirement take away from that motivation?” said Bailey. “If it doesn’t, why are we upset about it? We are here for the patients so I would encourage one to really go back to why they went into health care. And to it make clear: You don’t have to agree with the requirement, you simply abide by it. No one is asking you to vote or agree. If it doesn’t affect your day-to-day bedside care, then I would ask folks to really reflect on what this is really about.”

Several times throughout the Bible, we are told what to do. Like Moses, or Jonah for example.

It may take weeks, months, or even years to fully understand the decisions being made, but as the Bible reminds us – to truly be happy, you must put yourself last. Bailey and the Spiritual Care team have seen first-hand throughout the pandemic those that do not, could carry grief, heartache, and regret.  

“I had a woman in her 80s that I spoke with several times in her stay with us at Saint Mary’s, and she knew she was dying after her daughter’s family exposed her to COVID,” Bailey said. “Her daughter told her not to get vaccinated and that guilt her daughter will live with is more than I could ever want. The mother died knowing her daughter would feel that brokenness. That’s a heavy burden to carry into death and heavy burden for the daughter who continues to live.”

Jesus said, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last… Whoever wishes to be first among you, shall be your slave. Be like the Son of Man who did not come to be served, but to serve; and to give his soul a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:16,27-28).

Faith plays an important role in what we do, and it surrounds our workplace environment from the reflections we give before meetings to the crosses that hang in our patient rooms. Serving others is what we do – nurses and phlebotomists, nutrition service workers and lab techs, physicians and social workers. We serve safely so that we can continue to push through whatever life throws our way – for the greater good of all people.

How to Submit Your Vaccine Documentation for Faster Processing

About 85% of managers and about 46% of colleagues overall have submitted their COVID-19 vaccine documentation. Thank you! If you have not yet, please do so as soon as possible, as deadlines are nearing.  

For Managers, Directors, VPs and Senior Officers: 

  • 8/6/21 – Exemption Requests Due Date  
  • 8/24/21 – Final Dose and Submission to HR4U 

For Supervisors, Coordinators and All Other Colleagues:  

  • 8/20/21 – Exemption Requests Due Date  
  • 9/21/21 – Final Dose and Submission to HR4U 

Please do not wait until the deadline so our teams can efficiently process the high volume of submissions. Waiting to submit until the deadline will delay your documentation status. Currently, the processing time is up to three weeks.   

Tips for Faster Processing of your Vaccine Documentation  

  • On the COVID-19 vaccination form in the HR4U colleague portal, the Lot # is a required field but if unknown or unavailable, simply enter N.A. This field may not be left blank.  
  • Ensure your CDC vaccination card or other documentation proof contains your first and last name, dosage dates, manufacturer and location/provider. ​​​​If this information is missing, your submission will be rejected.  

Example of Complete Vaccine Proof Documentation  

  • First or last name and date of birth missing  
  • Missing first and last names and date of birth 

More Information  

The processing time is up to three weeks, due to the high volume. To check your status, follow these three steps: 

1. Look for the email from HR4U indicating that your submission case is closed in HR4U. It looks like this:  

2. Log into the HR4U colleague portal

3. Click on “My Requests” to view information on open or pending cases or “Closed” to view the approved or denied status of closed cases. 

Amber Stinson Helps Make Graduation a Reality for Ailing Senior

LIVONIA – When a patient was admitted to St. Mary Mercy Livonia on the eve of her high school graduation, she and her parents were devastated at the thought of missing her commencement ceremony. Fortunately, she was under the care of ICU RN Amber Stinson. Amber was not only able to tend to the patient’s medical needs, but her emotional needs as well, enacting “Operation Celebration” to help the patient make it to graduation. Amber’s extraordinary efforts earned her the latest BeRemarkable Award.

Amber was nominated by a colleague, who shared the story of a patient admitted with diabetic ketoacidosis on the night before her graduation ceremony. She wrote that the patient and her parents “spent the night arguing, crying, trying to come to terms with this devastating situation they found themselves in. In the morning, Amber was assigned to be her nurse. The first thing she said after report was ‘We have to find a way to get this girl to her graduation!’ Amber set her sights on this goal, and she along with our manager, her co-workers, and the ICU resident moved mountains that day to make it happen. They managed her medical needs efficiently and effectively to make it safe for discharge.”

At that point, Amber put “Operation Celebration” into action, ensuring that the patient had access to a shower and appropriate clothes for her graduation. She even helped the patient with her makeup and hair. The colleague who nominated Amber added, “As Amber wheeled her out in her wheelchair ‘chariot,’ another nurse even played ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ music for our patient.  What started out as a crushing situation, turned into a grand story this young woman will have to tell for the rest of her life. Amber should be celebrated for being the driving force behind making this happen.”

Congratulations, Amber! Thank you for going above and beyond for this patient, and for bringing such joy to her on a milestone day.

COVID-19 Delta Variant Cases Increasing in Michigan

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) now confirms that 90-percent of new cases in Michigan are the Delta variant. Officials expect the numbers to continue to rise.

With the Delta variant causing COVID-19 cases to rise in the United States, health care professionals are continuing to urge Americans to get their COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, more than 99-percent of all deaths from COVID-19 infections are in unvaccinated persons.

“The vaccine does exactly what it should, which is minimize the symptoms, prevent you from getting hospitalized, prevent you from getting sick, and prevent you from dying,” said Andrew Jameson, MD, FACP, division chief of Infectious Diseases and regional medical director of Infection Control at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s.

Initial data is showing that mRNA vaccines are still protective against the Delta variant, so getting your COVID-19 vaccine can help prevent infection and severe illness. The COVID-19 vaccine reduces the risk for hospitalization and death by over 95-percent.

“Think of a vaccine as a way for your immune system to practice for a virus. Vaccines give the body a preview of one or more key features of a virus before you get the actual virus,” said Liberty Jacques, DNP, director of Nursing Practice and Development for Mercy Health Saint Mary’s and the director of Infection Prevention and COVID-19 service line. “Due to the vaccine, the immune system develops a ‘memory’ of how to react and stop the virus once you are exposed to it. The immune system can quickly recognize the actual coronaviruses and interfere with its ability to multiply.”

A variant is a strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There are currently 11 variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that the World Health Organization (WHO) is monitoring. When a virus is widely circulating in a population and causing many infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases. The more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more it copies – and the more opportunities it has to undergo changes. Most viral mutations have little to no impact on the virus’s ability to cause infections and disease. However, depending on where the changes are located in the virus’s genetic material, they may affect a virus’s properties, such as transmission (for example, it may spread more or less easily) or severity (it may cause more or less severe disease).

The Delta variant is more transmissible and has one-thousand times more viral load than other variants, meaning it is more infectious and causes harsher sickness. The time between exposure and developing symptoms is also much quicker with the Delta variant.

“This pandemic is not over. Delta is more contagious than any other variant so far,” said Claudia Jarrin, MD, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at Mercy Health Muskegon. “The most important weapon we have against COVID is vaccination.”

While getting the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t guarantee immunity against the variant, it can lessen effects. Those fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine have 88-percent protection against symptomatic COVID-19 and 95-percent protection against hospitalization and death. Initial reports show Moderna is equally as protective against the Delta variant. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine appears 66-percent protective against the Delta variant.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) now confirms that 90-percent of new cases in Michigan are the Delta variant. Officials expect the numbers to continue to rise.

“Any time we have a case where someone was vaccinated and tests positive for COVID, we always send that out and the state and county health department test that,” said Dr. Jameson. “We send off specimens regularly to see what’s circulating in the community. There is Delta circulating and that’s not terribly surprising. This virus has the ability to transmit faster, better and more effectively, and when it starts reaching a community it will take over.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reinstated mask mandates and is continuing to urge vaccinations even as some studies show vaccinated individuals can spread COVID-19.  

“This risk is down dramatically to transmit the virus even though it is not zero after vaccination,” said Dr. Jameson. “The big safety increase comes when we are at a much lower chance of getting COVID in the first place.”

Health care professionals are already seeing numbers rise week by week, and that’s why hot spots in the south – where there are lower vaccination rates – are seeing more COVID-19 infections, hospital admittances, and death.

“The places getting hit bad are those that have lower vaccine percentages than we do,” said Dr. Jameson. “Another reason cases are rising in the south at a higher pace than the north is because, as it gets hot outside, people go inside to the air conditioning. We’re not at that same pace yet but we will have cases go up and we will see people getting sick and dying. It is brutal because there’s a safe, effective vaccine to prevent that.”