OTTAWA COUNTY — As temperatures increase and more people visit parks, beaches and other attractions in Ottawa County, county health officials are still urging residents to keep up social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.


Crowds have gathered at areas like Holland’s Windmill Island and Grand Haven State Park in recent days. Kristina Wieghmink, Ottawa County Department of Public Health information officer, said that residents should be wary of gathering in large groups.


“With the weather getting warmer and people venturing outside, please keep in mind we are not in a position to relax the disease prevention measures our community has been working so hard on and contributing so much to slow the spread of this new coronavirus,” Wieghmink said over email.


As of Thursday, May 7, Ottawa County has 331 confirmed cases and 17 deaths, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.


“By keeping with physical distancing and wearing a face cover in public, along with frequent hand washing and disinfecting, we've been able to slow the spread in Ottawa County,” Wieghmink added.


“We understand many people are eager to go places and gather with friends and family members, but we must not let up or loosen these preventive methods. Our actions make a difference whether we slow or increase the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”


Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have grown in Ottawa County in recent weeks. Since the beginning of May, the county has reported an average of nearly 12 total cases — confirmed and probable — each day, according to local data.


A protest has been planned at Grand Haven State Park, on Saturday, May 16, after city officials closed public parking lots to deter crowds from gathering at the parks.


The protest is being organized by the same group who organized a demonstration in front of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s residence in Lansing in April.


“The governor supports Michiganders’ right to free speech and the right to protest, but those participating should not put themselves or first responders at risk,” said Bobby Leddy, Whitmer’s deputy press secretary.


Wieghmink said that large gatherings, like the planned protest, only increase the risk of virus transmission, and urged residents to avoid congregating, which could spur another surge in COVID-19 cases.


“We know that the virus spreads person-to-person between people who are in close contact with one another through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks,” she said.


“Public gatherings increase the likelihood of infection. Even if you don’t have symptoms, you could still be a carrier of the virus. Please protect others, especially those who are at a higher risk of severe complications from the disease; such as the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, those who have limited access to resources and care, and many others.”


— Contact reporter Arpan Lobo at alobo@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @arpanlobo.