Berrien County Health Department officials are happy that so many residents are ready and eager to get the COVID 19 vaccination, but they caution that even though the governor widened the scope of those who are considered eligible to get the shots, the actual allocations to the county simply will not allow that more aggressive plan to be undertaken locally yet, so they’ve established a waitlist.
Health Department Officer Nicki Britten was joined by Dr. Loren Hamel from Spectrum Health Lakeland again today for an update to the community on the pandemic conditions, and says that demand is dramatically outstripping supply at this juncture and even though the governor is authorizing a wider reach, it won’t be possible for a while locally inasmuch as many local health care workers that want the vaccine still haven’t been able to get it yet.
Britten said this afternoon, “We have the ability to accelerate and open up to the people that are eligible to receive the vaccination, but the main limit to how quickly we can fulfill that remains supply and the number of vaccines available.” She cautions, “It’s just that the declaration by the governor on Wednesday has not necessarily coincided with more vaccine being allocated to the state of Michigan.”
Britten says, “There has been some regional variation, and there are counties in the state that are maybe less populous and have fewer healthcare workers that have been through their 1A priority group of health care workers and long term care facility residents, so there were some communities in the state that were sitting ready to move to that next group of people that would be eligible for vaccination.” However, she notes, “In Berrien County we are still very much working through that 1A group. We have not vaccinated all health care workers who wish to be vaccinated, and we expect that over time there will be even more that wish to do so. That doesn’t mean we have to finish one group before moving to the next, and there will absolutely be overlap, but we are still constrained and have appointments scheduled with our health care providers that we need to make sure we have a vaccine for those individuals before we start allocating it and giving vaccine appointments for those in the broader groups.”
Britten says that those broader groups that are now eligible according to the state guidance need to recognize that it still depends on local vaccine availability. She says, “We want to make sure that as we have demands that outstrip supply, we get to those most likely to succumb to COVID 19 in order to prevent those deaths. If you take into account all those that would be eligible under the governor’s expanded scope, we’re looking at 30 to 40,000 Berrien County residents in those groups and we’ll need a lot more vaccine before we can make a dent in that number.” Britten adds, “While we’re glad to see the huge and positive response from our residents who want to get the vaccine over the past 48 hours, we’re creating a wait list so you can tell us you’re ready so we can get to you when we’re ready.”
The Berrien County Health Department has created a sign-up wait list for those interested in getting the vaccine that are over the age of 65. You can reach that at the link below to get on the list:
In the meantime, Britten and Hamel shared ongoing gratitude for those who are helping slow the rate of the virus, with Britten noting, “We’re continuing to be pretty fortunate here in Berrien County that we are continuing to see a bit of a downward trend. Through the month of November and at the beginning of December we were quite concerned about what was happening with our trends, wondering were we getting close to maxing out our health care capacity, and we were watching all of these numbers turn up. Then we seem to have rounded that peak and started coming back down and we’ve seen that sustained for a few weeks now.”
The Christmas holiday might have caused a bit of an uptick, however, as Britten says, “This week we are starting to see some slight increases in our number of COVID cases and it’s difficult to make sense of that in real time. We do know that sometimes people delay health care for minor concerns over the holidays. Now that we’re through that holiday season, it’s possible there were more people seeking tests, and they might have found it more inconvenient over the holidays so that could explain some of what is happening. We are continuing to see lower numbers and that sustained decrease in our hospital census, which we are grateful for, and there are more outpatient therapeutics that are helping people to stay out of the hospital as well. So, while we are very much in the middle of this and we still have transmission happening in our community, we still have a susceptible population in our community, and we need to keep up with those preventative measures we do still also have this glimmer of hope and I’m hopeful that our community sees that as encouragement to keep persisting with social distancing, avoiding small groups, wearing the mask and face coverings, washing hands, all of those things because we are still in the middle of all that even though turning our attention to vaccination.”
Dr. Hamel shared his gratitude as well, saying, “As the number of total new positive COVID cases has started to decline, we expected a decline in our in-patient census, and we’ve seen that decline. We went from a high of nearly 80 down to the 30s, over the last twelve days. We’ve now ticked back up to 44 and we expected that because we saw the little uptick in the data that Nicki just talked about, and it’s pretty predictable. When we’ve seen more positive cases, a few days later we get more in-patient cases, that’s the correlation that’s become the norm throughout this pandemic. So, it’s no surprise, and we’re grateful that it’s much lower than it was, but we’re a little concerned that it’s starting to tick up again a little bit, and we expected through the holiday season that there will probably be a little more opportunity for transmission. There are people that are getting together and a little closer to others than they would be in a non-holiday season. We’re hoping this is a temporary trend, and we’re hoping that trends the other way as well. The positivity rate of tests is now running in the 9 to 12-percent range, it ticked up to about 10-percent here, I think it’s going to stay there for a little while, and that also is a predictor of what we’re going to see, and sadly we still are seeing one or more of our Berrien County residents pass away on most days. So, it’s not over yet.”