Vigilance Urged Amid Small Rise in Berrien COVID Case Counts, But No “Significant Alarm”

While admitting that more time will determine if a recent climb in cases of COVID-19 in Berrien County is really a trend or simply a blip on the graph, Berrien County Health Department Officer Nicki Britten is urging everyone to remain vigilant as the vaccination efforts continue to ramp up.

Britten was joined this afternoon by Spectrum Health Lakeland President Dr. Loren Hamel in providing an update on the current status of the coronavirus, tracking both case counts and vaccination numbers as the pandemic rolls past the one year anniversary from the start of it all.

Britten says today, “For the most part we have continued to see a decline in the number of cases. Where we are right now does closely mirror where we were last fall before we started to see the big surge throughout October and November. Over the last couple of weeks we have been averaging anywhere from 17 to about 25 cases, on average, per day, in Berrien County. Now over the last week or so, those cases have started to climb just a little bit, but we use that term relatively, so the cases have increased, but we’re still at an average of about 25 cases per day.”

Whether that short climb is truly a trend will need more data, as Britten says, “You always need time to tell if a trend is really a trend or if it’s just a blip on the graph. We do know that we are seeing data from elsewhere in the country that is showing there are similar starts of some creeping up and some inclines in the number of cases, and it’s hard to know what exactly that will amount to.” She suggests, “That’s part of the reason that its so important for us to remain really diligent with every protective measure we have in our toolbox. Vaccination is a big one, but we also have to be mindful of maintaining social distance, wearing a mask, avoiding close contact with others and being in large groups of people, and a lot of those things we’ve been doing for the last year, still remain very important.”

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Britten says that the percent of positivity has crept up a little bit, saying, “We’re up about 6-percent now, where we were at or below 5-percent for a period of time.” Is that cause for concern? Britten says, “None of these, at this moment, are causing significant alarm, but we do need to remain vigilant in what we’re doing, especially as we continue moving toward would could be the end of this as the vaccination roll-out continues at that pace that it’s going, and continues to accelerate, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, we just have to make sure that we don’t throw ourselves off course by starting to get sloppy.” She knows that “When spring comes we all want to have some changes in our routine, and want to start doing some things we haven’t done for a long time, but I just urge us all to continue to be patient, to be cautious and to be smart.”

Meanwhile, over at Spectrum Health Lakeland, Dr. Hamel reports today, “The hospital is about the same as it was the last time we talked, as we often have somewhere between 10 and 15 folks in the hospital’s COVID unit, and a few that are sick in the ICU, although not today, and that’s been fairly stable.” Hamel, too, is watching the numbers closely, saying, “We are watching the trend lines, watching what’s happening in our hospital. There are hospitals in Michigan that were below 10 and now they’re back up around 40 or 50 again. That just underscores that we’re ready for now, but please be careful as we want you to be healthy and those you care about to be healthy, and we want the mortality rate from here on in Berrien County to be zero, and we know that’s not going to be the case, but the closer we get to zero the happier we are.”

Hamel then turned attention to what’s being done to help keep the numbers down, saying, “The good news is the vaccine is becoming more plentiful. As you’ve heard, President Biden is suggesting that we’re going to have vaccine for everybody in May, and I hope that transpires without a glitch.” Locally, he says, “It looks like we’re getting much more in the next few weeks than we have in the last few weeks, and we long for that. We’re liberalizing, as you know, the folks who are getting the vaccine, and about half of Berrien County that is eligible for that vaccine has been vaccinated between the Health Department, Spectrum Health Lakeland and others in that effort.” His advice, “Get the vaccine, whichever one is made available to you, as quickly as you can. We will fight off mutations, we’ll fight off cases, and we’ll prevent mortality in our county the more we’re vaccinated.”

Regarding the Herculean effort underway in Berrien County to get shots in arms, the Health Department leader Britten reports, “The numbers that keep going up that we’re really pleased with are the vaccination numbers. We’re up to over 48,000 doses of vaccine that have been administered in Berrien County, and that’ll be increased by about another 1,000 by tomorrow based on the current activities, so we’re getting close to having 50,000 doses administered.” Britten adds, “That does combine first and second doses and we have lots of people that have completed the two dose series.” The numbers she addressed represent all providers in Berrien County, including not just the health department clinices and Spectrum Health Lakeland, but also retail pharmacy partners, and federally qualified health care centers which are all helping in the big effort. In fact, Britten says, “Those partners are playing an increasing role in getting the vaccine out as more vaccine is becoming available.”

Scanning the vaccination reports, Britten says, “On the whole we do have 30,000 residents that have been vaccinated, either one or two doses, so that means that if we’re looking at our total population of 16+, that’s 24-percent of the people in Berrien County 16 and older, and that’s before we’ve gotten to fully open eligibility which is on the horizon, very rapidly approaching.”

Of that ongoing effort, Britten says, “I think we are doing a great job. We are administering vaccine almost as quickly as we are getting it and I think we are doing as good a job as we can with the amount of vaccine that is coming into Berrien County.” Additionally, she reports, “We have had well over 60-percent of Berrien County adults 65 and over who have been vaccinated now, and over 40-percent are completed, having gotten both of their doses and are done, while the others have their second doses upcoming.”

If you are in that age bracket and haven’t gotten your vaccine yet, Britten says, “We’re continuing to progress through our older adults, so if you are an older adult and you have not yet received your vaccine, we want to get you an appointment as quickly as possible as we continue to maintain that focus. You can call either the health department or Spectrum Health Lakeland to get that appointment, as we continue to maintain that priority as we continue to expand eligibility based on the state’s moves.”