Berrien County health professionals warn residents to remain vigilant

BERRIEN COUNTY — Berrien county health professionals had a stark warning about COVID-19 cases rising and hospitals potentially becoming strained for residents during a Facebook Live communication Thursday morning.

The Berrien County Health Department and Spectrum Health Lakeland came together to give an update on COVID-19 cases throughout the county. The communication closed with both representatives encouraging residents to take a different approach to their holiday plans this year, after discussing the cases of COVID-19 rising, as well as hospital resources again reaching a higher number as patients are treated for severe cases of the virus.

Spectrum Health Lakeland President Loren Hamel said if current trends continue, the healthcare system will face bed shortages for patients. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Berrien County dropped as low as zero earlier in the spring and summer.

“Our peak [of COVID-19 hospitalizations] in April was in the 20s. We are now in the 30s,” Hamel said of hospitalization numbers. “We have had as many as 36 [COVID-19 patients] in the hospital. Our intensive care unit is getting significantly more full.”

Hamel said the backlog of people needing care that put it off due to COVID-19 has not gone away.

“We have a significant concern of running out of beds over the next several weeks,” Hamel said. “We hope the trends of the next several weeks do not continue for the next few weeks. If these trends continue, it will produce some serious compacity constraints in the health system.”

BCHD Health Officer Nikki Britten spoke about the rising percent positives of COVID-19 tests throughout Berrien County, and what that means for community transmissions.

“Right now, we are sitting at a seven-day, daily average of around 40 [new] cases per day,” Britten said of the county’s COVID-19 numbers. “We started the month of October right around 12 average cases per day. We have definitely seen a significant increase in our confirmed cases.”

Britten also highlighted the percent positivity rate of tests being done, sitting at 7.5 percent, though said many times rapid COVID-19 negative tests are not included in the denominator.

Britten said there have been cases associated with schools, but that many exposures are from the community and not traced to becoming sick from classmates or teachers.

As the holiday season approaches, both Hamel and Britten expressed the holidays may look different this year in terms of gatherings.

Hamel encouraged residents to think about family togetherness differently this year.

“I encourage people show your love, share your love, but don’t do it too close,” Hamel said. “Sometimes the best way to be loving, is to be a little more distant. Be a little bit more verbally expressive. It’s a challenging time for us all. I believe this is going to make us stronger as a community, stronger as individuals and I believe it can make us stronger as families.”

Britten mirrored Hamel’s thoughts on the holidays.
“We can do this for one year,” Britten said.  “We can do something different this year. We can show and build some resilience. We can show those bonds can be thicker than the things that we do.”

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