Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visits Berrien County Health Department vaccine clinic

BENTON HARBOR – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a stop at the Berrien County Health Department in Benton Harbor Friday morning to observe the vaccine clinic and discuss the efforts with local leaders and to honor members of the nursing and Michigan National Guard on-site.

“This is all different pieces of government coming together and working together,” Whitmer said of the clinic where the health department, health systems like Spectrum Health Lakeland, volunteers and the Michigan National Guard have come together to keep COVID-19 vaccine efforts moving.

Michigan Senator Fred Upton was in attendance for the meeting.

“It’s really important to let people know that these are safe, effective vaccines. The closer we get to 70 percent of our 16-years-old and up getting that vaccination, the closer we get to normalcy,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer said she noticed the gratitude of residents being able to get the vaccine at both the Berrien County and Calhoun County health departments she had visited Friday.

“I’ve said all along that it was going to be bumpy, frustrating and slow,” Whitmer said. “Now, that is pickup up and [shots] are moving out. The Biden administration has really gotten a lot more vaccines. Events like this are contributing to the overall 3.8 million shots in arms that we’ve seen so far in Michigan.”

She spoke about efforts to make the vaccine equitable in availability, acknowledging that younger people are contracting the virus more at this time.
“[Younger people] may not have the high mortality rates that we have seen in the older generations, but there are long haulers,” Whitmer said. “There are outcomes from contracting the virus that can last for a long time. That’s why it’s really important that we get vaccinated as quickly as possible once we become eligible.”

She said with so few cases of the flu over the past year, it was a nod to the efficacy of wearing face masks, social distancing and hand washing.

On Feb. 25, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners signed a resolution addressed to Whitmer regarding their wish for the state to regionalize its approach to COVID-19 mandates.

On Friday morning, Whitmer said the mandates, such as mask wearing and restrictions on dining, were still important across the state.

“We still have restrictions on the number of people that come together or the concentration of how many people can dine indoors. These are steps forward that we have taken,” Whitmer said. “We are concerned about the positive cases we are seeing. The re-engagement of children’s sports and indoor dining, we knew that with that came some risks. That’s why we didn’t do it for so long, and now we see our [positive case] numbers going up.”

She said she thought there were opportunities with regional approaches, including the American Rescue Plan funding the Biden administration may be making available.

“It’s going to be more important that we are thinking regionally, and we are thinking long term,” Whitmer said. “We are deploying our resources to get our economy up and running to help folks who have been struggling to really make some transformational investments in our state. We have a huge opportunity in front of us.”

With Indiana’s mask mandate becoming a mask advisory as of April 6, and relaxing mandates throughout the state including for indoor dining, Berrien and Cass counties at the border face a unique situation with residents frequently commuting across the state line. Whitmer acknowledged it was concerning to Michigan residents.

“I think it’s important we recognize the signs of masking and that is has saved lives. It works, even with these variants,” Whitmer said. “The virus is mutating. Right now, there is a variant that is easier to contact. [We] know there are more harsh consequences if you do contact it, that’s why no matter if you are from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois or Ohio for that matter, it’s important that we are masking up and observing these protocols.”

The Berrien County Health Department had all three vaccines approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. Whitmer said with the Johnson and Johnson vaccines arriving to health departments and vaccine clinics across the state, the single-shot would be able to reach more people.

Gillian Conrad, communications manager with the BCHD, said Whitmer also spoke with members of the Michigan National Guard and a nurse on-site about their response to an emergency situation at the department.
“She was honoring a couple specific people who had been a part of a response to a medical situation that had happened at one of our clinics. [A man] on his way to the clinic experienced a cardiac episode,” Conrad said. “There was a fast response from the National Guard and one of our nurses.”

Whitmer said she is waiting to become eligible herself for the COVID-19 vaccine, which opens up to everyone 16 years old and older on April 5.

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