Health department, hospital address concerns around COVID-19 classifications

BERRIEN COUNTY — Community concerns about the availability of COVID-19 tests and COVID-19 as a cause of death were the focus in a healthcare update for Berrien County today. The address followed Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s address that extended the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order through May 15.

Berrien County Health Department’s health officer Nicki Britten and Spectrum Health Lakeland’s president Dr. Loren B. Hamel paired up for a Facebook Live update on the health department’s page to address residents’ concerns.

Britten updated residents with current COVID-19 case numbers Berrien County, including 210 confirmed cases, 176 presumed positive cases, 123 confirmed recovered and 11 deaths.

“We have had some questions about what is considered a COVID-10 death,” Britten said.

Questions surrounding the categorization of a confirmed death due to COVID-19 have been raised, as many have wondered whether an underlying condition or the virus were the cause of a death.

“We make a diagnosis with a positive test, and their symptoms fit, and the cause of death is related to COVID-19,” Hamel said. “There are a lot of different ways that COVID-19 can harm somebody. It’s not just giving them pneumonia.”

Hamel listed other complications, including affected blood clotting mechanisms, kidney and liver function, and strokes complications doctors are finding connected to COVID-19. If they find that the complication is connected to the virus, then the death is classified as a COVID-19 death.

Britten and Hamel addressed the local availability of testing. With many residents hearing from the state and federal level to get tested if they might have been exposed, the Berrien County Health Department and Spectrum Health Lakeland revealed that tests are still in limited supply.

“There are way more tests than we used to have, and not nearly enough at the same time,” Hamel said.

Hamel said that there were around 1,500 tests available per day throughout Spectrum Health network, and that about 100 to 150 were being used per day in the Spectrum Health Lakeland facility. The tests administered at Spectrum Health Lakeland facilities are then sent up to Spectrum Health labs in Grand Rapids, where they take 24 to 36 hours to get results. Hamel advised continuing to exercise caution in using the limited supplies.

“Just to test somebody who is curious is very likely going to be a negative test,” Hamel said. “We can’t afford to use that many negative tests.”

The test returns are coming back 80 percent negative, according to Hamel. Using the limited supply to test those not exhibiting symptoms, or who has just been exposed, would result in an overuse of the tests without accurate results.

“If somebody is exposed to COVID-19, there will not be enough viral material in the body that day or even the next day in order to be picked up on the test,” Britten said. “Even somebody who has been infected needs a few days, at least four or five, before they can be tested reliably.”

Hamel said that tests for the viral antibodies were arriving, but that the health system was working through the accuracy of the tests.

“The good tests take a couple of days to get results back,” Hamel said. “It not like a rapid screening. I don’t believe in mass screening for probably weeks.”

 

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