Berrien County extends state of emergency, defines mask requirements

BERRIEN COUNTY — Friday, Berrien County Health Department’s health officer Nicki Britten addressed Facebook through a live video with Berrien County Undersheriff Chuck Heit about the county’s current status with COVID-19.

During the conference, Britten addressed slowing the rate of COVID-19 infections and testing availability. Heit announced that Berrien County had extended its State of Emergency status through May 31.

“The order is extended to continue the Berrien County Emergency Operation Center to support the Berrien County Health Department and Spectrum Health Lakeland,” Heit said. “It is important to also have this extension in place to help volunteers who are helping to assist the efforts to our health partners, such as the health department, and to allow us to continue to acquire the necessary resources we need.”

Heit clarified Michigan Executive Order 2020-60. The executive order implements temporary safety measures for food-selling establishments and pharmacies. Under these terms, a grocery store, convenience store, a restaurant that sells groceries or has food available for take-out and any other business that sells food, is captured underneath this terminology. The order requires those who are medically able to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth. The order outlines facial coverings as “a homemade mask, scarf, bandana or handkerchief.”

“Unlike the previous ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ order, this protective action is not exempt from penalty,” Heit said. “It is subject to a misdemeanor, if willfully violated.”

Britten updated the current COVID-19 numbers reported in the county, with 263 new confirmed cases, 173 presumed positive, 15 deaths and 183 recovered from the virus.

“The virus is going to be with us for a period of time,” Britten said. “We need everybody in the community, a large percentage of people in the community, to be immune. We don’t really know how many people have had this. We know asymptomatic spreaders are part of this.”

She demonstrated using a chart that the local hospitals, Spectrum Health Lakeland, were able to continue treating COVID-19 patients due to being kept under capacity. Without the initial spiked curve, a surge in COVID-19 infection, the medical facilities have been able to continue to treat patients as they arrive.

Britten also reported that testing for COVID-19 still required a doctor’s order, through both Spectrum Health Lakeland and InterCare Community Health Network. She reminded those interested in testing, if they have been exposed, that an incubation period for the virus of four to five days helps present more accurate results with the test.

Antibody tests are still currently not available in Berrien County.

Technical difficulties started and stopped the video stream, though the health department improved the audio of the videos over weeks past where listeners had reported issues hearing. Britten hoped that by next week’s Friday address, that the health department would be more skillful with the audio-visual equipment.