Health department emphasizes continued caution

BERRIEN COUNTY—With much of the attention turned to older portions of the population living in assisted living facilities, communications director for the Berrien County Health Department Gillian Conrad wants to remind residents that there are many underlying conditions to pay attention to with COVID-19.

While populations 60 years of age and older are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, Conrad said that there are many other underlying risk factors that county residents should consider.

“All of the individuals who have lost their life in this pandemic [in Berrien County] have had underlying medical conditions,” Conrad said. “It really hits home, the importance of ensuring that we are doing everything that we are doing to protect these vulnerable community members. We know this virus has such significant impacts on those who are older, those who have compromised immune systems due to those underlying conditions.”

Conrad was quick to say, however, that there are other underlying health conditions that the health department knows can make COVID-19 worse in those who become sick with the virus. She listed diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, liver disease and obesity.

These are not limited to residents in long-term care facilities and older adults.

Conrad cited that in Berrien County, 30 percent of adults 18 years and older are obese.

“That’s a lot of people that have these underlying conditions,” Conrad said. “We really need to make sure that we are not diverting all of our attention away from the larger percentage of our population that could still be at risk.”

According to data released by the Berrien County Health Department, COVID-19 has hit every age demographic in the area, with ages 30 to 39, 50 to 59, 60 to 69 and 80-plus reaching more than 100 confirmed and presumed positive cases of COVID-19.

According to the same report, the county has seen COVID-19 deaths in individuals as young as in their 40s. However, the majority of those who have died of COVID-19 in Berrien County have been over the age of 80. Conrad said a significant portion of COVID-19 deaths in the county had previously been housed in long-term care facilities.

With Memorial Day weekend arriving, Conrad said more people will be tempted to get together and gather. Despite this, she encouraged residents to remain at home to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We are encouraging [people] to avoid large gatherings, certainly,” Conrad said. “As folks are moving out and about in public, especially if they’re going into stores or businesses, [they should] remember their face covering and not to forget about the important things like handwashing and avoiding really close contact with other people.”

Berrien County residents are still under a statewide executive order that requires “any individual who enters a food-selling establishment or pharmacy who is able to medically tolerate a face covering, must wear a face covering over his or her nose and mouth, such as homemade mask, scarf, bandana or handkerchief.”

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