Berrien County hiring contact tracers as clinics reopen, COVID-19 deaths increase

BERRIEN COUNTY — As operations in the Berrien County Health Department have stabilized, clinics like the WIC and immunization clinic have reopened. The staff borrowed from those departments to work as contact tracers for COVID-19 exposure have gone back to their regular positions, leaving a gap in the newly created department.

“The [staff] that were helping out with contact tracing have had to go back to their normal jobs,” said Gillian Conrad, communications manager for the health department. “We are looking to expand our team with more dedicated contact tracers.”

The Berrien County Health Department is hiring dedicated contact tracers. Conrad said the department is seeking nurses for the part-time positions.

According to the listing on Berrien County’s website, the department is seeking a licensed practical nurse for the position. Contact tracers work to identify those who may have come into contact with someone who has tested positive with COVID-19.

“We are seeing an uptick, a pretty sharp uptick at that, in the number of new cases that we are reporting each day and each week,” Conrad said.

Friday marked the close to a three-week period of increases.

“We’re also seeing the percent positivity, the percent of those tests coming back positive, that has also increased,” Conrad said. “Our testing levels have held pretty steady, so that’s indicative of more viral activity happening in the community.”

After nearly a four-week period of no deaths from COVID-19, the health department’s health officer Nikki Britten said the county reported three additional deaths over the last two weeks. This brings the county’s total to 63 deaths due to COVID-19 since March.

As of Monday morning, according to Britten in a Facebook Live video, there was a confirmed case total of 1,056 COVID-19 in the county.

“We know that confirmed cases are not the whole picture,” Britten said. “That can be a reflection of test strategy, not necessarily transmission.”
Another factor the health department takes into account is the percent positive of tests, of which the county reports to be hovering around 3.5 percent.

“Under 4 percent is considered good if you are really capturing the cases through testing,” Britten said. “At some point earlier in the month, we were closer to 3 percent. We have seen a slight increase.”

Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland, which serves both Cass and Berrien Counties reported in the Facebook Live on Monday on Facebook the number of hospital admittance had seen a slight increase.

“We got as low as zero, as far as admissions,” Hamel said. “We’ll probably be at 10 to 16 by the end of this week if trends continue.”

Conrad said the health department is hoping to stress the importance of mindful actions of precaution, including wearing face coverings.

“Social distance is still the best tool that we have available to us to prevent the spread of this virus,” Conrad said. “It’s difficult. The weather is nice and people want to get out. They want to hang out with their family and friends. They want to have parties. Graduations are happening. Weddings are happening. We have seen clusters of cases that are linked back to large family gatherings, parties, youth group events, church events, those are the sorts of higher risk activities that people really need to be cautious of.”

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