Cass, Van Buren counties aim to curb spread of COVID-19

CASS COUNTY — The COVID-19 pandemic has made an impact in communities across the state, including Cass County.

According to the Van Buren/Cass District Health Department, Cass County has reported 336 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 14 deaths and Van Buren County has 458 cases and 12 deaths, compared to 92,720 cases and 6,324 deaths statewide.

The Harvard Global Health Initiative, which developed the metric to measure the level of risks involving COVID-19, lists both Cass County and Van Buren County as facing the risk of an accelerated spread of the virus. The counties are listed as orange, which means they should consider stay at home orders and/or rigorous test and contact tracing programs. Neighboring Indiana counties LaPorte, St. Joseph and Elkhart are also coded orange.

Van Buren/Cass District Health Department Director of Health Promotions Danielle Persky said the Initiative’s findings are unconfirmed at this time and that the health department is awaiting further test results.

“We are continuing to stay up on the spread and positivity rate, which is flat right now,” said Van Buren/Cass District Health Department Director of Health Promotions Danielle Persky. “We’re currently hovering at around a 4 to 4.5 percent positivity rate and our goal is to stay under 5 percent. So, we’re still relatively flat.”

Persky said there may be an increase in those numbers as the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ emergency order requiring COVID-19 testing for agricultural and food processing employees continues to gather data.

“With the executive order for agriculture work testing in place, we anticipate a change in both testing and test response rate,” Persky said.

Issued on Aug. 3, the emergency order requires migrant housing camp operators to provide one-time baseline testing of all residents ages 18 and over, testing of all new residents with 48 hours of arrival, with separate housing for newly arriving residents for 14 days and a second test 10 to 14 days after arrival. Agricultural employers with over 20 employees on-site at a time must provide one-time baseline testing for all workers, testing of all new workers prior to any in-person work, testing of any worker with symptoms or exposure and testing of any resident with symptoms or exposure.

Businesses have until Monday, Aug. 24 to comply.

“The intention of it is to protect the migrant workers,” Persky said. “Requiring baseline testing helps us more easily recognize an outbreak when it happens. We’ll understand the risk at certain farms.”

COVID-positive and exposed residents would be required to isolate or quarantine until meeting the return-to-work criteria from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MDHHS will be partnering with Community Action Agencies in impacted communities in order to provide food, housing, and economic support for workers who lose income due to testing.

“In light of a positive test, we’ll immediately employ a team that will respond with all of the basic needs the individual will need.”

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