Berrien County Health Department responds to COVID-19 comorbidities numbers

BERRIEN COUNTY — Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials have warned residents to take extra precautions for those with underlying health conditions.

In a report updated from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a table showed COVID-19 conditions and contributing to deaths involving COVID-19 between Feb. 1 and Aug. 29 showed that for 6 percent of COVID-19 related deaths, COVID-19 was listed as the only cause of death on death certificates. For 94 percent of death certificates with COVID-19 attributed as a contributing factor of death, other comorbidities, or causes of death, were listed.

The table includes data for 169,044 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Communications Manager for the Berrien County Health Department Gillian Conrad said these findings were consistent with what the department has been saying since COVID-19 arrived in Michigan.

“It was very clear to us that this virus was severely impacting not only older adults, but those who have underlying, chronic conditions,” Conrad said. “A lot of the chronic conditions that were making the impact of the virus much worse for folks were pretty common things that we know large swaths of our population, not just in Berrien County, but across the country have.”

Conrad said these conditions include obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, issues with kidney failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other respiratory issues.

“Your risk for chronic conditions does increase with age,” she said.

These conditions are not uncommon to the U.S. population, Conrad said. Around 30 percent of the American population is considered obese.

“As a country, we are still grappling with the fact that we have lost nearly 200,000 people in five to six months due to this virus,” she said. “There’s always a baseline amount of death, but COVID-19 has been an excess death event.”

Conrad said death certificates list multiple reasons that contributed to a death. The Berrien County Health Department thinks a different set of data might more accurately portray the excess deaths: years of potential life lost.

“It’s pretty common to do this to measure an event like COVID-19 where there are a lot of people dying, potentially before their time,” Conrad said. “Whether COVID-19 was listed as the primary, secondary or tertiary cause [of death], COVID-19 got them to death’s door and carried them across the threshold.”

The local trend for COVID-19 cases has steadied.

“We are definitely not on a downward trend, but we have been very consistent with both the rate of new cases that are coming in as well as the percent positives,” Conrad said.

The rates for percent of positive COVID-19 tests has been averaging about 3 percent, with an average of 10 to 11 new cases of COVID-19 reported per day in Berrien County.

“The consistency to us is an optimistic and positive thing, because we are not overwhelming our healthcare centers,” Conrad said. “The people who need to be hospitalized and receive care are able to.”

To continue to control the spread of COVID-19, the mask mandate is still enforced in Michigan. Conrad said the risk mitigation techniques that have been taken over the last six months are still best going forward.

“Certainly, while people may feel more comfortable gathering with family and friends for a BBQ, outdoors is always going to be better than indoors,” she said. “If you are going to be going out to any sort of events or restaurant, or any sort of event where there are going to be other people, especially if you can’t keep a 6-foot distance, wear your mask.”

Handwashing is continually important to slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19, she added.

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