Amid rising case numbers, health department urges community to take precautions against COVID-19

BERRIEN COUNTY — Berrien County health officials are urging community members to take precautions against COVID-19.

Friday, Berrien County Health Department Officer Nicki Britten and Spectrum Health Lakeland President hosted a Facebook Live conference, where they addressed the need for the community to take necessary steps to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus following a recent uptick in cases.

Beginning the press conference, Britten reported COVID-19 cases had increased eight-and-a-half-fold since the beginning of October. Hospitalizations due to the virus have increased three-fold. Currently, Berrien County is exceeding an average of 100 new cases per day.

“This increase is driven by actual increases in community transmission. It is not a result of simply more testing,” Britten said. “This is where we need to be applying our efforts to flatten the curve.”

In his report Hamel reported Spectrum Health Lakeland is currently averaging about 50 in-patients a day. If the current COVID-19 trends continue, he warned it could put the hospital at risk of staffing, personal protection equipment and bed shortages, resulting in a lack of ability to take care of healthcare needs outside of COVID-19.

“This is what we have been worried about, what we have been warning about, and what we have been trying to prevent this whole time,” he said. “This steep escalation of cases really puts our health at risk, our lives at risk, and it puts the capacity of health at serious risk.”

To prevent the continued spread of COVID-19, both Britten and Hamel encouraged community members to continue taking COVID-19 precautions such as mask wearing, limiting contact with people outside of their households, practicing good hand hygiene, maintaining 6 feet of social distance between people outside of their households and limiting their social bubbles.

“We predict within the next two weeks or so, either we are going to flatten the curve, or we are going to be in the same situation as many others in that we are going to hampered in trying to care for other, routine medical needs,” Hamel said.

With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, health officials strongly encouraged residents to limit their celebrations to people living within their households.

In lieu of traditional celebrations, the Berrien County Health Department recommends residents host virtual gatherings with people outside of their households. If residents do choose to gather for the holiday, Hamel said it is important to maintain social distancing and wear masks, even within one’s home. However, Hamel and Britten cautioned against gathering in large groups and with people from outside one’s immediate household for a holiday.

“Of course, that’s a sacrifice. It breaks your heart to not be with your family members over the holidays,” Hamel said. “I think we have to do the right thing for our communities. … Anytime you can limit your social bubble to just your family, you should. Anytime you expand that bubble to friends and family outside of your household, it is a risk. Please, be careful. Please, use maximum judgment.”

“Remember what’s at stake here,” Britten added. “Scale back what you are doing. Limit your contacts.”

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