Berrien County sees sharp increase in COVID-19 cases

BERRIEN COUNTY — Area health officials are concerned about the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and are urging the public to take precautions against the spread of the virus.

According to Gillian Conrad, communications manager of the Berrien County Health Department, more than 990 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the last week.

With a total COVID-19 case of confirmed and probable patients of 4,909 as of Tuesday afternoon, Conrad said it was a week of some of the steepest transmission in the community yet.

“Over the last week alone, we had about 1,000 cases,” she said. “That’s about a quarter of the cases confirmed [since March] in the last week alone.”

Fifty percent of individuals do not know where they got the virus from, Conrad said.

On Sunday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a three-week epidemic order to put a pause on many activities through the state, including indoor dining, group fitness classes, sports and in-person learning for high school and higher education. The order also limits any gatherings inside of a residence with more than 10 members of two households indoors, and no more than 25 members of three households outdoors.

“Since the beginning of October has been the majority of the cases [of COVID-19] we have had in Berrien County,” Conrad said. “There are other places under the same phenomenon. The burden of community transmission we are experiencing is significant.”

Conrad said the measures outlined in the order were strategic to pinpoint much of the cause of the spread of the virus, especially in Berrien County.

“Small gatherings, restaurants, bars, groups hanging out together, especially unmasked – these are the circumstances we know are driving a lot of the community transmission we are seeing,” Conrad said.

The goal of the new pandemic order, according to Conrad, is to try to “flatten the curve” of infection rates.

“It’s not just the COVID-19 patients in the hospital who need the care,” Conrad said. “It’s all the rest of the emergencies that we know will still happen. Car accidents, broken ankles, strokes and heart attacks happen all the time in the background. We want to make sure there are still healthcare staff and slots in the hospital to care yourself and loved ones.”

A part of the plan, even for Conrad, is planning for the holidays to look different this year.

“In the immediate short term, we know [the current situation] presents a lot of risk for a lot of people,” she said. “It is very hard to say to your loved ones that you desperately want to be with this time of year, ‘I’m so sorry, but we won’t be able to see one another.’ Those are the brave, bold decisions we need people to be making if we want to keep our community transmissions from spiking up further.”

Conrad said public health community members are worried about what will happen in the two weeks following Thanksgiving and the two weeks following multiple major December holidays.

She hoped the three-week pause from the MDHHS would help to flatten the infection rate and begin to lessen the increase of COVID-19 cases.

“We are making targeted, but temporary strategic decisions to protect the community,” Conrad said.

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