Berrien County Health Department reports continuing decline in COVID-19 cases

BERRIEN COUNTY – A Facebook Live update from the Berrien County Health Department Friday morning included revelations that while COVID-19 cases are not low, they are declining. The address also included an update for residents on the new variants of the virus and more about expectations surrounding vaccine rollout procedure.
“We are seeing a stable rate of cases. Two to three weeks ago, we were seeing a little bit of an incline. Those inclines always make you wonder what’s coming next, and fortunately it just came right back down,” said BCHD Health Officer Nicki Britten.

Britten said new cases are currently averaging out to around 40 cases per day, and with consistent testing levels, the percent positivity has fallen to 7 percent.

“We are encouraged by it continuing to decline,” Britten said. “This good news, and the data can definitely be attributed to the actions of our community.”

She said residents need to continue to social distance, wash hands and wear masks.

“I’m sure you are all sick of hearing me say these things, but they do work,” Britten said. “These are our tried and true methods. To sustain these downward trends, we need to continue to be diligent.”

Britten also spoke about the new COVID-19 variant strains as the virus changes.

“What we are learning is some variants are more transmissible,” Britten said. “Someone with a variant strain might be more likely to spread it than what we saw through much of 2020 in the U.S.”

Britten said there was no evidence that the variants caused a more severe illness, but with more infections, there was a likelihood of more people being more severely impacted.

Vaccine efficacy was also addressed, as Britten mentioned scientists and health officials are learning more about the virus variants and how they interact with vaccines.

“We can change the vaccine to match the variant once again,” Britten said. “There’s reason for the medical and scientific community to watch for this, but it’s not time to panic.”

Britten said around 20,000 people have signed up to be on the BCHD COVID-19 waitlist, which is open to residents 65 years of age and older.

“We have been getting approximately 1,000 to 1,500 first doses of vaccine into our health department each week,” Britten said. “We have made it through about 3,000 on the wait list. We are hoping to make faster progress as weeks go on. We would love to put everyone at the front of list and get you covered, but we need you to continue to be patient.”

Britten said the health department hopes vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna will be able to increase their production levels in the coming weeks. Increases of 10 to 15 percent have been spoken about, but have not happened yet.

For residents who are eligible and on the waitlist, Britten urged them to continue to check email inboxes each day or respond to a phone call when the health department calls.

“As soon as we get vaccine doses in, we are opening up appointments for vaccine clinics. We are committed to not having an appointment for you unless we have a vaccine for you,” Britten said. “If you have an appointment, we have a vaccine for you. When you get a notification you can register for an appointment, you might need to move quickly.”

As appointments become available through the health department, Britten said they are “first-come, first-served.” By the time a person responds, if there are no appointment slots left, they are kept on the wait list for coming rounds of vaccines.

The BCHD encouraged people with questions to check its website at BCHDmi.org or to call its hotline at (800) 815-5485.

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