Berrien County Health Department, Spectrum Health Lakeland give vaccination updates

BERRIEN COUNTY – The Berrien County Health Department and Spectrum Health Lakeland came together Thursday morning to provide an update on COVID-19 cases in the county, as well as to talk about the vaccine strategy within the county.

“We have continued good news,” said BCHD Health Officer Nicki Britten. “We are continuing to see a downward trend in positive COVID-19 cases. We are down under about 20 new cases a day. That continues to be really, really encouraging. It’s a far cry from where we were in November.”

Britten also reported that the percent positivity of tests was below 5 percent, even with “several hundred” COVID-19 tests being performed in Berrien County each day.

Kendall Troyer, vice president of quality, patient safety and physician practices at Spectrum Health Lakeland, said those trends were reflected in what the hospital system was seeing. Troyer reported a seven day average of 13.3 patients in the hospital with COVID-19.

Vaccinations continue to roll out in Berrien County, with efforts from both the BCHD and Spectrum Health Lakeland leading the way.

Agricultural and food processing workers were named by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to be eligible for vaccination as of March 1.

Britten said there were not many facilities in Berrien County that may qualify for vaccination under the designation, but also said many facilities throughout the state suffered COVID-19 outbreaks earlier in the pandemic due to the inability to distance while at work.

Britten said public health professionals were anticipating that those in critical manufacturing, public transit, grocery stores and postal workers would likely be eligible in April.

Troyer said there should be more vaccine released to the state in the coming weeks, and when that happens, public health organizations will be ready to distribute the increase in doses.

“I hear from folks that their grandma, grandpa or themselves, signed up a long time ago and no one has reached out [to schedule] them yet,” Troyer said. “We wish we could. We don’t have enough to vaccinate everyone yet. We don’t have enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone 65 or 75 and over on our list. We’ll see an acceleration of that when we get more vaccine.”

Still, Britten said 32,000 doses had been administered in Berrien County. The number includes both first and second doses, translating to vaccinating roughly 17 percent of the population, 16 years of age and older.

Vaccine equity was also a topic of discussion, as the state of Michigan released its strategy to reach all Michiganders this past week.

Troyer spoke about the “digital divide” that exists in communication and access to resources, and how the county was addressing that.

“The federal government is starting to distribute vaccines to federally qualified health providers,” Tryoer said, naming InterCare and the Cass Family Clinic.

“It takes intentional effort to give [everyone] the same access to the vaccine that maybe you and I would have because of the way we are connected to the world,” she said.

Britten said the BCHD has been in touch with community leaders, including church leaders, community base organizations and informal leaders to help messaging reach all communities since the start of the pandemic. Another tool being used to be equitable in the decision making processes is a metric from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are utilizing the Social Vulnerability Index from the CDC, as a way to target outreach to specific zip codes or census tracks that might have higher risks of poor outcomes in any type of disaster in a community,” Britten said. “A pandemic certainly fits within that.”

The SVI takes into account education, poverty levels, race and more to predict a community’s vulnerability.

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