Health department, Spectrum Health Lakeland give joint COVID-19 update
BERRIEN COUNTY – With guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state of Michigan shifting on masking requirements for vaccinated residents, those with concerns about COVID-19 locally received an update from two local leaders in public health on Wednesday afternoon.
Nicki Britten, health officer for the Berrien County Health Department, and Dr. Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland, hosted the joint virtual update on Facebook Live to give an update.
“We do not have any health orders for masking in Berrien County,” Britten said.
She said many businesses were requiring, or recommending, masks for entry.
“It’s easier for people who have not been vaccinated to continue to comply with that, when there’s just a culture of mask wearing,” she said.
Britten said there had also been suggestions for families with school-aged children, or children under 12 years old, who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination to continue to wear masks to continue to reinforce that masks are a good public health practice.
“I think that is some of the messy ‘middleness’ [of the recent orders],” Britten said.
Britten said that the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or MiOSHA, was expected to announce updated guidance soon, but that the administration still required masks in the workplace.
“A good rule of thumb is to take your mask with you,” said Gillian Conrad, communications manager for the BCHD.
Hamel said Spectrum Health Lakeland is still wearing and requiring masks in the healthcare setting. He said the masks were “useful for more than just COVID-19.”
“We had one of the lightest flu seasons in history. The reason is that everyone was wearing masks,” Hamel said.
The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which was recently approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in adolescents aged 12 through 15 years of age, is available through both Spectrum Health Lakeland and BCHD vaccine clinics.
“Fortunately, [children] don’t have the mortality rate that their grandparents do, but it’s still a significant illness,” Hamel said. “I’m grateful we are able to get immunizations for younger patients.”
Britten reported that in Berrien County, COVID-19 case rates were on a decline. On average, below 20 new cases per day were being reported to the health department. In hand with that, was a decline in percent positivity and in hospitalizations due to COVID-19.
Hamel said the hospital is seeing a similar decline in hospitalizations and percent positivity, but reminded listeners that patients were still being admitted to the hospital with the virus.
“The overall mortality [rate] of people sick enough to be admitted to a hospital is still running about 10 percent. That’s a serious number,” Hamel said. “If there’s 20 [patients] in the hospital [with COVID-19], I expect two not to go home.”
He encouraged Berrien County residents to continue to take precautions, as rates of COVID-19 have risen in children.
“I want to make sure we are saving as many of our friends and neighbors lives as possible and when there’s a mortality rate on the inpatient side is 10 to 11 percent in Berrien County, we’ve talked about it being below 2 percent, running at 1.8 percent. It’s much better. It’s not over. It’s still lethal,” he said.