Berrien County remains in state of high COVID-19 transmission

Published 2:58 pm Wednesday, September 8, 2021

BERRIEN COUNTY — COVID-19 transmission is on the rise in Berrien County, according to local health experts.

During a virtual press conference Wednesday, Courtney Davis, acting health officer for the Berrien County Health Department, reported that Berrien County remains in a state of high COVID-19 transmission with cases steadily rising. Over the last two weeks, the county has seen an average of 40 new cases per day and a percent positivity rate of 13 percent.

Dr. Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland, seconded that COVID-19 cases are rising in the county, also resulting in increased hospitalizations.

“We are certainly seeing more COVID cases in the hospital, and that is growing slowly week by week,” he said. “About a month ago, we had just a handful, just a few, in hospital. Now we have a couple dozen. It looks like it’s going to be above 30 average next week.”

Hamel attributed much of the rise in COVID-19 transmission to the Delta Variant.

“This epidemic is not over yet,” he said. “If you have watched at all what is happening across the country with the Delta Variant, you have to be concerned. What is happening in Texas and Florida and other states is that they are running out of beds, sometimes running out of resources and making difficult decisions about who receives treatment. This surge has been severe, and it is taking lives across the country every day. We hope it does not get as bad in your neighborhood as what we are seeing across the country, but I fear that it will.”

To help contain the spread of COVID-19 and prevent serious illness due to the virus, Hamel and Davis recommended that residents continue to take precautions such as hand washing, social distancing, mask wearing and, perhaps most importantly, getting vaccinated. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 56.5 percent of Berrien County residents have been vaccinated.

“We are seeing [vaccination] rates increase slowly, but we would like to see that grow more rapidly,” Davis said. “Right now, with this higher transmission, it is really important to be layering on a number of prevention and mitigation strategies.”
Also during the press conference, Davis addressed the recently effective health department mandate that requires facial coverings while indoors at educational centers. Davis said the mandate was necessary to slow COVID-19 transmission and keep students in school during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first four days of school, before the mask mandate when into effect, the health department reported 26 cases among staff and students that resulted in more than 83 quarantines.

“That’s a lot of time out of the classroom,” Davis said. “Masking allows us to exclude a lot less students, and it ensures that the transmission levels go down.”

Davis acknowledged that certain actions taken by the health department such as the mask mandate have been unpopular. However, she said the health department is continually working to make decisions that benefit the health of Berrien County residents.

“We know that we are tired as a community of COVID-19. It has been a long 18-plus months,” Davis said. “We want to put it out there that our common enemy is COVID-19, and together, we will be stronger on the other side.”