Berrien County reports lower COVID-19 cases in schools following mask mandate

Published 2:03 pm Thursday, September 23, 2021

BERRIEN COUNTY — COVID-19 cases and outbreaks are down in Berrien County schools following a mask mandate issued earlier this month, the Berrien County Health Department reported.

During a virtual press conference Wednesday, Interim Health Officer Courtney Davis reported the department has seen a more than 50 percent decrease in cases and quarantines in schools since the department required all school students and staff to wear masks indoors. The mandate, which went into effect Sept. 6, allows exceptions for those actively eating and drinking, children under the age of 4, neurodivergent students and those who have a medical reason confirmed by a doctor.

“I know [school data] is something everyone is really interested in, and we have some really good news there,” Davis said. “We have a noticeable correlation between fewer cases and quarantines in our school settings since we’ve had that public order for masking in place.”

Last week, the health department reported the county has seen more than 116 positive cases of COVID-19 among students, resulting in more than 626 students having to quarantine.

Davis said she is happy to see decreasing transmission among students and school staff due to masking.

“We are seeing that positive impact in decreasing transmission, decreasing the cases in the school setting and keeping our kids in school and having that in-person learning,” she said. “We are really happy to see those numbers.”

In the county as a whole, Davis reported cases are still on the rise. As of Wednesday, Berrien County’s average cumulative seven-day case rate was 193 per 100,000 individuals — or roughly 40 cases per day — a jump over last week. Those numbers translate to a 13 percent positive rate for the county.

“Overall, we have been observing higher cases and a higher trend,” Davis said.

The county remains in a state of high COVID-19 transmission.

Dr. Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland, said county hospitals are feeling the strain of increasing COVID-19 cases.

“The COVID admissions are relatively stable, however, we are utterly at capacity,” Hamel said. “Our emergency rooms are packed. Our hospitals are full. Our staffing is challenging, so we just don’t have extra room. We can take care of those 20-25 COVID patients, but it is very, very tight.”

To help protect the health system from going over capacity, both Davis and Hamel encouraged the public to follow COVID-19 protocols, including frequent hand washing, wearing masks indoors when in public and staying home when sick.

“Do what you can to protect yourself and your family,” Hamel said.