Health officials urge residents to take COVID-19 precautions over holiday weekend

Published 3:12 pm Wednesday, December 22, 2021

BERRIEN COUNTY — Before Berrien County residents gather with friends and family this weekend to celebrate the Christmas holiday, health officials urged them to take precautions against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Wednesday morning, Berrien County health officials Rex Cabaltica, medical director at the Berrien County Health Department, and Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland, provided a health update regarding the COVID-19 pandemic to area residents via a Facebook Live stream.

During the stream, Cabaltica and Hamel spoke about the county’s current COVID-19 status and urged residents to take precautions during upcoming holiday celebrations.

As of Wednesday, Berrien County remained in a state of high COVID-19 transmission, with approximately 125 new cases per day and a 23 percent positivity rate, Calbaltica reported.

“We are seeing increase numbers of new COVID cases and widespread community transmission,” Calbaltica said.

At local hospitals, Hamel reported Spectrum Health Lakeland has moved its command center status to red, which means hospital capacities have been exceeded. Hamel said staff are placing patients in places they would normally be and staff-to-patient ratios are higher than usual.

To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the two health officials continued to stress the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots, which are now approved for anyone over the age of 16.

“It’s still really important for you to think about whether you have been vaccinated or not and whether it’s time for you to have a booster,” Hamel said. “That is very helpful in protecting you from severe illness, hospitalization, ventilator use, and, ultimately, death.”

Another important step to take against the COVID-19 virus is to stay vigilant about precautions and preventions during holiday celebrations, health officials said.

“This is a time where everyone is going to be gathering together,” Calbaltica said. “Many of us travel to different regions, which means potential exposures along the way. It also means the risk from each coming from and going to, you have to pay attention to that.”

Before gathering with friends and family, Calbaltica urged residents to be vaccinated and be tested for COVID-19, in addition to traditional precautions such as masking and hand washing. He said this is especially important if meeting with those who are at high risk for serious illness should they contract COVID-19.

“Have those conversations ahead of time — ‘Has anyone been sick? Has anyone had recent surgeries? Any health concerns?’” Calbaltica said. “That could potentially be disastrous if you all gather together and you aren’t paying attention to what you can do. … There are tests we can do and conversations we can have before you go.”

Hamel agreed that precautions are needed this holiday season, adding that he will be having some of his celebrations virtually to reduce potential exposure.

“I hope you have a blessed and very health holiday season,” he said. “Think about how you can keep yourself and your family members safe.”