BENTON HARBOR — Only about 15 percent of Berrien County’s population is black, but 50 percent of the county’s COVID-19 deaths have been black people.

“It’s not individuals behaviors, it’s structural systems that have impacted us disproportionally,” said Jerry Price, manager of diversity and inclusion at Spectrum Health Lakeland, during a virtual Community Grand Rounds Monday afternoon.

The event, available to watch in its entirety on the Community Grand Rounds Facebook page, covered how COVID-19 has had an impact on Benton Harbor, Benton Heights and Benton Township.

While 50 percent of the deaths have been black people, only 34 percent of the confirmed and presumed cases have been black people.

Lynn Todman, executive director of population health at Spectrum Health Lakeland, served as moderator for the panel-like event.

“I often hear people say we’re in this together, but in fact, we’re not,” she said. “Some of us are weathering this storm in yachts, others in sailboats and dinghies, and many others are actually in the water trying their best to keep their noses above the water line.”

Price said the people in the Benton Harbor ZIP code were already socially distanced before COVID-19 from good education, health care and healthy foods.

“When there’s too much distance, you start to see the development of chronic diseases,” he said.

People with underlying conditions and chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart issues, kidney disease and COPD, are more at risk for getting, being hospitalized for and dying from COVID-19.

Those underlying diseases are more common in predominantly African American communities because of systemic racism toward those communities, the panel agreed.

In addition, they said, many people in the community have essential jobs or ones that can’t been done from home, putting them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Todman said it’s too easy to blame people for being sick and dying, or believe the causes are genetic or behavioral in origin.

“When in fact, they can be traced back to systems, practices and public policy in areas like housing, education and economic development,” she said.

Price said this pandemic has put a spotlight on the disparities that many places have had for decades.

Pastor Jamie Cervantes, of First Church of God in Benton Heights, called Benton Harbor a community ripe for catastrophe with all the crises, health and economic-wise, already existing in the community.

He said health usually equals wealth. The panel agreed.

The panel said the best way to move forward, and help Benton Harbor in the future, is to work together and rebuild some of those racist systems.

“We are all interconnected,” Price said. “The sooner we realize that, and realize that if one person is not free, none of us are free, the better off we’ll be. We all have to be allies and work together to become each others allies.”

Count update

There are now 401 cumulative confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Berrien County as of Monday. That’s an increase of 25 cases since Friday. That’s also an increase of 102 cases since last Monday. The previous week the county added 86 cases.

With 227 people now recovered from the virus in the county, and 25 deaths, there are 149 active cases.

Berrien County is now up to 25 COVID-19 deaths, a rise of three since Friday and six since last Monday when the county sat at 19 deaths.

The prior week, the county recorded five deaths, and in the week before that there were also six deaths.

The Berrien County Health Department reported the deaths over the weekend were that of two men over the age of 80 and one woman over the age of 90, all who had underlying medical conditions.

The county is still sitting at about 175 presumed positive cases – a number that fluctuates frequently based on testing. That’s one more case since Friday and one less case than last Monday.

Four people are in the intensive care unit at Spectrum Health Lakeland with COVID-19 and 14 are hospitalized in the general COVID-19 unit.

The county has 62 cases of COVID-19 in its skilled nursing long-term care facilities.

Van Buren County saw two additional deaths over the weekend, bringing the county’s total to four deaths. The county had been sitting at two deaths for nearly a month.

The county now has 93 cumulative cases, with 26 people recovered as of Friday.

Van Buren gained 12 cases since Friday and about 24 since last Monday.

Cass County now has 42 cases, an addition of three cases since Friday and eight cases since last Monday.

The county has 18 recovered as of Friday, and two deaths.

Contact:, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman