BENTON TOWNSHIP — The Berrien County Health Department is stepping up its COVID-19 contract tracing efforts by announcing several part-time positions.

The department has several openings for both nurses and non-nurses, it announced on its Facebook page Thursday.

This comes the same week the state of Michigan announced it is expanding contact tracing efforts.

The BCHD has wanted to expand its capabilities so that its public health nurses can get back to doing their regular jobs, The Herald-Palladium reported in early May.

“It came down to needing more people as our operations ramp back up, and some of the staff that had been pulled to do contact tracing have really specialized training in delivering our other services,” BCHD spokesperson Gillian Conrad said Thursday.

Contact tracers will be trained and put to work communicating with people who are close contacts of COVID-19 confirmed and probable cases about their potential exposure, according to the job description.

For detailed job descriptions and application materials, visit http://berriencounty.org/581/Employment.

Mass testing efforts

The BCHD announced in a news release Thursday that it has been working with the Michigan National Guard and Michigan State Police to conduct voluntary COVID-19 testing in the county’s long-term care facilities and the Berrien County Jail.

At the jail, 95 inmates (64 percent) and 22 sheriff’s office staff members chose to be tested last week. All 117 tests gathered came back negative for COVID-19, according to the release.

So far during the pandemic, 19 inmates had been tested and two of them were positive for COVID-19. Both of the inmates have been released from the jail, either being released from their out of state hold, or released on bail, and are still subject to the standard follow-up and isolation procedures, according to the news release.

The sheriff’s office continues to work closely with the health department to monitor inmates at the jail for potential symptoms of COVID-19 and has received support from Spectrum Health Lakeland to conduct testing for inmates as needed.

The Michigan National Guard conducted mass testing at long-term care facilities on Thursday. The BCHD anticipates testing more than 1,300 individuals, including residents and staff members, for COVID-19.

The BCHD reported that this testing augments many weeks of prior testing that has already been conducted in a variety of settings in Berrien County, including those at highest risk for the virus.

Nicki Britten, health officer for the BCHD, said in the release that the older adults, those with underlying medical conditions, and individuals living in congregate settings are at a particular elevated risk for severe illness associated with COVID-19.

“To limit the spread of the virus to the greatest extent possible, we continue to work collaboratively with our partner agencies, especially those who serve more vulnerable residents, to ensure that infection prevention education and personal protective equipment/resources are made available, a strategy for ongoing testing is implemented, and that contact tracing and follow-up occurs for all individuals found to be positive for the virus,” Britten said.

The BCHD is still encouraging anyone who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, or shortness of breath, to seek testing.

To get a diagnostic COVID-19 test, call your doctor to arrange a test or contact a testing site: Spectrum Health Lakeland in St. Joseph, 833-559-0659; InterCare in Benton Harbor and Bangor, 855-869-6900; Rite Aid in Bridgman, www.riteaid.com; Walmart in Benton Township, www.MyQuestCOVIDTest.com; Bronson Lakeview Family Care in Paw Paw, 341-7788; or Ascension Lee Medical Group in Dowagiac, 782-1500.

Pre-screening and appointments are required at all testing sites, but not all require a doctor’s order.

Count update

The BCHD reported six new COVID-19 cases Thursday and 15 new recoveries.

The county now has 606 confirmed cases, with 449 recoveries.

The BCHD reported one additional COVID-19 death Thursday, bringing the total to 49. The death was that of a woman over the age of 100, who had underlying medical conditions.

With the recoveries and deaths, the county now has about 108 active COVID-19 cases, 10 less cases than on Wednesday.

The county added two presumed positive cases Thursday, bringing the total to 190.

Spectrum Health Lakeland was treating nine COVID-19 patients as of Thursday morning, with three of those in the intensive care unit. That’s four less than were hospitalized Wednesday.

Van Buren County added three COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the county’s total to 134. The county remains at six deaths.

Cass County added one case Thursday, bringing the county’s total to 80. The county remains at two deaths.

Local COVID-19 numbers and information can be found at www.bchdmi.org, and at www.vbcassdhd.org/covid-19. For state numbers, visit www.michigan.gov/coronavirus.

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman