BENTON TOWNSHIP — The Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) will ramp up its surveillance of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities next week, health officials reported Friday.
Nicki Britten, health officer for the BCHD, said during the department’s weekly news conference that because more testing supplies are available, each facility would now have an allotment of tests to do spot testing of residents and staff.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work in nursing homes already,” she said. “Now they’ll be able to do more testing when people are symptomatic or they suspect someone might be infected.”
Britten said this will help the county get a really good picture, on a regular basis, on what’s going on in these facilities.
The county’s long-term care facilities have seen a number of clusters of COVID-19 cases. Older persons and those with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to contracting the virus.
She said there is a link between the community spread of COVID-19 and the cases seen in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, even though they aren’t allowing visitors right now.
“The short answer is that the staff that work there are those who are in the community as well as in the facility,” Britten said. “When we see a case pop up, it’s usually because there’s an asymptomatic staff member.”
She said a lot of these staff also have second jobs in other fields.
“We’ve learned, through contact tracing, that some of these people might work in a grocery store, or somewhere like that,” Britten said. “We’ve been working with the facilities to really cohort staff so they’re working one essential job at a time to help minimize that risk.”
It’s also just close-contact work, getting people fed, dressed and to the bathroom.
She said these facilities have much better personal protective equipment than they had even just a month ago, so they’re much better prepared going forward.
Britten reported that 500 tests were collected during a mass testing event of long-term care facility staff and residents on Thursday.
Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland, said they expect to see a small bump in the number of COVID-19 cases the county has with the amount of testing happening, but that it is helpful information to have.
Britten said she has seen some encouraging local data trends this week.
“We’re seeing a flattening, and almost a decrease in our hospital admissions,” she said. “We’re also seeing the percent of tests that are coming back positive more flat compared to earlier in May, even though we’re doing a lot more testing. So that’s encouraging news.”
Berrien County has about 5.7 percent of its tests coming back positive as of Wednesday, according to the state’s Safe Start Map.
There are now about 92 active COVID-19 cases in Berrien County, 16 less than on Thursday.
The county added seven confirmed cases Friday, 23 recoveries and zero deaths. There are 613 cumulative cases, 472 recoveries and 49 deaths.
Spectrum Health Lakeland was treating nine COVID-19 patients as of Friday morning, with three patients in the intensive care unit. That’s the same number as on Thursday.
The Van Buren Cass District Health Department reported its weekly number of recovered individuals Friday.
There are now 79 people recovered in Van Buren County and 35 people recovered in Cass County.
Another death was reported in Cass County on Friday, bringing the total to three. Cass County hadn’t had a COVID-19 death since late April.
The county added no new cases Friday, keeping the cumulative total at 80. With the deaths and recoveries, Cass County has about 42 active cases.
Van Buren County added two cases Friday, rising the cumulative case total to 136. The county still has six deaths. With the deaths and recoveries, the county now has about 51 active cases.
Van Buren County has about 4.4 percent of its tests coming back positive, while Cass has about 7.7 percent.
Britten said the health department has been working with businesses that are reopening to make sure they have the proper health and safety measures put in place, plus the necessary knowledge should someone does come up positive.
“It probably will happen, so how do you make it so your whole team isn’t out on quarantine, or worse, sick,” she said.
Berrien County Undersheriff Chuck Heit reported during the news conference that the county has extended its local state of emergency this week through June 19.
Heit said the extension is needed to ensure the county has access to enough supplies and resources to continue to fight the pandemic locally, especially as things reopen.
Hamel said the hospital has learned during the pandemic that if you wear the proper equipment and do proper social distancing, no one has to get sick.
“We’ve had zero transmissions to staff within our COVID-19 unit,” he said. “That’s very reassuring.”
Hamel said if you keep your hands clean, wear masks and are socially distant from others, you’ll be safe.
“Those things will absolutely decrease the incidents of disease and we will open faster if we behave better,” he said.
Anyone who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, or shortness of breath, should 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; Inter-Care in Benton Harbor and Bangor, 855-869-6900; Rite Aid in Bridgman, www.rite aid.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.