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BENTON TOWNSHIP — The Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) and Spectrum Health Lakeland announced Monday they would begin scheduling people 65 and older and other essential workers for COVID-19 vaccines.

The two entities announced the step in a news release in which they said because quantities of the vaccine are still limited, their joint approach prioritizes the highest-risk populations for severe COVID-19 illness due to risk factors, such as age, or exposure due to occupation.

The BCHD and Spectrum Health Lakeland will work from cross-referenced waiting lists of those who have expressed interest in getting the vaccine.

In addition, both agencies are targeting essential workers by coordinating directly with employers and other partner agencies to reach senior centers, homebound individuals and those at higher vulnerability.

They noted the best way for those over the age of 65 and employers of essential workers to indicate interest in receiving the vaccine is to complete the registration wait list available on the BCHD website, or complete the survey available via Lakeland MyChart located under “questionnaires” in the My Record section.

People are encouraged to assist family and friends without internet access or email with the online registration and waitlist process if possible, health officials wrote in the news release.

Community members should not call their health care provider’s office for vaccination scheduling or show up at the health department anticipating getting their vaccination without an appointment. Clinics are by appointment only and are not open to the general public, according to the release.

The BCHD and Lakeland will use the wait lists as the primary means of confirming eligibility and notifying community members when they are able to schedule a vaccination.

“Please note: completing either vaccine survey does not mean individuals will be scheduled for an appointment immediately,” health officials wrote in the release. “Vaccine supplies continue to be limited and are allocated to Berrien County by the state week by week. Both Spectrum Health Lakeland and the health department are asking for continued patience as planning is ongoing and appointment availability continues to expand.”

For more information, and to find out what phase you’re in, call 1-800-815-5485, or visit bchdmi.org/COVID19 or spectrumhealthlakeland.org/COVID19.

Data update

On Saturday, the BCHD began recording presumed COVID-19 deaths on its data dashboard.

The BCHD posted that there have been 15 presumed deaths in the county since the beginning of the pandemic. The BCHD also included these presumed deaths in the age, race and gender breakdown, which showed that they were all people over the age of 60, according to the dashboard.

No new confirmed deaths were reported over the weekend, keeping the county’s confirmed death toll at 183.

Berrien County recorded 133 new COVID-19 cases over Saturday, Sunday and Monday. That’s a similar total to the 139 new cases added last weekend, but still up from 76 the weekend before.

During the same three days, the county added 289 new recoveries.

With deaths and recoveries, the county is at about 1,474 active COVID-19 cases. That’s down from 1,805 last Monday.

COVID-19 hospitalizations at Spectrum Health Lakeland continued on their steady decline over the weekend. The hospital reported 40 patients Saturday morning, 38 Sunday morning and 39 Monday morning.

No new COVID-19 outbreaks were reported at area schools this week by the state.

The state updated its long-term care facility COVID data on Monday as well, showing that outbreaks at the facilities in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties continue to decline.

Just one new resident case, seven new staff cases and two new resident deaths were reported at Berrien County long-term care facilities. Van Buren County facilities had two new resident deaths and two new staff cases.

The Timbers of Cass County had four new resident cases and two resident deaths, according to the report.

Van Buren County recorded three new COVID-19 deaths over the weekend, while Cass County added one.

The counties continue to see an average of about 20-25 new cases a day.

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, Twitter: @HPANewman