BENTON TOWNSHIP — Berrien County saw an uptick in new COVID-19 cases this week, though hospitalizations held steady.
Nicki Britten, health officer for the Berrien County Health Department (BCHD), said during a COVID update via Facebook Live on Friday that there could be several reasons for it, like people waiting to get tested until after the holidays.
“We still are very much in the middle of this; we still have transmission happening in our community. We still have a susceptible population in our community. We need to keep up with our preventative measures, but we do have this glimmer of hope,” she said.
Berrien County recorded 389 new COVID-19 cases this week, compared to 277 last week and 344 the week before.
COVID hospitalizations at Spectrum Health Lakeland averaged at about 44 patients a day this week, the same as last week but up slightly from 42 two weeks ago.
Dr. Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland, said during the online discussion that this was pretty expected with the slight uptick in cases.
“We’re grateful it’s been lower than it was, but still a little concerned it’s starting to tick up again,” he said. “We’re hoping this is a temporary trend.”
Percent positivity rates have been between 9 and 12 percent recently, which is down from where it was in late November, but still up from the 3-4 percent health officials would prefer to see.
“Sadly, we’re still seeing one or more of our Berrien County residents pass away most days. It’s not over yet,” Hamel said.
Berrien County recorded 11 new COVID-19 deaths this week. That’s compared to 13 deaths both last week and the week before.
The county also added 842 recoveries this week. Last week the county recorded 857 recoveries, and the week before that 974.
With deaths and recoveries, the county is at about 1,630 active COVID-19 cases. The county was at 2,094 active cases last Friday and at 2,687 the Friday before that.
In total, since last March, Berrien County has recorded 9,136 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 7,323 recoveries, 183 deaths and 714 presumed cases. That’s an additional 50 presumed cases over last Friday.
As of Thursday, 2,135 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Berrien County.
Britten and Hamel repeated Friday that the BCHD and Spectrum Health Lakeland are working to get COVID-19 vaccines out as fast as they get them.
“We’re not sitting on vaccine,” Hamel said. “The issue is the supply is not as high as the demand for the vaccine.”
He called it a complicated balance of trying to save some doses for people’s second doses, while also trying to schedule people to get their first.
Britten said the new phases that will be allowed to start being vaccinated on Monday include an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Berrien County residents.
“As you can imagine, even taking a start into that, it will be awhile, and we need a lot more vaccine before we can make a meaningful dent in that number,” she said.
Britten said that while they have been authorized to start vaccinating people age 65 and older next week, the BCHD is going to prioritize people 75 years and older within that group.
“A lot of that is because we know as age increases, the likelihood of mortality does increase,” she said. “We want to make sure that as we have demand that outstrips supply, that the supply is going to the people most likely to succumb to COVID-19.”
Britten said the BCHD can start vaccinating people in the new phases before it has finished the first one, but they need a little bit more time to make sure they have the supply before they can start scheduling people.
She said the BCHD will soon release more links for people to sign up to get the vaccine.
Hamel added that an application in MyChart will soon be available for Lakeland patients to sign up for the vaccine.
“What we’re doing in our community is, to the best of our ability, save as many lives as we can, vaccinate as fast as we can and prevent as much disease as we can,” he said.
Those without access to the BCHD’s vaccine information website, http://bchdmi.org/1745/COVID-19-Vaccine-Information, can call the department’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-815-5485, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.