BENTON TOWNSHIP — Watching the COVID-19 case count go up each day doesn’t give the full picture of what’s happening in Berrien County, health officials said Friday.

Nicki Britten, health officer for the Berrien County Health Department (BCHD), said during the department’s weekly news conference that they’ve been keeping an eye on the data closely because everyone is thinking about opening the state back up.

“What we’ve been watching for are trends in the number of confirmed cases, the percentage of our tests that positive, and what’s going on with deaths and hospital admissions,” she said.

While confirmed cases, deaths and hospital admissions have all increased recently, the percentage of tests coming back positive has decreased significantly in the last 11-12 days, according to Britten.

“That’s good news and an important number to watch, because as our capacity to detect COVID goes up, we want to see the percent of cases go down,” she said.

Britten said the number of confirmed cases is growing, and will keep growing over the next several weeks, because of more testing being done.

“We know if we test a few hundred people in a day, we’re likely to find some asymptomatic carriers,” she said.

Britten said a contributing factor, and an important part of the data, is the increase of cases, deaths and hospitalizations from transmission happening in the county’s long-term care facilities, like nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“This is a really tragic thing when it gets into these facilities. It can be really challenging,” she said. “When you have people who are very vulnerable to serious illness, and even death from a COVID infection, living in close quarters, it’s easier for transmission to occur and to have some pretty devastating results.”

The state’s long-term care facility data is being updated, but as of Tuesday, there were 122 cases in four different facilities in Berrien County.

Britten said the health department is continuing to work with these facilities, and the facilities are dealing with it appropriately, but as transmission is seen out in the community, it will still impact the congregant facilities like nursing homes, jails and homeless shelters.

“We haven’t seen any clusters in our jails or homeless shelters, but there have been some deaths of nursing home residents and that is contributing significantly to the cases we’re seeing, and the hospitalizations and deaths,” she said.

Undersheriff Chuck Heit said during the news conference that the Michigan National Guard came to voluntarily test all the Berrien County jail inmates this week. He said while they tested most inmates this week, jail staff are still taking a symptomatic approach by testing anyone who is sick and isolating them.

Testing

Britten also reported during the news conference that there is now a fourth COVID-19 testing site open in Berrien County at the Rite Aid in Bridgman. To get tested there, visit www.riteaid.com.

To be tested by Spectrum Health Lakeland, call 833-559-0659; to be tested by InterCare, call 855-869-6900; and to be tested by Walmart, visit www.MyQuestCOVIDTest.com.

Gatherings over holiday weekend

Heit and Britten took a moment during the news conference to talk about the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

Heit said he’s received many questions about the county’s parks, specifically.

“While it remains open, it won’t be the Silver Beach people are used to,” he said. “For one thing, with the water levels the way they are, there’s just not as much beach as there was, so that’s going to make social distancing harder.”

Heit said a deputy will be stationed down there to monitor if things get too crowded.

“I know they’re already looking at capacity of vehicles at 50 percent,” he said.

In addition, the restrooms remain closed, as well as the playgrounds and volleyball courts. The food court will be open, but will be set up for social distancing.

Heit said while gatherings of up to 10 people are now legally allowed, social distancing is still the best defense against spreading COVID-19.

“And if you have several different gatherings of 10 people, that increases the risk of spreading the disease around to multiple groups of people,” he said.

Britten said it’s all about risk reduction, especially for people with underlying health conditions like hypertension and diabetes.

“No one can eliminate the risk, but you can limit your risk by making informed choices as to how you’re going to move about in your life, especially as things reopen,” she said.

Count update

Berrien County added another two COVID-19 deaths Friday, bringing the total to 42.

In addition, the county added seven new confirmed COVID-19 cases, plus five new recoveries.

With 571 cumulative cases, 368 recoveries and 42 deaths, that keeps the county at about 161 active cases, the same as Thursday.

Spectrum Health Lakeland was treating 21 patients as of Friday afternoon, a decrease in four patients from Thursday morning.

The Van Buren Cass District Health Department released its weekly number of recovered COVID-19 patients Friday. There are now 24 people recovered in Cass County, a gain of just one from last week. Van Buren County now has 41 recovered, a gain of nine from last week.

Van Buren County is now at about 73 active cases, with 120 confirmed cases, six deaths and 41 recoveries.

Cass County has about 47 active cases, with 73 confirmed cases, two deaths and 24 recoveries.

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