Coronavirus - web only

Berrien County schools have seen more than a 50 percent decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases in students and staff since the Berrien County Health Department implemented its mask mandate in educational settings, health officials reported Wednesday.

Courtney Davis, acting health officer for the BCHD, reported during a Facebook Live update that subsequent quarantines have also gone down.

“We’re seeing that positive impact of decreasing transmission, decreasing positive cases in the school setting and keeping our kids in school, having that in-person learning,” Davis said. “We’re really happy to see those numbers. We’ll continue to monitor, but that’s pretty huge that we can see that decrease from that added layer of prevention and mitigation.”

Since the start of school in late August, there have only been two school COVID-19 outbreaks reported and those happened the first week of school when masks were not required.

On Friday, the BCHD reported that since the start of school, more than 116 positive cases have been reported among Berrien County students, resulting in more than 626 students having to quarantine.

While school cases seem to be at a minimum, Davis said cases in the county as a whole continue to increase.

“We thought we were close to plateauing, but we are not seeing that just yet,” she said.

Berrien County’s seven day case rate per 100,000 residents is about 193. That equates to about 40 new cases a day. The county’s rate of tests coming back positive is still right around 13.5 percent, Davis said.

She said updates are still being made to the county’s data dashboard to include more data and make it more user-friendly.

COVID hospitalizations

Dr. Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland, reported during the Facebook Live update that the hospital is “utterly at capacity across all of Lakeland.”

“Our emergency departments are packed, our hospitals are full, our staffing is challenging,” he said. “We just don’t have extra room.”

Hamel said the hospital staff can take care of the 20-25 COVID patients admitted on a daily basis, but it is very tight. He said no elective surgeries have had to be canceled yet, but the hospital has had to go on diversion a few times.

“But even diversion isn’t a solution because every hospital is in the same circumstance,” he said. “We really are completely full based on our staffing levels.”

COVID-positive inpatient counts have been stable in the mid-20s over the last few weeks, with about a quarter of those in the intensive care unit. The hospital reported having 26 admitted Wednesday morning.

“We’ve seen about 87 percent of admissions over the last six months are folks that are unvaccinated,” Hamel said. “Those that are unvaccinated tend to be younger. We are seeing some vaccinated admissions and we’re seeing immunity wane six months or so after people get that vaccination, particularly among older individuals.”

He noted that as we move into flu season, people should get their flu shot and stay home if they’re feeling any symptom of illness.

“The flu and COVID symptoms are virtually indistinguishable,” he said. “You can not guess your way into a diagnosis, you’re going to need two tests to tell you what you have. Get the flu shot because that will decrease your chance of getting the flu.”

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