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ST. JOSEPH — Spectrum Health Lakeland is predicting a rise in COVID hospitalizations by next week based on current trends.

Berrien County health officials took to Facebook Live on Wednesday afternoon to update the community on the continued spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland, estimated the hospital would have on average over 30 COVID-positive patients admitted a day by next week.

On Wednesday, the hospital reported having 23 COVID-positive patients admitted. That’s the same number as last Wednesday.

Hamel said by looking at the test positivity rate in the area and projecting how many patients to expect, “We know we’re going to see more of our friends and neighbors in the hospital.”

Historically through the pandemic, the number of hospitalizations increase after a rise in new cases. After an increase in hospitalizations comes a rise in deaths.

Hamel said local health officials just want people to be careful and consider getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

“What we’re seeing is more folks in the hospital proportionally that are unvaccinated. We’re also seeing them much younger,” Hamel said. “I watched out my window the other day as a 30-year-old was airlifted out of Lakeland to get treatment called ECMO. That’s where you pump blood out of a person’s body, oxygenate it, and then pump it back in. That’s when the heart and lungs can no longer deliver oxygen to the tissue.”

Hamel called that a last ditch effort to buy a little time to save a life.

“We’re doing that across the country and in Berrien County to much younger individuals than we saw in the first surges of COVID,” he said.

Hamel said there are a few folks that are in the hospital that have had a vaccination, with most of them being older.

“We know the immunity related to the vaccination wanes a bit over time, so you can get sick, but it’s not as likely. You can be hospitalized, not likely. You can die, much less likely,” he said.

Courtney Davis, acting health officer for the Berrien County Health Department, reported that in August, Berrien County recorded 829 COVID-19 cases.

That’s up from 156 cases in July.

“When we look at year over year, that’s a 73 percent increase from last August,” she said. “We’re seeing the impact from higher transmissible variants, like delta.”

On Monday, Berrien County’s seven-day average test positivity was 12.6 percent. On Thursday last week, it was at 13 percent.

Testing updates

This week, Spectrum Health Lakeland announced it has invested $350,000 into a new real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing system.

The cobas 6800 can perform blood screening, viral load monitoring, and diagnostic testing, with results for most tests delivered on the same day.

This system can not only diagnose COVID-19, but other infectious diseases and genetic changes. It can process more than 400 specimens per day.

COVID-19 testing at a Lakeland facility is available for patients who have any symptoms of the disease. Patients in need of a COVID-19 test should contact their local Southwest Michigan primary care provider to obtain a doctor’s order.

If patients do not have a provider, care related to COVID-19 continues to be available at all three of the Spectrum Health Lakeland walk-in clinics in Niles, Stevensville and Watervliet.

For more information, visit spectrumhealthlakeland.org/covid19.

COVID-19 tests that can be taken at home are becoming more widely available at area drug stores.

Davis said if you take one of these tests, it’s important to follow the instructions on the packaging and report the result of the test to the state.

“That is how that’s then reported as a true case,” she said. “If you don’t take this step, it’s not something that can be verified by a health care provider or the health department.”

It’s also helpful because people have 90 days after testing positive in which if they’re identified as a close contact, they don’t have to be re-quarantined.

“If we don’t have that official report from you doing those at-home tests, that doesn’t allow us to use that portion of our quarantine and isolation process to move forward,” Davis said.

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