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Berrien County health officials hold pre-holiday COVID-19 update

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Screenshot captured via Facebook Live
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Ahead of the holidays, Berrien County health leaders gave an update on the county’s COVID-19 situation.

Berrien County Health Department Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rex Cabaltica said Wednesday the county has experienced an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases over the last two months.

 

He said that surge may have peaked, but it’s too early to say for sure. In any case, the county still has a 23 percent positivity rate – meaning almost a quarter of its COVID-19 tests are coming back positive. 

 

In area schools, Cabaltica said 75 students have been isolated due to a positive test in the last two weeks, and another 256 have been quarantined as close contacts.

 

Spectrum Health Lakeland President Dr. Loren Hamel said the hospital recently moved to Command Status Red, which means normal capacity has been exceeded. 

 

Hamel said that means staffing ratios are higher than normal and patients are being placed in areas they aren’t normally placed. 

 

“We expected that, we worked to get ready for that,” Hamel said. “The team is working hard to accommodate those higher volumes.” 

 

Hamel said hospitalizations at Lakeland peaked at 84 last week, and were hovering around 69 as of Wednesday. 

 

“Of those current 69 patients, 88 percent of them are unvaccinated,” Hamel said. “A hundred percent of our ICU patients are unvaccinated, and essentially all of the deaths we have experienced over the last several weeks have been individuals who are unvaccinated.”

 

Hamel said it was too early to say exactly how the omicron variant will impact southwest Michigan. However, he said the early indication is that it’s less virile than the delta strain, though more contagious. 

 

“That mix of way more contagious and maybe a little less severe – we don’t know yet whether this is going to drive our hospitalizations much higher or about the same as the delta strain,” he said. “I suspect we’re going to learn that over the next, maybe, two to three weeks.”

 

Due to the high positivity rate and number of hospitalizations, Cabaltica urged caution at holiday gatherings. 

 

He said to treat the risk of COVID-19 similarly to that of drunk driving after a holiday party.

 

“If you do partake of alcohol, then you shouldn’t drive drunk,” Cablatica said. “Likewise, with this incredible, unprecedented public health emergency, I think it would be very unwise to say ‘You know, I’m so over this, I don’t want to do anything, let’s just get together.’”

 

Cabaltica recommended taking precautions like limiting exposure before holiday gatherings, masking up in crowded situations, and getting tested before and after visiting friends and family.

 

All that being said, Cabaltica said it would be “unwise” not to celebrate this holiday season. 

 

“We’ve gone through, what? Nearly two years of this?” he said. “So let’s get together with our families, but let’s do this in a wise and loving manner.”

 

Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.

 

If you appreciate this kind of journalism on your local NPR station, please support it by donating here. 

Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.