Berrien County Using Contact Tracing, Convalecent Plasma and Other Methods to Fight Ongoing Pandemic

Apr 17, 2020


Credit Jennifer Weingart / WVPE Public Radio

The Berrien County health department is focusing on contact tracing and monitoring vulnerable populations in the fight against the coronavirus.

Berrien County Health officer Nicki Britten says the department is working on speaking to anyone who had close contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19. She says that work is important but people should be aware of scams. 

“This is an important practice so you may get a phone call from the health department, please be aware we are not going to ask for your financial information or your social security information, anything like that. We’ll be asking for symptoms and close contacts.”

Britten says the contact tracing has allowed them to report 162 presumed positive cases in the County. These are people who had symptoms of the disease and had contact with a confirmed positive.

Spectrum Health Lakeland announced the first treatment with convalescent plasma happened Friday. Loren Hamel is the President at Spectrum Health Lakeland.

“You take a blood product from somebody who had COVID-19, tested positive, recovered, then 14 days later we test them again and they’re negative. At that point we assume they have antibodies or immunity. Then we take their plasma and give it to somebody that’s sick as a way to boost their immune response.”

Britten and Hamel said the health department and health system are also working together to identify exposure risks and mitigation methods for elder care facilities, jails and homeless populations that are at higher risk for the coronavirus.

Britten said the department is keeping an eye on the data to determine when stay at home orders might be able to be scaled back. She said they're working with other local authorities and well and keeping up with state, regional and federal guidance and data.

Britten said they are watching to see when the community may reach a point of ‘herd immunity’ or the point where enough people have had the disease and are now immune that they can still slow the spread.

“Based on the number of cases we have right now we are not going to be at levels of herd immunity by the time we start walking back some of those restrictions. So how do we continue to keep ourselves safe while opening up sections of the economy.”

Britten said knowing when to begin re-opening may depend largely on antibody testing.

That testing is not yet widely available. There are also a lot of questions about the efficacy of the tests on the market. They do not need to be verified by the FDA or CDC. And testing for antibodies for this particular strain of coronavirus can be challenging.