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Berrien County COVID-19 cases hit record high, health department head says

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Berrien County is seeing record numbers of COVID-19 cases — with an average of 240 new cases per day and 1,624 in the past week.

“This is four times higher than we’ve ever seen before,” county health department medical director Dr. Rex Cabaltica said during a Wednesday Facebook Live update with Spectrum Health Lakeland.

The surge is likely due to the highly contagious omicron variant — currently, more than one out of every three COVID tests in the county are coming back positive.

And even if omicron is less likely to cause severe disease, Spectrum Health Lakeland president Dr. Loren B. Hamel said the surge will still overwhelm area hospitals.

“At Lakeland, we’re setting records,” Hamel said. “We didn’t want to set records, but we’re setting records. We have more patients, more ICU patients, more ventilators than ever in our history.”

Hamel said that 86 percent of hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated, and all patients in the ICU are unvaccinated.

In light of the soaring numbers, Cabaltica strongly recommended county residents wear well fitted masks, such as a KF94, KN95 or N95.

“If you’re going to be indoors at any sort of large gathering, please mask up,” Cabaltica said.

In addition, he recommends getting vaccinated and boosted — 57 percent of county residents are fully vaccinated.

“Please, let’s push that number further up,” Cabaltica said.

The vaccines are still providing significant protection against severe disease, Hamel said.

“If you get the virus, most [vaccinated] folks are just doing fine,” Hamel said. “They’re not getting terribly sick, and it’s not lasting terribly long,”

In line with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, Cabaltica said county residents who test positive should isolate for five full days. On the sixth day — if symptoms are improving — they can resume normal activities if wearing a well-fitted mask.

Despite the surge, Hamel said that he expects things to improve within a few weeks.

“[Omicron] is going to peak quickly — we expect it to go away more quickly than some other strains,” Hamel said. “If you can stay healthy a few more weeks, I think your risks will significantly improve.”

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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