Berrien County residents, according to Spectrum Health Lakeland President Dr. Loren Hamel, delivered “the best Christmas present ever,” by continuing to stay safe as the downward trend in cases stemming from the coronavirus pandemic continues to decrease markedly.
Hamel joined Berrien County Health Department Health Officer Nicki Britten today in an update on the latest numbers from the pandemic in our area, and both were pleased with the ongoing downward trend.
Britten began the update by telling Berrien County residents, “We’ve been talking since the beginning of December about how we were starting to see a downward trend, but weren’t 100-percent sure what to make of it since testing was going down about the same time. However, over the last three weeks we’ve seen a sustained decreasing trend in our number of cases, and are now down to around 37 new cases per day on average.” To understand the depth of that trend, Britten tells us, “At our height, just before Thanksgiving, we were at 165 new cases per day, so we are really slowing down almost as quickly as we were increasing back in October and November.”
The downward trending is on several fronts as Britten continues, “We’ve seen that sustained downward trend, we’ve seen the decrease in our percentage of positivity as would be expected, and we know we’re also seeing a little bit of a decrease in those that are hospitalized as well. So, we’ve got a lot of evidence pointing towards there being less community transmission, which is great news all the way around.” Looking at why the trend continues downward, Britten admits, “It’s always hard to say what we can attribute those numbers to, as there have been many things that have been happening, however, we do believe that there are a lot of efforts among community members to maybe do holiday gatherings in smaller numbers, staying with their own households, and really scaling back on what your celebrations have looked like throughout the month of December.” She notes, additionally, “There has been really a void of large gatherings in public, so lots of things to attribute it to, but we are very encouraged by the fact that we are seeing these decreasing numbers. We are still continuing to see some COVID 19 deaths, but those typically lag behind the other data, so we should see a similar slowdown in the next week or two as well.”
Dr. Hamel was extremely thankful for public efforts over the past month, saying, “First I just have to say to the community, thank you so very much. You gave us, in fact, the best Christmas present ever. More of you stayed well. More of you stayed out of the hospital. Fewer of you were sick. The volumes in new COVID cases are down, the volumes in the hospital are down, and that is such a blessing. That is such a relief to all those folks who are working so hard to take care of their sick friends and neighbors.”
Turning to the actual numbers, Hamel reports, “We currently have 39 individuals under respiratory precaution with infectious, contagious, COVID 19. We have another 13 or so that have been in the hospital long enough that they’re no longer contagious. That 39 number has been as high as the mid to high 70s just a few weeks ago. Your efforts have made a dramatic difference in how many people are getting sick enough to be in the hospital, and how many are sick enough to be on ventilators and in the ICU. The ICU numbers are still running relatively high. We still have some really sick people in the hospital, and sadly we’re still losing every week, we’re still losing people in our community to complications of COVID 19, so please continue to be so very careful. But, I really have to thank you for what you’ve done. When you see the trends across the country, we are kind of beating the odds in Berrien County, and I’m really appreciative of your work in making that happen.”
Turning to the vaccination efforts locally, Hamel reports, “All across all of Spectrum Health we have around 31,000 team members, while here at Spectrum Health Lakeland we have just over 4,000 team members, and so far we’ve gotten just over 4,000 doses of the vaccine. They haven’t all been administered yet. We’ve given about 800 of those, and are scheduling clinics continuously to give folks on the team who have chosen to take the vaccine to give them a dose. Within a week or so, we’ll be giving the second dose to those who got their first earlier here. It’s really good to have enough vaccine to give the first responders a chance to get that vaccine, and so far we’ve had nobody with a serious complication, nobody hospitalized, with most having rather common achiness at the site of the injection, or maybe a little chill, or fatigue, or headache, which has happened in a few folks, but has not interfered with staffing levels.”
As the two wrapped up their public update, broadcast live on the Health Department’s Facebook channel, the two health leaders reflected on the coming New Year, and were asked for an end of year message.
Nicki Britten began, saying, “As we reach the end of the year and are on the cusp of a New Year, it’s a time of reflection and I’ve been thinking back to March and the very beginning and a lot of the things that we started talking about and have continued to think about including how we’ve really needed a collective response to this virus and really needed to see a lot of unity within the community to rally together to protect ourselves from the virus, to protect ourselves from some of the economic fallout that has happened as a result of this pandemic, and I’ve been so pleased and encouraged by so many things that we’ve seen our community show up, that we’ve seen our community embrace, and rally together to do things that we may not have done otherwise or that initially felt uncomfortable, but recognized that it was for that greater, collective good, and I’m so appreciative to be serving in a community where that seems to come more naturally.”
Britten adds, “I would just encourage us as we continue moving forward, as we enter 2021 with that light at the end of the tunnel, to really continue to think about who we want to be on the other side of this pandemic and how can we lean into just continuing to be that community that cares about the lives of our friends and neighbors and how do we really lean into that, so as we’re coming out of this, we’re actually stronger and how do we support one another as we’ve been going through this. Those are my aspirations for us in 2021, and I hope that we can all just continue to take the protective measures and get the vaccine so that we can get through to the other side of this as quickly as possible.”
Dr. Hamel, too, voice deep gratitude to the community for the dramatic turnaround, saying, “I am so incredibly grateful, and so incredibly proud of our community. We see images from around the country, just like you do, of folks that are stressed, that are anxious, that appear to be sometimes thinking mostly of their needs, and in our community we have cared for each other in ways that are I believe are exemplary. We’ve suffered a lot, in 2020, we’ve learned and grown a lot, and as Nicki said, I believe we’re a stronger community, I believe we’re a more compassionate community, and I am so very proud to call Berrien County my home. I wish for each of you an incredibly happy and blessed New Year. Please be safe.”