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06-18-2020 Watervliet Township Hall to open to public June 22; plan OK’d for truck stop: Open for B

GREEN AND GOLD AWARD…Brenna Prescott (left) is presented the Green and Gold Award by Coloma High School Principal Mike Churchill at the drive-in style graduation ceremony held Friday night, June 12, 2020. She is the daughter of Amanda Prescott and was involved in Student Council, National Honor Society, tennis and the yearbook. Her future plans are to attend the University of Michigan to study investigative journalism. The annual award is given to a graduating senior who signifies excellence in leadership, industry, citizenship, and personality in the student’s four-year performance. (Contributed photo)

Berrien County Health Officer preaches risk reduction in no baseball games vs. packed beaches

By Annette Christie

On Friday, June 12, 2020, Berrien County Health Officer Nicki Britten and Spectrum Hospital Lakeland CEO Loren Hamel provided an update on COVID-19 in Berrien County. Britten commented on the time that has passed noting here we are in the middle of June, and they have been doing this since around the middle of March.

Britten commented that there is a lot happening in our community and commented that they often hear the question as to why people can pack the beach, yet not have baseball games. Hamel added that there is a lot of misinformation and miscommunication and acknowledged that some people aren’t being careful. Some stores you go in for example everyone has a mask on and the next store you may go in no one does.

Britten suggested that the continued restrictions on events such as sporting events are part of the risk reduction strategy. “We will never eliminate the transmission of COVID-19 it will be here for quite a while,” Britten said.

Hamel added that “fingers to face” is a really important thing to think is still a problem adding that close proximity to others does make a difference. Britten tried to explain that droplets from when a person speaks or coughs are heavy and so we are still facing the problem of when you touch a surface that a droplet has fallen on and then touch the face. “You don’t want to be in someone’s spray zone,” Britten said. The social distancing guideline of six feet between the number of people is risk reduction.

Britten and Hamel who were sitting at a table six feet from each other showed that example. “Everyone you have been in contact with the past two weeks, and now you and I are in contact, so if we were closer than six feet apart, you are exposing me to those other people indirectly.” Britten explained, adding “As we re-engage in our social life, think through how big do you want your circle to be.”

Both Hamel and Britten acknowledged there is a decrease in those affected and that there are not as many people in the hospital. While they had been expecting to see an increase, they haven’t seen that show up in the data yet. Britten said, “We are still seeing new confirmed cases every day but not nearly as many as before.”

Hospital visitors will now be allowed back to see patients with restrictions to the number of hours and the number of people. They hope to have that lessened up in time and data. Hamel said, “Family members are an important part of the care team.”

As to the expectation for ending the wearing of masks in public spaces, Britten said the data has been trending. Hamel added, “We are doing that still, watching the science, watching the risk, watching behaviors, don’t know if we will be wearing them the rest of our lives, no, but for a little while longer. We need to protect the most vulnerable.”

Overall Berrien County has seen less than 700 positive cases in the county and fewer than 60 deaths. Both Hamel and Britten said that they were bracing for it to be much worse. Hamel added solemnly that even one soul is too many and stated, “I would wear my mask for another year if it saved one.”

As of June 12, 2020 at 2:00 p.m., the overall number of new cases was decreasing. There were 21 new cases this week vs. 35 new cases last week. The percent of positivity for testing was also declining. There have not been any outbreaks in long term care or other facilities this week.

Berrien County to open some facilities

Berrien County offices, which have been closed since March 23, are scheduled to begin re-opening on Monday, June 22 with restrictions. The official release of all buildings and hours of operation will be made available on the Berrien County website:

The Berrien County Board of Commissioners (a body of 12) has been holding their meetings virtually through Zoom with access to the public on their Berrien County channel on YouTube. As the Governor’s Executive Orders define business operations, they will return to in-person meetings as allowed.

Executive Order 2020-114 “Safeguards to protect Michigan’s workers from COVID-19” states that offices must require face coverings in shared spaces, including during in person meetings and in restrooms and hallways and prohibits social gatherings and meetings that do not allow for social distancing or that create unnecessary movement through the office.

Watervliet Township Hall to open to public June 22; plan OK’d for truck stop

By Annette Christie The Watervliet Township Board made the decision at their Monday night meeting on June 15 to re-open Township Hall with restrictions on Monday, June 22, 2020. Treasurer Tom Scheid said that there will be ample signage directing visitors as well as masks and sanitizer available. Visitors in the building will be required to wear a mask and will be greeted by employees who are masked also. Only one visitor will be allowed in the office area at a time. Employees will be able to work at their desk space without a mask but whenever they are around the public, they are to have a face mask on. Social distancing recommendations of six feet between people will also be followed. Landfill passes The landfill passes that the township usually distributes every spring will hopefully be available upon opening day. If not, then township officials are hoping for soon after. Clerk Patt Bambrick said she has been in contact with the landfill and once they do get the passes printed and ready for distribution, they will available for a one-month period following. Ordinance enforcement Township officials announced during the meeting that the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office deputies assigned to Watervliet Charter Township under a contract will also begin ordinance enforcement within the township. Bambrick said that Sheriff L. Paul Bailey agreed to add that to the officers’ duties without any additional fees to the contract. Truck stop site plan approval The Board approved a site plan for 3558 M-140, the location of a new proposed truck stop, formerly known as Demar’s and Solitaires (events and nightclub). Zoning Administrator Bob Lohr, in a letter to the board, said that the developer is only waiting on final approval from the Michigan Department of Transportation for the M-140 curb cuts. On February 4, 2020, the Watervliet Charter Township Planning Commission reviewed and evaluated the site plan and recommended approval with the following amendments: The southernmost ingress/egress drive is to be illustrated, on the site-plan as being completely on truck stop property; the truck/diesel fueling island is to be moved approximately 26 feet to the east where the east face of the fueling canopy is even with the east face of the building to enhance vehicle maneuvering, and the submittal of final approval by the Michigan Department of Transportation for the M-140 curb cuts. The Township Board concurred with the Planning Commission recommendations at their March meeting. The latest amended site-plan was submitted with all the requests. Lohr said all they are waiting on is the approval from MDOT. They have reached out to them multiple times but have been unable to get the approval needed. He asked the Township Board to approve the amended site-plan noting that without the MDOT approval, they can’t go forward anyway, but if they get it then all requirements have been met and they can move forward. In other business they board approved asphalt improvements to the township hall parking area and drive as well as door repairs on township hall.

Coloma Schools Superintendent gets high marks By Annette Christie Coloma Community Schools Superintendent, Mr. David Ehlers, received a Highly Effective rating during his annual performance review with the Coloma Board of Education, held recently. The Board of Education provided a two-year extension on his current contract through June of 2022. In a press release provided by the School Board it stated that Superintendent Ehlers provides strong leadership throughout the district, leading by example and setting high expectations for student and teachers’ growth and achievement. Under his direction, he has grown the district’s Fund Equity balance to a healthy reserve. The press release noted this will prove to be beneficial as we enter into the 2020 – 2021 fiscal year, where it’s anticipated that State and Federal funding will be reduced. Superintendent Ehlers is highly visible throughout the district and actively involved in the community. As a member of the Chamber of Commerce, he has formed relationships with local businesses and community stakeholders. He also worked with the Coloma Township Chief of Police to obtain funding for the School Resource Officer this year. The school board expressed appreciation to Superintendent Ehlers and thanked him for his dedication and leadership to Coloma Community Schools.

WAITING THEIR TURN… Barbershops were among the businesses considered “nonessential” by Executive Order for mitigation of COVID-19 and were allowed to reopen this week. Art’s Barbershop on Main Street, Watervliet had a brisk business all day Tuesday with outdoor seating taking care of the overflow. (TCR photo by Amy Loshbough)

COVID-19 Restrictions approaching “New Normal” as more businesses reopen

By Jon Bisnett As of Monday you can now legally get a haircut on the way to the tattoo parlor. After your dentist appointment, stop and grab a beer on your way to a massage parlor to a dine-in evening meal for the first time since March 15… in theory. Michiganders saw salons and spas reopening statewide on Monday, June 15. Michigan bars and restaurants across the entire state have begun reopening at 50% capacity as of last week. While some are thrilled to get open, others are cautious or unable to adapt to the 50% rule. Locally it’s been observed that national fast-food chains have yet to open any dining rooms, while doing a robust drive-thru business. Hartford’s Panel Room and Watervliet’s Mill Creek Charlie’s are still shuttered. The Tri-City Record reached out to ownership with no reply. Most other local eateries are back in the game with limited capacity and social distancing protocols in place. Bring a mask and be patient. Be prepared for some menu items to be unavailable as restocking the kitchen is easier said than done following a 3-month shut-down. It is best to call or check your favorite restaurant’s social media page for hours and other general info.

Independence Day displays The big area 4th of July fireworks shows are all gone now. South Haven canceled. St. Joe cancelled. Baroda and Watervliet canceled too. And now finally the Niles Chamber of Commerce, who had held out until last week, has joined the canceled list. Local venues Berrien and Cass County Fairs are still planning to run at this point, with Van Buren called weeks ago. South Haven’s National Blueberry Festival is still on tap for the first week of August. Four Winds Casino Resorts began receiving guests at all four properties at noon on Monday, June 15 running intentionally at 50% capacity with new social distancing partitions, requiring guests to wear face masks, and refraining from smoking except in specially designated outdoor areas. Business was brisk at all sites. Cautionary reports Houston, Texas reports an approximate 3% per day increase in COVID-19 cases since Memorial Day. New York Governor Cuomo threatens possible closings of facilities as numbers are going back up. In relation to numbers, Governor Gretchen Whitmer just posted Executive Order #120, which exceeds the total of all neighboring states’ Governors, that of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Summer Camp now OK Governor Whitmer this week signed Executive Order 2020-120, which lifts restrictions on overnight residential, travel, and troop camps beginning June 15. After three months of having the kids at home, most moms are looking forward to a break as much as the kids look forward to going off to camp! Outdoor gatherings are now allowed, as long as people who don’t live together stay at least six feet apart. Events can’t exceed 100 people. Outdoor fitness classes, athletic practices, training sessions and games are allowed as long as coaches, spectators and participants not from the same household maintain a distance of six feet from one another at all times, Whitmer ordered. To clarify, gyms and fitness centers can hold only outdoor classes and workouts as well, but they have to meet the social distancing guidelines. Indoor gyms and all indoor theaters remain closed at this time. Testing Testing for COVID-19 is becoming more readily available all over the state. Contact your local Health Department or your family physician for specific local resources.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS… Tree man Willie Nearn (far left) took a moment off the job to treat the Hartford Police to a cool drink at John John’s Lemonade at the corner of Beechwood and Center Street. Officer Phil Lucas, Chief Tressa Beltran and Sergeant Jim Coleman are grateful for the tasty hydration. John John says business is good. Stop by for a Red Solo Cup of tasty lemonade for just a dollar!

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