07-30-2020 Berrien County Health Department provides COVID-19 update, understanding risk much bett






Pline and Van Lente named Outstanding Students at WHS Graduation Ceremony

Berrien County Health Department provides COVID-19 update, understanding risk much better as patient numbers stablize

By Annette Christie Berrien County Health Officer Nicki Britten and Spectrum Health Lakeland CEO Dr. Loren Hamel provided an update on where COVID-19 stands in Berrien County on Monday afternoon. Britten said while we are seeing some numbers go up in the number of cases, 1,056 confirmed cases of COVID–19, it is not the whole picture. The percent of positive tests is less than 4% and that is the threshold. “We are feeling good about that number,” Britten said. Hamel added that at the hospital they got as low as zero in terms of admissions but now those numbers are more like 10-16 this week. Britten did note though that some of the admissions numbers are because of cases in Cass County for admissions that have driven up the numbers. There is a decrease in the mortality risks it appears. Britten noted there was a four-week period where there were no deaths. In the last two weeks, there were three; the individuals were in higher risk categories. There are not any new populations showing up in the death data; however, they are seeing COVID in younger people – adults under 50 – driving up the number. The average age through May 31 was 54, the month of June average was 41, followed by 40 in July. Britten, who is active at the state level with the school re-opening plans, said she doesn’t know how much transmission we will see in schools. Unlike influenza, children are not as infectious and spreading with COVID. She said there is lots of guidance, very robust safety practices that will be put in place to help minimize the spread in schools. Hamel noted we have to remember that there are a lot of adults in the schools also. The Health Dept. is working with public and private school leaders’ return to school road map and how to implement that. Britten said that for the most part, the schools want consistency amongst the communities. Britten seemed positive in stating that we understand the risk much better. “We’ve learned so much, the smaller role that children and asymptomatic individuals do play in transmission,” Britten said. Hamel said that less tight visitor restrictions with the hospital will be gradually put in place. “Safely and carefully, with the transmission in hospitals, we can control that risk very well,” Hamel said, adding, “Most of the caregivers were not getting sick. If we are careful and diligent, maintain hand washing, masks, and social distancing we can control this,” Hamel said. Everyone is interested in tests. The turnaround for the testing has been 4,000 tests in a day with results in a day or two. But as things ramp up, school, vacation, etc., they have to limit the testing of the people in the hospital for the ones needing medical care. Hamel said, “We are keeping up for now. We anticipate the supplies will be worse further in the summer as more states are going backwards.” Hamel spoke to the anxiety is very real, and those who may have been in contact with someone who tests positive should continue with social isolation. “When I go to a store, I assume that I have to protect myself and someone in there may have COVID,” Hamel said, adding, “Cleaning the surfaces, and keeping up with practices, people being careful aren’t getting infected.” Both Britten and Hamel stated that the public needs to continue to follow the rules, hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing are the best defense. “Don’t let your guard down, if we are doing all the right things, we are preventing new cases,” Britten said. Britten noted that there have been a lot of folks expressing concern on overcrowding on the beaches but she stressed that she is working with them (beach operators) to operate in a safe way. While outside is better than inside, Hamel reminded listeners to the press conference that the vulnerable have to be the most careful. Risk is too high and they should be so careful. For more information on the coronavirus pandemic response in Berrien County, visit www.bchdmi.org/COVID19 or www.spectrumhealthlakeland.org/COVID-19.

Pline and Van Lente named Outstanding Students at WHS Graduation Ceremony

By Annette Christie The Watervliet High School Class of 2020 received their due celebration on Friday night, July 24 at their drive-in style graduation ceremony held in the parking lot of Watervliet High School. As with every class before them, the outstanding boy and girl were honored as a part of the ceremony. The two were selected in recognition of the possession of high qualities of honor, service, leadership, and scholarship, necessary to the protection of the fundamental institutions of our government and the advancement of society.

Cole Pline Cole Pline was selected as the Outstanding Boy of the WHS Class of 2020. He has participated in numerous sports and activities both inside and outside of school during his high school career, including but not limited to playing baseball, basketball, and football. He served as the president for both the Student Council and the National Honor Society. He has volunteered in the community at basketball tournaments, blood drives, and food drives, as well as volunteering part of his summer vacation at the Van Buren Youth Camp counseling and teaching skills to younger students.

He plans to attend Michigan State University to study computer science. He credits Mr. Prom with being his most influential teacher coach. Cole credits Mr. Prom with giving him the support and guidance that he needed both on the court and in the classroom to be successful.

Susanna Van Lente Susanna Van Lente was selected as the Outstanding Girl of the WHS Class of 2020. She has participated in a number of athletics and activities both in and out of the classroom. She has played soccer and volleyball and is a member of the Student Council and National Honor Society. Her community service includes participating in community blood drives, assisting in the nursery at the Hope Reformed Church and volunteering with the American Youth Soccer Organization. Susanna plans to attend Central Michigan University to study child development. She credits Mackenzie Houlehen with being the most influential Watervliet staff member during her educational career. He has mentored her as both a coach and a teammate in her senior year and assisted Susanna tremendously with the college application process.

As with many school districts, the Watervliet Class of 2020 held their graduation ceremony drive-in style due to the State of Michigan still being in phase 4 of a Governor ordered shutdown which prevented the standard football field non-restricted ceremony. Phase 4 restricts outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people. Students and their families arrived at the school in one car per graduate. Students making speeches were brought up to the stage one at a time. Students were able to do the traditional cap throwing, except, it was at each of their cars. The ceremony concluded with a student car parade from the high school to North Elementary School. Similarly, on the original date for graduation in May, a parade of graduates was held through town and ending at the high school.

COVID-19 uptick in Michigan continues, officials eye fall back to Phase Three with more restrictions

By Jon Bisnett

With 44 states reporting an increase in daily cases of the virus, 18 have broken their own daily records of COVID-19 positive cases in the last week.

Michigan saw its average new cases per day down from 1,626 on April 4 to 150 on June 10. At the end of June, the count was back up to nearly 350 cases per day and by mid-July the average surpassed 600 new cases per day.

Gerry Anderson, the chairman of the Michigan Economic Recovery Council was quoted to say, “It’s probably inevitable” that the entire state will need to regress to phase 3 of the six-phase MI Safe Start Plan, which featured no gatherings, no in-person education, and limiting non-essential retail to curbside or delivery if residents don’t take efforts to reduce the growing spread of COVID-19.

Whitmer headed to court

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Legal Foundation’s case challenging Gov. Whitmer’s unilateral extension of emergency powers on September 2. The clients are three medical practices that were unable to provide necessary care and a patient who was unable to receive care.

Whitmer’s camp stands on a rarely used law from 1945 that permits her to wield emergency powers whenever she alone determines it necessary. The court will consider whether this law violates the Michigan Constitution’s requirement that executive, judicial and legislative powers be distinct and separate, so as to protect the people from abuse of power.

The case itself challenges whether Gov. Whitmer violated the law in unilaterally extending the state of emergency. Michigan law requires the Legislature to approve such extensions. Whitmer went ahead without that approval. The legality of every executive order issued since April 30, from arbitrary bans to making decisions for every school child in the state on her own, are in question.

The State Legislature has been in effect powerless to change policies created via executive order and unable to prevent controversial orders that arbitrarily closed businesses.

Additional COVID relief

In Washington D.C., new round of COVID-19 support is in the works on Capitol Hill and may include direct payments, unemployment support and a rollback in payroll taxes. Congressman Fred Upton said he expects a bill by the end of July.

The GOP released their plan Monday which includes $1,200 individual payments, $200 unemployment supplement, and billions for schools with some of the money aimed at helping classrooms reopen for students. The proposed legislation also includes at least $100 billion more for the small-business Paycheck Protection Program.

Not canceled

Although it may be easier to say “everything is canceled,” when it comes to summer events, fairs and festivals, one local and one national are going forward.

The world-famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will take place in the Black Hills of South Dakota August 7–16.

Locally, the singular holdout festival is South Haven’s National Blueberry Festival slated for August 7 & 8. Chamber of Commerce organizers say the festival will take place with an abbreviated schedule eliminating several events, from the pie-eating contest and the live music stage.

Bright spots

Barring any regression to stage 3, patrons can visit their favorite restaurant, maybe, if they are open for dining. Also there has been a taste of PGA golf, Major League Baseball and NASCAR without fans present.

Most retailers are open subject to social distancing and mask practices. And while some parents may express their concern for fall and say they may home school, the reality for most is they need to work and are thus unable to home school, not to mention those students that are food insecure and depend on the school for not only education, but social interaction and daily nourishment.

COVID-19 review

Setting aside political party preference, conspiracy theories and transgressions of civil liberties, the following is a review of the basics.

In the State of Michigan, gyms and indoor theatres remain closed. Restaurants and bars are open subject to 70% occupancy rule. Groups of up to 10 indoors, 100 outdoors are permitted. Masks are required in all public indoor spaces and outdoor where social distancing cannot be maintained. Other precautions include hand washing often, sanitizing high-contact surfaces, and maintaining social distancing of six feet from others.

Schools are scheduled to reopen, for now. The Michigan High School Athletic Association says there will be fall sports, if the majority of the state is in phase 4. Regression to phase 3 is a possibility.

Healthcare facilities are not overwhelmed, as feared. But new cases are still rising. There is no single cure or specific therapy as of yet. Chloroquine is not proven to be the foolproof treatment. Testing is available and can have timely results depending on the circumstances.

As for the economic impact, unemployment systems are completely overwhelmed. Additional financial help for small business is available and additional Federal relief to individuals is in the works.

In recent days, 16 Michigan State student-athletes and four coaches have tested positive for the virus. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already canceled all non-conference games, while some smaller conferences, like the Ivy League have canceled fall sports altogether. The NCAA’s board of governors meets this Friday and may vote to cancel all fall sports.

In Michigan and across the U.S., other than inconvenience and personal impatience, nothing has really changed since March as far as the virus itself is concerned. Best practices remain the same. Hot spots have dotted the national map enough to keep people humble in the knowledge that everyone still has a formidable opponent on the loose.

The Federal government agreement to purchase 100 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and the Department of Defense commitment for an equal number of injection devices gives hope. Pending FDA approval, some say perhaps there will be a vaccine ready as early as October while others predict well into 2021.

In any case, the COVID response remains the same. Use common sense. Follow best practices as recommended by local Health Departments. For high-risk individuals, they need to be more guarded in their approach to day to day routines. Everyone must find their own level of comfort within the “new normal” while moderating their risk and that of their family.

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