BENTON TOWNSHIP — Berrien County residents in the new COVID-19 vaccine eligibility groups will now need to monitor the Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) website for appointments to become available rather than sign up on a waitlist and be contacted, officials announced March 4.

On March 8 the BCHD began allowing all adults over the age of 50, and caregivers of children with special health needs, to schedule appointments when they are available.

Information will be posted on the website, www.bchdmi.org/COVID19, directly when there are appointments available for self-scheduling. The health department is encouraging eligible residents to check the website often, as new appointment availability may be added daily. Self-scheduling will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.

People with limited internet access are encouraged to call the BCHD COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-815-5485 for assistance in scheduling an appointment.

Gillian Conrad, spokesperson for the BCHD, said on March 4 that with the large newly eligible group, department officials felt that it would be most efficient and convenient – for the department and residents – to be able to schedule appointments directly for themselves.

“We’ve had small and steady increases in vaccine allocations over the last several weeks, and anticipate that those allocations will continue to grow. With those larger allocations, we’ll be able to open up more clinic appointments and make them available for our residents who are eligible,” she said.

Adults over the age of 65 who have not yet been vaccinated will continue to be prioritized through the waitlist system. That group will still be contacted to schedule an appointment.

The BCHD will reserve special appointment slots at upcoming clinics so those over the age of 65 may have assurance that they will continue to receive opportunities for vaccination, Conrad said.

All eligible residents are also able to seek vaccination through other vaccine providers in the area, including the Meijer Pharmacy in Benton Harbor, Spectrum Health Lakeland, and Rite Aid Pharmacies around the county.

The Berrien County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution on March 4 to hold a 2,000-dose COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College on March 9, with second doses scheduled for April 6, according to the resolution. The Mendel Center is being used because the health department does not have enough space at its location, with social distancing protocol, to handle such a large clinic.

From Friday to Sunday, March 5-7, Berrien County vaccine providers gave out another 1,047 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, according to state data, bringing the total number of vaccine doses administered in the county to 42,834, with 16,493 of those being second doses.

New COVID-19 cases in Berrien County continued their slight tick up as 55 new COVID-19 cases were reported over Saturday, Sunday and Monday, March 6-8.

That’s slightly higher than the last few weekend totals, but still holding a steady trend. During the previous weekend the county recorded 48 new cases over the three days, and the weekend before that, 35 new cases.

Health officials have said as the pandemic continues, the number of new cases will go up and down frequently.

Berrien County also recorded 72 new recoveries over the weekend. No new deaths were recorded. Last weekend the county had recorded 100 recoveries and three deaths.

With deaths and recoveries, Berrien County is at about 569 active COVID-19 cases. That’s down from 592 last Monday.

COVID-19 hospitalizations at Spectrum Health Lakeland continued to be steady over the weekend, with nine patients admitted on Saturday, 10 on Sunday and 12 on Monday.

Rules loosened

A new state order that took effect Friday, March 5, and runs through April 19, allows bars and restaurants to operate at 50 percent indoor dining capacity, up to 100 people, with tables six feet apart and a maximum of six people at a table. The curfew on indoor dining is now 11 p.m. Retail shops are allowed to operate at 50 percent indoor capacity, up from 30 percent. Indoor private residential gatherings are capped at 15 people from three separate households. Outdoor residential gatherings are allowed to have up to 50 people. Indoor gatherings involving people from different households are allowed to have up to 25 people. Outdoor gatherings can resume with up to 300 people. Venues like movie theaters, bowling alleys and other entertainment purveyors may also increase indoor capacity to 50 percent, up to 300 people. Athletic stadiums and arenas that seat 10,000 people or fewer may allow up to 375 attendees. If the seating capacity is above 10,000, they can have 750 people. Casinos are allowed to function at 30 percent indoor capacity. Gyms are allowed to operate at 30 percent capacity, with workout machines at least six feet apart.

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