BENTON HARBOR — Berrien County residents 65 years and older can put themselves on a waitlist to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) on Jan. 7 announced creation of the waitlist, which is available on the department website, https://bchdmi.org/1745/COVID-19-Vaccine-Information.
The waitlist will allow the BCHD to contact people once they are able to start scheduling them for vaccination clinics.
Th Health Department and Spectrum Health Lakeland announced in a Jan. 11 joint news release that they would begin scheduling people 65 and older and other essential workers for COVID-19 vaccines. Because quantities of the vaccine are still limited, the joint approach prioritizes the highest-risk populations for severe COVID-19 illness due to risk factors, such as age, or exposure due to occupation.
The BCHD and Spectrum Health Lakeland will work from cross-referenced waiting lists of those who have expressed interest in getting the vaccine.
In addition, both agencies are targeting essential workers by coordinating directly with employers and other partner agencies to reach senior centers, homebound individuals and those at higher vulnerability.
They noted the best way for those over the age of 65 and employers of essential workers to indicate interest in receiving the vaccine is to complete the pre-registration wait list available on the BCHD website, or complete the survey available via Lakeland MyChart located under “questionnaires” in the My Record section.
People are encouraged to assist family and friends without internet access or email with the online pre-registration and waitlist process if possible, health officials wrote in the news release.
Community members should not call their health care provider’s office for vaccination scheduling or show up at the health department anticipating getting their vaccination without an appointment. Clinics are by appointment only and are not open to the general public, according to the release.
The BCHD and Lakeland will use the wait lists as the primary means of confirming eligibility and notifying community members when they are able to schedule a vaccination.
“Please note: completing either vaccine survey does not mean individuals will be scheduled for an appointment immediately,” health officials wrote in the release. “Vaccine supplies continue to be limited and are allocated to Berrien County by the state week by week. Both Spectrum Health Lakeland and the health department are asking for continued patience as planning is ongoing and appointment availability continues to expand.”
Berrien County is currently focusing on Phase 1A of vaccine distribution at the Berrien County Health Department offices and via drive-thru clinics at various locations, and anyone in Phase 1A Priority Groups can fill out a form on the department’s website, to be scheduled for a COVID vaccine.
Health Department Communications Director Gillian Conrad said 150 essential health care, emergency medical personnel and first responders received their vaccines at a Jan. 7 drive-through clinic held at the Chikaming Township Fire Department in Harbert.
According to guidance provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, those who fall into the priority groups eligible in Phase 1A include:
• Physicians, nurses, or other health care providers who may interface with patients such as: physical therapists, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, social workers, discharge planners, patient care associates, phlebotomists, blood bank technicians, radiology technicians, or any other support staff who interfaces with patients;
• Students (medical/nursing/physician assistant/other clinical students), residents or fellows in training in any specialty program who are involved in direct patient care, and volunteers who interface directly with patients;
• Dentists, dental hygienists, optometrists, and clerical staff in any area of the facility who may interface with patients;
• Hospital security guards who may interface with patients, environmental services staff in any area of facilities that may interface with patients or infectious material directly or indirectly, food service workers who may serve patients, their families, or employees;
• Pharmacists and laboratory workers (even if they do not interface with patients);
• Outpatient substance use disorder treatment facilities or other outpatient settings including, dialysis centers, rehabilitation centers, urgent care clinics, hyperbaric centers, infusion centers, rehabilitation facilities, or any other area that is involved in direct patient care whose job location may not be physically connected to a hospital.
The Berrien County Health Department has engaged directly with facilities that employ persons in these priority groups to coordinate vaccination for their employees. However, if there are facilities or persons who fall into these priority groups who have not yet heard directly from the Berrien County Health Department or their employer, they are encouraged to contact the health department for further information on upcoming clinic times and appointment instructions. Persons in Phase 1A can call 1-800-815-5485 or fill out an online form located on the health department’s website to indicate their interest in receiving the vaccine. Employees are encouraged to bring their occupation or work identification badge for verification upon arrival for the vaccination appointment.
COVID numbers update
On Saturday, Jan. 9, the Berrien County Health Department began recording presumed COVID-19 deaths on its data dashboard.
The BCHD posted that there have been 15 presumed deaths in the county since the beginning of the pandemic. The BCHD also included these presumed deaths in the age, race and gender breakdown, which showed that they were all people over the age of 60, according to the dashboard.
No new confirmed deaths were reported over the weekend, keeping the county’s confirmed death toll at 183.
Berrien County recorded 133 new COVID-19 cases over Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Jan. 8-10. That’s a similar total to the 139 new cases added the previous weekend, but still up from 76 the weekend before.
During the same three days (Jan. 8-10), the county added 289 new recoveries.
With deaths and recoveries, the county is at about 1,474 active COVID-19 cases. That’s down from 1,805 last Monday.
COVID-19 hospitalizations at Spectrum Health Lakeland continued on their steady decline over the Jan. 8-10 weekend. The hospital reported 40 patients Saturday morning, 38 Sunday morning and 39 Monday morning.
No new COVID-19 outbreaks were reported at area schools this week by the state.
The state updated its long-term care facility COVID data on Jan. 11 as well, showing that outbreaks at the facilities in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties continue to decline.
— David Johnson contributed to this report