Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Calhoun County series.
A dramatic and alarming rise in COVID-19 cases continues in Calhoun County and it is stressing local hospitals, according to officials with the county’s health department.
On Oct. 20 the health department recorded 50 deaths tied to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. As of Dec. 9, that number has increased to 135, says Eric Pessell, Health Officer with the Calhoun County Health Department.
During the county’s regularly scheduled Joint Operations Center call on Wednesday, he said the significant rise in the number of deaths is “very concerning.” The Joint Operations Center was activated in March to respond to the pandemic and its unique challenges to the community. It includes representatives from law enforcement, city and county officials and community organizations who have been meeting on a regular basis.
Dr. Richard Van Enk, Bronson Healthcare Director of Infection Prevention and Epidemiology, said on the call that the surge that Pessell has been documenting is basically what is being felt by healthcare workers at area hospitals.
“We have large numbers of patients all coming in at the same time with the same disease and they're stressing the healthcare system,” he says. “They’re all cared for in one location and some of them are quite sick, or critically ill, and some are dying. These are not easy patients to take care of. They require a lot of resources. This is a resource-intensive disease to take care of in the hospital.
“Because we have a large number of COVID patients, in addition to others, our nurses and doctors are working very hard. When you have a large number of COVID patients, it stresses the system a lot. There’s a limit to how much stress hospitals can handle.”
The increase in cases overall also reflects pediatric COVID-19 diagnoses that include children ages 0-17. In this particular population, teenagers ages 15 to 17 represented the highest percentage of COVID positive cases with 34.3 percent. Pessell says the local numbers reflect what is happening statewide. He says health officials are looking into the causes which may include participation in sports-related activities or the ability of teenagers to move around more freely.
By the end of the week, Pessell says he expects to have some good news with regard to the long-awaited vaccine.
“The vaccine rollout has broken into multiple phases though hospital and pharmacy systems and local hospitals,” he says.
Vaccine Phase 1 has been broken into three phases. The first to receive the vaccine will be healthcare personnel followed by essential workers, such as police and utility company workers, and then high-risk adults or adults 65 and older.
Van Enks ays some people have speculated that the reason healthcare workers should get the vaccine first is because they’re at the highest risk.
“That’s not true,” Van Enk says. “It’s about us being essential workers rather than us being vulnerable or at-risk. You need us to take care of you. We’re not going to bend the pandemic curve down by immunizing healthcare workers. It will take a huge number of people in the community to be immunized.
“If you get immunized, you are protected 24/7. It protects you as an individual and it protects your family because you’re less likely to spread the virus to them.”
Van Enk says vaccines are the only drugs individuals can take that protect others who don’t take them. “All of the other drugs given only affect the person that takes them. If we get enough herd immunity (through vaccination) in the community we can stop the spread of this pandemic.”
While there has been some discussion questioning the safety of the vaccine, Van Enk says, the pharmaceutical companies that have developed them, including Pfizer which has a large manufacturing facility in Portage, have done all of the proper studies.
“The FDA (Food & Drug Administration) is seeing the data sooner than they normally would,” he says. “The FDA is scheduled to meet about this tomorrow (Dec. 10).”
The vaccine that will eventually make its way to Calhoun County will likely be the one produced by Pfizer.
“It may be shipped next week,” Van Enk says. “It won’t be in the city or at a hospital or in someone’s arm, but it will be leaving a warehouse and it will be in the supply chain.”
The vaccine can’t come soon enough for hospital workers who are caring for COVID patients. Van Enk says he looks forward to when he’ll have time to focus on the more “normal stuff’ such as delivering babies and fixing broken legs.
However, until that time comes and people are being immunized, Pessell says, “We have to do everything in our power to continue to follow the basic messages about how people can protect themselves. We’re all going to have to continue to do this for the next several months.
“We need to double-down on our efforts.”
He says it is up to everyone to heed the state’s guidelines to wear masks, social distance, and refrain from gathering in large groups.
The moratorium on large gatherings has impacted the small business community, especially restaurants and bars that have had to close temporarily under state-mandated guidelines.
Kara Beer, President of the Battle Creek Chamber of Commerce, said during the JOC call that these businesses will have the opportunity to apply for grants of up to $15,000 from the newly-created Pure Michigan Small Business Relief Initiative
The fund has a total of $10 million that will be available to businesses including bars, lodging establishments, live event venues, and gyms. In order to be eligible, they must be abiding by all of the state regulations regarding the pandemic. Applications for this grant program will be available beginning Dec. 15.
“Local businesses are looking for grants rather than loans, knowing that a loan repayment could bankrupt them later on,” Beer says.
Beer also announced the launch of a special member benefit, the Holiday Chamber Cash Gift Certificate Program a program in partnership with Our Town Match Program sponsored by Consumers Energy. The goal is to stimulate the local economy with $30,000 in holiday gift certificates to be used at local chamber member businesses by March 31, 2021.
“This amazing 1:1 match is unprecedented, and we are so honored that Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce was selected for this program,” Beer says
This program is limited (while supplies last)
• to individual purchasers (a limit of 10 gift certificates per person may be purchased).
• All certificates are in $25 increments ($250 max per person).
• The 1:1 match per person would means a person who buys the maximum of 10 gift certificates for $250 would receive 20 gift certificates for a total of $500 total in gift certificates.
• Chamber members in good standing of the Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce may accept these gift certificates but the offer is open to the entire community for purchases.
Beer says people may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
to schedule a time to purchase and pick up their gift certificates starting Dec. 14 from 11-4 p.m. or to get additional information about the program.