BHSJ releases detailed data on county COVID-19 cases

More than 200 confirmed cases from Sturgis area

THREE RIVERS — The Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency (BHSJ) published data Wednesday with more details about the confirmed COVID-19 cases in St. Joseph County.

The data includes breakdowns by zip code, age, race and gender.

This is the second release of detailed data from BHSJ, having released the first set of detailed data July 2. Prior to these releases, the only data released by the health department had been only the total number of cases in each of the three counties the agency serves.

According to the data, which only contains laboratory-confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic, 206 cases, almost two-thirds of the county’s total number, came from the 49091 zip code, which includes the city of Sturgis. The next-highest area with confirmed cases is the 49093 zip code, which includes Three Rivers, with 34. The 49099 zip code, which includes White Pigeon, has 22.

By age group, the number of cases was highest among the 25-39 (80 cases), 40-49 (62) and 50-59 (62) age range.

By gender, the numbers were almost evenly split, with females accounting for 162 cases, and males accounting for 161. Two were listed as “unknown” gender. By race, Caucasians were the hardest-hit in St. Joseph County, with 230 cases, with the next-highest being Caucasian with unknown race, with 45.

The full breakdown of the data can be found on BHSJ’s website at http://bhsj.org/events/223.

BHSJ Health Officer Rebecca Burns said Monday the release of the case data came as a result of growing public requests for more information. She said the reason they haven’t released any of the updated data sooner is because of the small number of staff at the agency.

“It’s not that we don’t want to provide them more information, we’re a small health department, and our staff is completely engaged in response to this crisis or are working to trying and help their communities doing those core functions people need,” Burns said. “We didn’t have anyone available to pull this stuff together. What we did do was take a person off their normal duties and took them away from jobs they were working on and had them spend time simply to put this together to respond to people’s desire for additional information.”

Burns said the big takeaway from the case data is that there is a lot of community transmission in St. Joseph County.

“It is obvious that people are going out, that they’re not really social distancing, they’re not wearing masks, and it shows in the data,” Burns said.

As of press time Friday, the total number of COVID-19 cases in St. Joseph County since the pandemic began is 327, with five deaths reported. There has been a marked increase in cases in the county over the last few weeks, as the health department reported 202 total cases in the county less than a month ago on June 20.

Burns attributed the increase in cases to the increased availability of tests and the lack of social distancing in the county.

“Before, it was really hard to get a test during the early parts of this crisis. Only certain people qualified for a test, and as more testing became available, then more people could get a test,” Burns said. “Early on, if someone had symptoms but didn’t meet the criteria, they were advised to stay home and isolate and keep separate from their family, basically ride it out, and we weren’t able to test them.

“The other part is people aren’t social distancing anymore. It’s become a political statement about whether or not you wear a mask. We know if someone has the virus and they don’t know it or have a light case and they’re in the public and they’re not wearing a mask, they’re sharing those virus particles with everyone they come in contact with.”

Burns said the best things people can do right now to keep themselves safe are the same things people were doing a few months ago: Wearing masks and socially distance.

“This really is still not the time to congregate in groups,” Burns said. “If you do choose to get together with a group, to protect those you’re with, wear a mask. We know there are people who are asymptomatic, so they may be sharing or spreading the virus unknowingly. We’re asking for everyone’s help to protect their neighbors.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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