SWMI health departments partner for vaccine initiative as two counties hit 'substantial' case threshold

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DOWAGIAC, Mich. -- Two Southwest Michigan counties have hit the substantial COVID-19 transmission threshold, as outlined by the CDC.

Both Cass and Van Buren counties are now at that second level on the CDC’s four-tier ranking.

As a result, the Van Buren-Cass District Health Department announced Wednesday they would be following suit with the CDC’s recommendation that people – vaccinated or not – wear masks inside public places where community transmission is at the substantial rate or higher.

Cass County has one of the lowest vaccine rates in Michigan as well.

The Van Buren-Cass District Health Department is also now teaming up with the Berrien County Health Department and United Way of Southwest Michigan to find people who can be vaccine champions.

The three groups recognize they’ve gotten through their motivated vaccine participants and it’s not public figures who are going to inspire those on the fence, but people they trust in their community.

“We know misinformation is a significant challenge to encouraging vaccination, so we’ve teamed up to recruit vaccine champions, willing to use their spear of influence to permeate accurate, fact-based information,” said Gillian Conrad, MPH, Communications Manager at the Berrien County Health Department.

“Community influencers have such a greater reach and impact than those of us who come from an organization,” Danielle Persky, Health Officer at the Van Buren-Cass District Health Department added.

Those who apply and ultimately get accepted will get monthly stipends or mini-grants funded by the three groups.

“Each vaccine champion will receive training, it will be from all three parties, they will be employed by United Way of Southwest Michigan and that’s where they’ll receive the monthly paychecks,” said Persky.

They know people are weary of the pandemic 14 months later, but they say vaccination remains the quickest way out.

“We can have that community-wide protection that we need in order to truly get out of this pandemic mode,” said Conrad. 

While the Van-Buren Cass District Health Department did issue that recommendation on masks indoors, the Berrien County Health Department says their guidance is not changing yet – as the county is at a moderate transmission level – and 53% of people have at least their first vaccine dose.

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