Grant County has its first presumptive positive case of novel coronavirus COVID-19, the Grant County Department of Health announced Friday morning.
The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) has also confirmed the case, adding it to its list of statewide cases.
According to a press release from the county health department, personnel are working closely with local and state officials to identify and monitor individuals the patient has been in contact with.
Due to privacy laws, no information about the patient was released.
With this first case, county officials say they’re in new territory.
“This is the first time our health department has done this sort of thing,” Grant County Health Officer Dr. William David Moore said.
Despite that fact, officials said they’ve been planning for a while, anticipating the virus would eventually spread to the area.
Moore said officials have begun the process of interviewing the patient to determine when they first started showing symptoms, who the patient has come in contact with and whether or not this particular case was caused by travel or community spread.
This announcement comes on the heels of an executive order from the Grant County Commissioners, signed Thursday, declaring a local disaster and public health emergency.
That executive order raised the county’s travel advisory from yellow to orange, meaning that any travel on county roads should be kept to essential travel only.
Essential travel includes going to and from work, getting groceries, seeking medical attention and any other emergencies.
Moore said the commissioners signed the executive order before county officials knew about the presumptive positive case.
“Once the test kits started going out, we anticipated we were going to start seeing some (cases),” Mark Bardsley, president of the Grant County Commissioners said. “The main focus of why we pulled that trigger is that whole concept of social distancing.”
While the travel advisory is in place, Moore and Bardsley said one major concern is people congregating in groups. They’re urging citizens to follow recommendations coming from the local, state and national levels to limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
With those recommendations, Moore suggested citizens practice physical distancing, noting people should mind their personal space, but not cut themselves off entirely.
“We want people to stay in touch with media and other things,” Moore said. “We don’t want them to be in social isolation.”
Bardsley said the commissioners’ decision was made to help prevent a rapid spread of the virus, which could overwhelm local healthcare systems.
“If we go above that line, people that need (Intensive Care Unit) service are going to be more likely to have a fatal result,” Bardsley said.
According to Sarah Evans of Marion General Hospital (MGH), the healthcare system has been screening incoming patients at a number of locations and set up a call center and virtual clinics at 765-660-6999, which is being used to communicate with anyone experiencing symptoms of a respiratory illness.
Evans said MGH staff members are protecting themselves by using masks and goggles when evaluating and treating patients with respiratory symptoms.
“We’ve been doing that well ahead of the first (presumptive) positive case in the county,” Evans said. “We’re asking that (patients) come alone, or if they have someone, they wait in the car.”
Though Evans said MGH is “adequately supplied” to meet community needs, she said having enough resources is a concern throughout the country, especially with the growing number of cases.
“As it’s progressing, it’s changing day by day, hour by hour,” Evans said.
Should local healthcare systems get overwhelmed, Evans said MGH is looking at availability of additional facilities to care for the “sickest of sick,” treating respiratory issues at specific locations and providing alternative locations for individuals with other healthcare needs.
While the health of county residents is a top priority, officials know this situation impacts all aspects of life, both at an individual and community level.
Grant County Emergency Management Agency Director Bob Jackson said declaring local emergencies helps unlock funding, which could potentially extend to private citizens.
Jackson encouraged citizens to look into assistance programs on the State of Indiana’s website.
“There’s no guarantees … but if you don’t at least do the right paperwork, I can guarantee there’s no guarantee,” Jackson said. “...There’s a guideline for just about every segment of society.”
With the progression of the virus, organizations across the county have closed their doors to the public. The county complex is closed to the public, and the City of Marion’s municipal building will begin limited public access Monday at noon.
“We’re monitoring this day by day,” Marion Mayor Jess Alumbaugh said.
Like all other local officials, Alumbaugh encouraged people to remain calm, urging them to look out for one another, especially those who are at a greater risk.
“We talk about ‘City of Champions,’ let’s be champions,” Alumbaugh said. “This is a first for everyone. We’ll come out stronger because of it.”