Approximately 150 Grant County residents have been tested for novel coronavirus COVID-19 as of Wednesday, according to Marion General Hospital’s (MGH) Sarah Evans.
At a Wednesday press conference, Evans said more than half of those individuals have received their test results, with nine confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county as of Wednesday afternoon. No Grant County COVID-19 deaths have been reported as of Wednesday afternoon.
Evans said the majority of those who have tested positive in the county have been able to self-isolate at home and manage symptoms without further health care interventions. Some individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 who required hospitalization have fully recovered and been discharged from the hospital, Evans said.
Evans said the county’s testing capacity and criteria have remained about the same compared to last week, with turnaround times for results staying at about 1-2 days for the state health department lab and 10 or more days for reference labs.
She said there has been no indication as of yet when the newly FDA-approved Abbott rapid tests that reportedly give results in 5-13 minutes will be available to Grant County.
Grant County Public Health Nurse Amber Turner said while COVID-19 can be deadly and public health officials are preparing for absolute worst case scenarios, people recovering in the county mirrors data that shows about 80 percent of those who test positive have mild symptoms.
Evans said Indiana has 10 public health preparedness districts, and Grant County is a part of the 13-county District 6. She said MGH, the county health department and the county Emergency Management Agency have all been communicating regularly with other counties in the district and are looking holistically at the needs of the entire district while still offering top care to county residents who need it.
“We are looking at what’s available in our district and how we can share them across hospitals,” Evans said. “I think that has been our focus more than just what’s immediately right here but how is it that we can make sure we meet the needs of all of the patients throughout our district has really been our focus.”
EMA Director Bob Jackson said lending a hand to neighboring District 6 counties is also a way to help Grant County.
“We really are in a position where we need to support the other counties. Grant County is in a good position right now to do that. We want to make sure we stay in that position, but honestly it is bigger than Grant County,” he said. “Our mission locally is bigger than Grant County because what happens in our neighboring counties affects us. We’ve already seen that.”
Jackson said the collaboration within the district has led to creative solutions to problems and resources going to where there is the most immediate need.
“There are people planning different things, so the number of beds is an ever-changing number,” he said. “We have more yesterday than we did the day before just because people have thought outside the box and we’re doing different things.”
Evans said she could not give an exact number of how many of the 1,177 baseline ventilators Gov. Eric Holcomb announced were available statewide were in Grant County, adding that the number of ventilators is not necessarily a good indicator of a hospital’s preparedness for COVID-19.
“Everybody wants to go to ventilator support, but there’s a lot of medical management that happens before it gets to the point that they need or require a ventilator,” she said. “Nasal canula, oxygen, high flow oxygen, we can use BiPAP machines before we even get to the point that you truly need to get someone on a ventilator.”
Jackson said the county’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) has improved with the help of the community and local manufacturers, but there is still more work to be done to ensure first responders and health care workers have the protection they need when serving the community.
“We literally look at the worst case scenario and what we would need PPE wise. We’re not there yet, but it’s better than it has been so we’re making progress,” he said.
Masks and gowns are the biggest needs for first responders and EMS workers, Jackson said.
Evans said MGH has acquired a UV light that can decontaminate N95 respirator masks so they can be reused.
“We’re monitoring them for any breakdown in the masks, so if we see that it obviously gets taken out of service, but we can do that to conserve our PPE stock and extend the life of those masks,” Evans said. “Rather than just a single use or per shift, we can decontaminate those and reutilize them.”
Marion Fire Department Chief Paul David said firefighters are taking all necessary precautions, including responding to calls with Tyvek protective suits. He asked anyone calling 911 with any respiratory or flu-like symptoms to notify first responders of any other individuals in the house at the time and encouraged, if possible, for patients to go meet responders outside of their homes to receive treatment.
“We’re trying to protect our first responders as much as possible and deliver the level of care that we’ve always delivered to the citizens,” he said. “We just ask for cooperation through this ordeal that we’re going through, and early notification to us will help us preserve those first responders in order to render care to others in the community that may need it.”
David also noted that since COVID-19 is made of proteins and fat, washing your hands for 20 seconds with any type of soap will break up those fats and kill the virus. He said it is not necessary to seek out antibacterial soap if it is in scarce supply since any soap will work the same at killing COVID-19.
Turner acknowledged there have sometimes been lags between what the county health department is reporting and what the Indiana State Department of Health online dashboard shows for confirmed cases in the county. She said tests made after midnight or early in the morning may not be reflected immediately on the state map, but the county health department is reporting updated numbers as soon as they receive them from ISDH.
“So if we say a different number than what’s on the map, it’s because we have seen it on our end. It may just not have been reflected on the map,” she said. There is a reporting system that we have to follow, so we hope that you’ll be patient with us, you’ll understand the numbers we do give are the numbers that we are seeing that are directly reported to us from the Indiana State Department of Health.”
Moore said there are procedures in place now where deceased individuals with recorded respiratory issues or other reasons to suspect COVID-19 without another obvious cause of death will be tested for COVID-19 by Grant County Coroner Stephen Dorsey.
Only positive results of those tests would be be made known to the health department, and COVID-19 would be listed as a cause of death on death certificates if tests are positive, he said.
Evans said she is appreciative of community support as hospital staff members are taking every precaution to stay healthy themselves and keep their families safe, which can take a toll on them.
“Our staff are stripping their clothes at the door, throwing them immediately in the washing machine, Lysoling as best they can, whatever products they have at home for their shoes, taking them off, leaving them in their vehicles, disinfecting their vehicle, showering before they even make contact with their family members,” she said. “And that’s a different kind of fatigue on your health care workers. That’s just a different type of thinking.”
As national and state models and leaders predict a surge of cases over the next three weeks, local officials said they are preparing for the absolute worst while also taking things one day at a time and addressing the most pressing needs of that day.
“We make the best decisions we can make based on the information at hand and we look at it every day,” he said. “Literally every morning, a group of first responders and different organizations throughout the county and communities plan for what we know to be our best information.”
Jackson reiterated that social distancing, staying at home as much as possible and staying 6 feet from others when venturing out for essentials are the best things the community can do to help those on the front lines of the pandemic. Gas City Mayor Bill Rock specifically made a plea to younger residents who are not as high of a risk to take recommendations seriously.
“Please take these safety precautions and tips even if you are young or otherwise healthy,” he said. “It is critical because you can spread this to your grandparents or parents or someone who may be compromised in health, so it’s very important that the young people stay home too.”
Anyone with questions for Marion General Hospital staff regarding COVID-19 can call 765-660-6999 24/7.