Although the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Grant County remain steady at three, county officials are planning for the possibility of a severe outbreak to ensure the county is best prepared to protect the public.
Grant County Health Officer Dr. William David Moore said he expects the number of positive cases to increase in the coming weeks as it has in other parts of the country and world, according to his remarks at a press conference Wednesday, and he said Grant County EMA Director Bob Jackson has been in touch with the Indiana National Guard to formulate several plans for dealing with a worst-case scenario.
Moore said they are talking through how the county would go about setting up temporary facilities in available buildings or tents should the need get to that level in the county, but they are not at that point yet, he reassured.
The better the community is at following social distancing orders of remaining 6 feet apart in public over the next few weeks, the sooner Grant County will get through the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, according to Jackson. He encouraged the public to postpone minor medical procedures like teeth cleanings and other doctor’s appointments, and boiled his advice down to “stay home, stay safe.”
“If a house doesn’t catch fire, I don’t have to go in and get you,” Jackson said. “If you don’t get sick and we don’t have to treat you...that takes a big burden off of our healthcare workers that are already being pushed pretty hard and that’s not going to let up anytime soon. So if we can maintain those efforts that’s a big deal.”
Marion General Hospital is a 99-bed facility, according to MGH representative Sarah Evans, and she said the number of open beds is constantly changing due to admitting and discharging people every hour and the hospital continuing to treat non-COVID-19 related illnesses. In order to help coordinate their efforts, Evans said MGH also reports availability to the state so regional hospitals can assist each other.
During this all, MGH is continuing to monitor its use of personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks, to best meet the needs of patients, Evans said. As of Tuesday reports received by the Chronicle-Tribune, MGH said they have an ample supply of ventilators and PPE although the hospital is looking into alternatives in case those supply levels change.
“(With) ventilators, there are different devices that can be used to manage the symptoms of patients and so it depends on what that specific patient’s needs is to what kind of device they need and how we can utilize those,” Evans said. “And we have some that are multifunctional.”
Jackson added that the EMA’s main focus right now is securing PPE to protect healthcare workers and protect the healthcare system.
“The masks are the critical ones. That need is being met. The covering material is continuing to be met, and those are the two big ones, the protective gear, hazmat gear and masks and then after that then the need shifts to making sure we have enough respirators,” Moore said. “Those are coming from limited sources, but most of them are coming from stockpiles our state department of health has.”
Anyone in the county that has items like gloves, masks, gowns and more should email email@example.com for more information on how to donate those items properly, Grant County Health Department Public Health Nurse Amber Turner said. Moore noted Jo-Ann Fabric has kits available for the public to put masks together and donate to places like Marion General Hospital (MGH).
To help the local healthcare system, Evans said anyone experiencing what could be symptoms of COVID-19 should first call the MGH call center number at 765-660-6999 so the proper treatment precautions can be implemented.
Dr. Dean Ricks, MGH medical director of laboratory services, said that COVID-19 is very serious for vulnerable populations of elderly and others with weakened immune systems, but stressed that the “vast majority” of those infected with the virus will experience mild symptoms like a cough and runny nose. Evans added that those with minor symptoms can self-manage their symptoms at home, reducing the stress placed on healthcare systems.
Jackson said EMA, the health department, local law enforcement, EMS and fire departments are all meeting daily at 9 a.m. to figure out action items and next steps for the day. He said he is also in contact with the state.
“The next thing that we are stepping up is all the jurisdictional folks, all the mayor and township trustees and town boards, we’ll start meeting with them regularly too just to make sure everybody has what they need,” Jackson said. “And if there’s a need in one part in the county and the other part can help, we know where we can shift resources around.”
Turner said the health department is working with Indiana State Department of Health and CDC criteria to notify people who have been in close contact with the three confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county.
“If you have been in close contact with one of our lab-confirmed cases, you will be notified by the local health department of possible exposure,” she said. “We want to settle the panic and fear in the community just for symptoms if they’re having and people thinking the person next to them has coronavirus and they’re not aware. We will be in contact with you if we do have a lab-confirmed case.”
Turner said people should continue to stay home as much as possible, wash your hands and social distance from others at least 6 feet apart when going out in public.
While EMA is working with schools, churches and food pantries to distribute food, Jackson said food is available and the supply chain is working well, so people do not need to stockpile items or clear out store shelves.
Marion Community Schools Superintendent Brad Lindsay said principals and teachers are working on offering optional enrichment activities to help keep learning going during the time of school closures. He encouraged parents of all county schools to check the schools’ websites for the latest information on food distributions, eLearning and more.