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In the midst of the COVID-19 out­break, Hillsdale Hos­pital set up a tent to screen staff and patients as they enter. The county also con­firmed its first case of the virus on Monday. Facebook

Hillsdale County reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 23, as an adult male tested pos­itive for the virus. 

The Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Com­munity Health Agency announced the results Monday and said the man is self-iso­lating. Mean­while, the agency is working to notify indi­viduals who came in contact with the patient. The City of Hillsdale and Hillsdale Hos­pital are increasing prepa­ra­tions for a potential out­break in the county. 

“This indi­vidual rec­og­nized that he had potential symptoms for COVID-19, sought out testing,  chose to self-isolate, and stayed in iso­lation while awaiting results,” said Rebecca Burns, health officer for the BHSJ. “This par­ticular case did every­thing right to min­imize spread in our com­munity.”

More indi­viduals in Hillsdale County have been tested and their results are pending, according to Burns. Due to the highly con­ta­gious nature of the virus, Burns said the most important thing to do is “follow the governor’s order and stay home. People should be basi­cally keeping to them­selves within their own home, so we can stop trans­mission.”

Rachel Lott, director of mar­keting and com­munity out­reach for the Hillsdale Hos­pital, said the hos­pital is preparing for the virus and increasing com­mu­ni­cation between its depart­ments.

“We have been preparing for coro­n­avirus for several weeks now,” Lott said. “We have an inter­dis­ci­plinary task force, a group from dif­ferent areas of the hos­pital, working on prepa­ration, pre­vention, and having all our ducks in a row.”

Lott said the hos­pital is paying close attention to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s exec­utive orders, like the one released on March 23 that issued a “tem­porary requirement to suspend activ­ities that are not nec­essary to sustain or protect life.” These orders have led the hos­pital to ban friends and family of patients from vis­iting, even for births. 

“We know it’s hard and emo­tionally chal­lenging for people,” Lott said. “We have to evaluate the risk, and right now, it’s safer for us to have the restric­tions in place, as dif­ficult as we know it is.”

Lott said the hos­pital is antic­i­pating the virus to spread and has insti­tuted pre­cau­tions at the hos­pital, including placing a tent outside the entrance where doctors, nurses, and patients must be screened before entering. 

“Anyone who is poten­tially entering the hos­pital has to be screened,” she said. “We ask them a few ques­tions related to symptoms, related to contact with con­firmed COVID-19 cases, and based on that we determine if they can come in.”

While it’s just a screening, and not an official COVID-19 test, if an indi­vidual has potential symptoms or contact with an infected person, they are denied entrance to the hos­pital unless they require imme­diate emer­gency care. 

Lott stressed the impor­tance of ver­i­fying infor­mation, espe­cially in a time sat­u­rated with rumors. 

“If you see or hear any­thing about coro­n­avirus, check official channels to see if it’s accurate,” Lott said, listing the hospital’s Facebook page or website, the health department’s website, the Centers for Disease Control and Pre­vention, and Michigan Department of Health and Human Ser­vices as reliable sources. “We want to make sure that people are making deci­sions for them­selves and their fam­ilies based on accurate infor­mation.”

The City of Hillsdale is also taking mea­sures to slow the spread of the virus, with Mayor Adam Stockford encour­aging res­i­dents to “practice the social dis­tancing guide­lines that all our leaders have been pro­fessing.”

“I encourage people to do what makes them feel com­fortable and safe,” he said. “Keep 6 feet dis­tance from people and follow the basic hygiene rules like washing hands.”

Stockford said drop­boxes have been set up outside City Hall for pay­ments so that res­i­dents don’t have to come inside. Addi­tionally, the Field of Dreams Park and Hillsdale Com­munity Library are both closed, and nonessential city workers are allowed to work from home. Council members are also not required to attend biweekly meetings in person. 

Stockford said he is opti­mistic about the actions taken by res­i­dents and is con­fident in their ability to overcome a potential virus out­break in the area. 

“People here are respon­sible and care about their neighbors,” he said. “The com­munity effort that I’ve seen, from the hos­pital to small busi­nesses, has just been incredible. It really shows the com­munity that has come together. I’m really proud of Hillsdale right now.”

All res­i­dents of the state of Michigan are ordered to stay home unless nec­essary, fre­quently wash hands, and practice social dis­tancing. Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 should contact their healthcare provider imme­di­ately and practice self-iso­lation. If you are feeling well, do not seek testing, as testing is deter­mined based on risk. 

See http://bhsj.org for updated infor­mation on Hillsdale County and michigan.gov/coronavirus for the latest state updates and infor­mation on exec­utive orders.