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.