GLADWIN COUNTY – Starting with Governor Whitmer’s declaration of a State of Emergency for Michigan on Tuesday, March 10, and continuing with the closing of all K-12 schools on March 12 and the limiting of restaurant operation, closing bars, theaters, as well as other public spaces on March 16, Gladwin County has been directly affected by the impact of the Coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website defines the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. According to the website, the virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.
The CDC website explains that the virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The website states that it may be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, however, the CDC does not believe this to be the main way the virus spreads.
As reported in a press release from Gov. Whitmer, there has not yet been a reported case of the Coronavirus in Gladwin County. The closest county with a reported case is in Bay County with only one case reported. The highest number of cases in Michigan is in Oakland County with a total of 14 reported cases at this time.
The fact that Gladwin County has yet to have a reported case for the virus does not mean that its residents have not been affected by the impact of the outbreak.
School closings, bar closings, activity center closings, as well as numerous event cancellations are causing concern for the residents of Gladwin County. President Donald Trump has advised against gatherings of over 10 people after a CDC recommendation of no gatherings over 50 people. In the short amount of time, Gladwin County has since been able to find ways to persist.
Gladwin has recently formed a COVID-19 Task Force for preparation in the event of a local outbreak. In a release from Gladwin City Administrator, Chris Shannon, it is stated that the focus of the Gladwin COVID-19 Task Force will be on how Gladwin plans to deliver basic emergency services including police, fire, medical response, water and wastewater if there is an outbreak in the area. The City’s Fire Chief George Alward and Police Chief Eric Killian will take the lead on the task force.
In the late night of Thursday, March 12, Governor Whitmer announced the closing of all K-12 schools. Both superintendents at Gladwin and Beaverton had to work quickly on Friday in response to the announcement.
“We’re scrambled around a little bit, but it’s okay,” Gladwin Superintendent Rick Seebeck said. “I don’t expect the Governor to let Rick Seebeck know what her intentions are as far as keeping the public safe. She made the announcement when she did and it’s my job to deal with that and we are, so we’re putting things in place and getting everything in order and we’ll be fine.”
Letters were issued out by both city’s superintendents to parents and guardians on Friday, informing them of the situation.
Members from the Gladwin Community Schools gathered on Monday, March 16 and had meals for parents and guardians to pick up for students at the Gladwin High School. The meal pickups have been scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Gladwin High School.
For future Monday meals, the food bags will include three day’s worth of food for each child 18 years of age or younger in the home. On Thursdays, the bag will include four day’s worth of food for each child 18 years of age or younger. There will be a drive up location set up in the parking lot of the High School.
“I want to thank those that are doing the food banks,” Gladwin City Councilwoman and President of the Gladwin Board of Education, Carol Darlington said. “Gladwin Community Schools is just one of the schools, Beaverton and Clare are also doing it. We gave out over 1,600 meals today [March 16] and deliveries were made all over.”
Dr. Lydia Watson, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for MidMichigan Health spoke with the Record on many of the preparations being made by MidMichigan Health for the Coronavirus.
“We have been doing quite a bit over the last three to four weeks,” Watson said. “We have established an internet site for all of our employees that has a COVID-19 tool kit, CDC materials, and Health Department news. We’ve even included links to the CDC sites because it is a very fluid situation and recommendations are changing almost daily.”
After the first reported cases in Michigan were announced, Watson noted that there has been an increase in the amount of people seeking evaluations for the Coronavirus. MidMichigan Health has enacted their emergency preparedness protocol and also established a COVID-19 response team. The team meets twice a week to look at the needs and issues regarding the virus and then communicates the information to everyone.
Tents have been set up outside of emergency departments at MidMichigan Health hospitals and medical centers to allow staff to test patients as efficiently and safely as possible. According to Watson, there are signs posted outside of the emergency departments directing people who have symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, and shortness of breath) or that have traveled or been exposed to an infected person to call a phone number from their vehicle that will put them in touch with a nurse. The nurse will then determine if they need to be brought into the triage tents for further evaluation.
Watson said that MidMichigan Health has not yet been supplied with testing kits for the Coronavirus but that they do still have the ability to test patients.
“We know which tubes to use and how to take the samples and get them labeled. If we need to have the COVID-19 test run, we send it to the state.” Watson said.
With the current timing of the outbreak, Watson mentioned that it is more likely that people who are suffering from similar symptoms of the Coronavirus are instead sick with the flu.
“It’s important to know that it’s still flu season,” Watson said. “If you come in with fever, cough, and shortness of breath, it’s still, right now, more likely to be influenza than COVID-19.”
Like the flu, washing hands as often as possible as well as using hand sanitizer to disinfect is important for preventing the spread of the virus. Social distancing is another prevention method according to Watson.
“The second thing you want to do is social distancing,” Watson said. “That keeps people apart so that they are not picking up any of the respiratory droplets that might carry the virus. That is why all the schools are closing and that’s why we don’t want patients flooding our emergency departments.”
Calling a primary care physician would be the best way to initially act on any symptoms people may be worried about. If no primary care physician is available, then a call to an urgent care or an emergency room would be the next best according to Watson.
The Gladwin City Council met on Monday, March 16 to discuss many current topics as well as the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on the city of Gladwin.
“I’m glad that the city has been responding,” Gladwin City Councilwoman Sarah Kile said. “I think we need to look at long term. People are going to be out of work so we need to think about what we are going to do with water bills and things like that.”
A press release was issued at the city council meeting announcing the closing of Gladwin City Hall and all its services until further notice. All City Hall business will be conducted via postal mail, email, fax or phone only. Payments for utilities may be left in the drop box located outside the City Hall building. Staff information can be found on the city of Gladwin’s website at www.gladwin.org.
Mayor Dee Jungman made a statement during the meeting to emphasize the importance of making a community effort to prevent future cases in Gladwin.
“I think people need to take this very seriously,” Jungman said. “We all have to work together, because I don’t want anyone here getting sick. Please tell your friends and neighbors to stay at home if they’re sick. If we all work together we will get through this completely.”
Working together in any way possible to best care for the community seems to be a common goal for the city leaders.
“I’m telling all my staff that ‘we need to make sure we are willing to be inconvenienced to protect the most vulnerable people.’ That’s part of being a good citizen and a good community member.” Rick Seebeck said.