Local Officials Address Coronavirus Issues

Yes, we have a pandemic on our hands. No, it doesn’t have to turn into pandemonium. Yes, controlling it in our little corner of the world is, quite literally, in our hands.

That seemed to be the message from Thursday’s (3/13/2020) New Castle-Henry County Economic Development Corp. board meeting, as local health officials updated business professionals on the Coronavirus that has now spread across the globe.

Angela Cox, Henry County’s Health Department administrator, teamed with Dr. John Miller to present the latest information. Cox said the virus was officially declared a “pandemic” Wednesday.

“It means the numbers have gotten high enough, it’s a worldwide problem,” Cox explained.

At the same time, she emphasized there are no official cases in Henry County yet.

“At this point it’s about good hygiene and communication,” Cox said, again urging everyone to wash their hands frequently.

While the nearby town of Pendleton has closed its town hall, Cox emphasized there were only 10 confirmed cases in Indiana.

But Cox and Miller stressed while panic is not warranted, the virus should be taken seriously.

“Just to put things into perspective,” Cox said, “you keep hearing that 80 percent of the people (who get the virus) are going to have mild symptoms. But if you’re over 60 I want you to pay very close attention to me right now. In Henry County we’ve got a population of about 48,476. Do you know what 20 percent of that population is? Nine thousand people. I do not have a hospital within a 100-mile radius that could take care of 9,000 people.

“I’ve been a nurse for 25 years. This is what we’ve been preparing for ever since I walked out of nursing school.”

Both health professionals answered questions from EDC members ranging from test-kit availability to appropriate business policy and the announcement of a statewide nursing-home quarantine. Here’s a recap:

Who’s most at-risk?

Dr. Miller stressed the virus is particularly worrisome for anyone over 60 years old and “absolutely” anyone with underlying medical conditions.

He said those with COPD, diabetes or auto-immune diseases as well as those on Prednizone, have medical infusions, or who are on chemotherapy should be extra cautious.

Nursing-home status

Miller said as of now, nursing homes statewide are under a quarantine order. What that means, however, could vary from facility to facility.

“This is statewide/nationwide,” Miller said. “This is actually coming down from the feds to quarantine all nursing homes. We’re talking weeks.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean no visitors allowed. But Cox emphasized a screening of visitors will be more detailed than usual.

Cox said she’s seen visitors at other nursing homes limited to two very specific people at a time.

“My sister was screened for a fever before being allowed to visit our mom,” Cox said. “She was asked about travel. She was screened for signs and symptoms before allowed to go in.”

Cox added the state quarantine order says no visitors, but “each facility uses its own discretion.”

Test-kit availability

“At 6:01 p.m. last night I received from the Indiana State Department of Health our updated testing guidelines,” Cox said. “Up until now, there has been a limited number of tests. That is why we have not done drive through testing like we did with flu shots in 2009. The criteria was you had to have come in contact with someone who had a positive test or you had traveled to a country that was a Level 2 or 3 emergency. As of yesterday, private laboratories have testing available. Now this doesn’t mean we want every doctor testing everyone. We still want them to communicate with us. It has to have a doctor’s order. The health department does need to know about it. We are coordinating efforts with Henry Community Health to get the testing done and sent out.”

How is this virus different?

“This virus is brand new,” Cox said. “We’ve never seen it. We know nothing about it.”

“It is related to SARS, it is related to MRSA but it is totally different,” Miller added. “There is no cross protection at all.”

“If you come to us with influenza, we have anti-viral medications that we’ve been using for years that can help decrease the severity of it,” Cox said. “We have no known anti-viral that will affect COVID-19 at this point.”

Are children at-risk?

“Children under 5, but it’s not to the level of worry that we have with older people,” Cox said.

“The issue with the kids is that many of them are carriers,” Dr. Miller said. “We just haven’t tested them. We don’t have those statistics and pediatric offices are really scared.”

Best business practices?

REMC Chief Executive Officer Shannon Thom said he didn’t want his REMC office to be the first that turned the word “pandemic” into pandemonium.” He asked for advice on best business practices.

Cox suggested:

  • allowing employees to work from home if possible;
  • being flexible with absenteeism policies;
  • Check the ISDH website for more information and tips. “They’ve done an excellent job of outlining all the different links through the CDC,” Cox said. “It’s like a tool kit just for you. It’s very easy to understand. It talks about if your people can work at home, please let them work at home. If you have people who are 60 and older, please let them have the information about what the signs and symptoms are.”

Policy suggestion

Cox said health-department employees now have a policy that if someone goes on a cruise outside of the U.S., they are quarantined for 14 days after returning

“They understand this. They are health professionals,” Cox said.

Are tests available in Henry County?

Tests are available and have been the entire time, Cox said. But it’s not a quick process.

“The ISDH is prioritizing cases and their turnaround has been about 24 hours,” she said. “An outside private lab is 3-5 days. Presumptively positive tests go to the CDC for confirmation.”

Flu shots still available

Miller said the general public should keep in perspective that the regular flu still affects and kills far more people than the Coronavirus at this point. In his mind, the regular flu is still “our major issue.” Cox said flu shots are still available.

“I have high-dose flu shots for people who are 65 and over,” she said. “Hopefully, this is an eye-opener for the rest of the public,” Angela said. “A flu shot doesn’t mean you won’t get the flu, but it does say your symptoms are going to be much less severe.”

Cox said she felt worse with the flu than taking chemotherapy.

More info

The Henry County Board of Public Health planned to meet Thursday evening. The Courier-Times will feature coverage of that meeting in Saturday’s edition.

– Story & image by Darrel Radford (DRadford@TheCourierTimes.comof The Courier-Times. Read more local stories at www.TheCourierTimes.com.