The Montgomery County Health Department is working with the local hospital, emergency management agency and other providers to set up limited drive-thru coronavirus (COVID-19) testing.
At first, tests will be available only to essential personnel such as health care workers, EMS crews, nursing home employees and jail officers due to limitations in storing and transporting viral specimens, county health officer Dr. Scott Douglas told health board members Tuesday.
“Our hope is down the road that kind of testing may be expanded to people that have chronic medical conditions who become sick, but when we first become available for testing it will be significantly limited to only those high-risk groups that we have to keep functioning and we have to keep on the job,” Douglas said.
Plans were still being finalized and a public announcement is expected in the coming days, based on having adequate supplies. Once testing begins, criteria will depend upon guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which constantly changes as the pandemic evolves.
The county reported its first COVID-19 case Tuesday in an adult who is hospitalized in another county. The health department has identified people who had direct contact with the patient and asked them to self-quarantine.
The hospital was working to identify caregivers and employees who may have had contact with the patient, Douglas added.
No other information about the patient or the name of the hospital was released.
The county has received a “very small” shipment of personal protection equipment from the national stockpile, health department administrator Amber Reed said. Among the supplies were gloves, face shields and N95 masks.
“We’re still waiting on a full delivery,” Reed told board members, adding that the emergency management agency has also placed an order for equipment.
A temporary supply of protective gear, including equipment already on hand from the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, will be sent to local long-term care facilities, EMS personnel, hospitals and assisted living facilities, Reed said.
The health board approved the appointment of a deputy county health officer to help coordinate the local response.
Local physician Dr. John Roberts will assist Douglas in reviewing protocols and guidance. He will be paid out of a special account set up in the county’s rainy day fund to streamline expenses that can be reimbursed through a federal emergency declaration.
Douglas has received a $10,000 pay increase due to his increased workload.
“And I will say, he really didn’t want the money,” Reed said, “but he’s earned it and he deserves it and he should be compensated accordingly.”
The health department convened its first coronavirus meeting with county and city leaders March 6 to update the area’s emergency action plan. As the meeting ended, local stakeholders learned of Indiana’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, a Marion County resident who had traveled to a conference in Boston.
As the number of cases grew, the Board of Commissioners declared a countywide public health emergency March 16, activating the Emergency Operations Center. Reed stationed herself at the center the next day and has been involved in daily meetings on the response.
The health department’s office handled multiple calls from residents, long-term care facilities and urgent care centers.
“That’s kind of moderated a little bit but it’s still there,” public health nurse Becki Reynolds said. “Just lots of questions, [people] wanting to get tested, things like that.”
Like all county offices, the health department is closed to the public, but infants are still being vaccinated. Water samples are received and birth certificates handed out at the door. Staff members have their temperatures checked daily.
As of Wednesday morning, there were 477 positive COVID-19 cases in 53 Indiana counties. Later, Fountain County announced its first case in a resident.
The number of deaths rose to 14. More than 3,350 people have been tested.
Douglas said measures such as Indiana’s stay-at-home order were in place to prevent overwhelming the health care system.
“I think that’s a simple message: We’re just trying to prevent everybody from being sick at the same time,” he said.