ELKHART COUNTY — Elkhart County officials put a travel advisory in place after the county’s first positive case of COVID-19 at Elkhart General Hospital was reported Saturday. On Sunday, three presumptive positive cases were announced by Goshen Health.
The EGH patient is undergoing treatment in isolation at the hospital, according to a news release from Beacon Health System, the hospital’s parent company. No details have been released about the patient. The Elkhart County Emergency Management agency cited privacy laws in a separate release.
Beacon’s release also states several other patients have tested positive for the illness from the new coronavirus. They had called the health care system about symptoms they experienced, and after meeting guidelines, they were tested through an in-car screening process, the release shows. Those patients are said to be recovering at home.
Goshen Health officials said that of their three presumptive cases, one has been admitted to Goshen Hospital and two are quarantined at home under the monitoring of their primary care providers and health officials. Due to HIPPA privacy laws, no other information was shared by hospital officials.
“Goshen Health is working aggressively to reduce the spread of this virus,” Goshen Health President and CEO Randy Christophel said in news release. “We are fortunate to have an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Daniel Nafziger, as our chief medical officer, to direct us in our efforts. It will take all of us doing our part to get this period in history behind us — practice good hygiene, social distancing and adhere to the travel advisories.”
The Elkhart County Commissioners stamped a travel advisory over the county, taking effect at 5 p.m. Saturday. The EMA announced details in its release.
The advisory discourages unnecessary travel amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Though not enforceable, the advisory is more of a declaration to underscore the stated importance to limit personal interactions as much as possible in order to restrict the spread of the virus.
“We’re trying to let people know we’re serious,” said Jen Tobey, the county’s EMA director. “It’s our next step to say, “‘We’re not normal anymore.’”
Driving to work, picking up food, going to grocery stores, pharmacies or medical appointments, or checking relatives or loved ones are among reasons considered as essential travel under the advisory.
The local case is among the 201 positive cases of COVID-19 throughout Indiana as of the end of Sunday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported online. Six people have died as a result of the illness so far.
An incident command team, leading the county’s response to the situation under the EMA, met for about three hours Saturday, according to Tobey.
“Probably the most important thing that we found out today, it’s sort of a myth of this age-of-60-or-older,” she said. “Everyone is a target.”
The EMA’s news release clarifies the myth Tobey referred to is that only people aged 60 or older are affected by COVID-19. The virus can infect anyone, including young people, though the Centers for Disease Control’s website shows adults aged 65 or older are among those at a higher risk of severe illness as a result.
Since anyone can be exposed, and in the absence of a vaccine or treatments, measures like closing schools and calls for hand-washing hygiene and social distancing have become front-line defenses, according to Tobey and the CDC.
Tobey also said staff at Goshen and Elkhart General hospitals are asking patients to call their doctors or the hospitals first if they believe they need care for illness symptoms that aren’t emergencies.
“They’re really discouraging people from driving to a hospital or doctor’s office without calling first,” she said.
Both hospitals have implemented visitor restrictions. Beacon’s news release also says entryways have been limited at the system’s hospitals and checking people’s temperatures as they arrive.
The COVID-19 Incident Management Team includes representatives from the EMA, the county health department, the hospitals, law enforcement, the cities of Goshen, Elkhart and Nappanee and local non-profit organizations.