COVID-19 outbreak at Sturgis manufacturing facility

BHSJ Health Officer: Outbreak tied to ‘significant increase’ in county cases

CENTREVILLE — Rebecca Burns, Health Officer at the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency (BHSJ), said an outbreak of COVID-19 at a manufacturing facility in Sturgis is tied to what she called a “significant increase” in cases of the virus in St. Joseph County.

Burns revealed that information to St. Joseph County commissioners during Wednesday’s executive committee meeting. As of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, there have been a total of 76 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in St. Joseph County.

At the end of April, according to BHSJ, St. Joseph County COVID-19 cases were at 32.

Burns told commissioners that through interviews with those affected at the manufacturing facility, Burns said some of them believed COVID-19 was a “government conspiracy.”

“When our nurses have spoken with individuals involved with that outbreak, it appears we have some who believed that the coronavirus is a government conspiracy and they don’t believe it’s real, so they’re not taking steps to social distance and be careful and cautious,” Burns said. “Unfortunately, individuals have gone to work contagious and spread it to others and a significant number that work there have contracted it and brought it home.”

Burns said in an email Wednesday evening that 25 of the county's 76 cases are tied to the facility. However, she did not specify the specific facility that was being affected.

Burns said at the beginning of the outbreak, St. Joseph County was “looking good” early on, but now she said that assessment has changed due to “perceptions people have around whether or not they believe they need to take personal action.”

Burns said the health department is continuing to call every case when they are identified and work with individuals to find out who their close contacts were, which go into their electronic medical record and are called every day for 14 days to ensure they don’t develop the virus.

“At this point, we are able to manage the flow of work with our own staff, some staff have been reassigned to COVID work, but we have been able to do the work without having to look for additional workers or volunteers to help,” Burns said.

BHSJ has also received COVID-19 funding through the state, Burns added, with some of the dollars originally coming from the state, with two “pass-throughs” of federal dollars to help with the response.

Commission chair Dennis Allen asked Burns if any of the facilities that are opening up have a preparedness response plan. Burns said even the facility that had the outbreak had a plan in place and were working with employees on safety protocols.

“We interact with those businesses every time that there’s an identified positive that works in their facility. We do reach out to them and talk to them about their plans,” Allen said. “We haven’t found anyone that doesn’t have one. They all seem to have one.”

When asked by Allen about if someone that wants to get tested can get tested, Burns said testing is still “limited” in the county.

“It is possible that you might be able to if you had an exposure and talk to your personal physician about that,” Burns said, adding local hospitals, Covered Bridge Healthcare and Revolution Health are conducting testing.

Burns said Michigan recently received a FEMA shipment of cotton swabs and viral mediums and are working on packaging and sending them to local health departments.

In other business…

  • Commissioners added to a future agenda a $12,000 grant for Animal Control from an anonymous donor, which would be used to build a quarantine room at the shelter.
  • Commissioners reviewed a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan, which detailed the requirements needed for the county to remain open for in-person work.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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