ADRIAN — Lenawee County has escaped the full wrath of the coronavirus while surrounding counties have seen far higher numbers of cases and death during the pandemic.

That was one topic of discussion during a virtual public town hall meeting Tuesday to update residents and discuss the expansion of testing as well as the reopening of county offices for in-person business.

At points in the town hall, the number of residents who joined the Zoom meeting reached 100. Participants were able to ask questions through the chat function.

Lenawee County health officer Martha Hall presented the county’s current situation since its first positive coronavirus case on March 16. At press time, the county had 88 lab confirmed cases and 18 probable cases. Two individuals with confirmed cases are hospitalized; 45 confirmed and 12 unconfirmed cases are being monitored at home; and 40 confirmed and 6 unconfirmed cases were discontinued from isolation and are improving according to the Lenawee County Health Department’s website. The county’s first coronavirus death was confirmed Monday.

Hall said that fortunately, the county's confirmed cases and deaths are much lower than the surrounding counties, including Hillsdale County, which at 3 p.m. Tuesday had 114 cases, Jackson County with 341, Monroe County with 275 and Washtenaw County with 1,004.

County administrator Martin Marshall, when describing later the disparity, said that through efforts of various facilities in the county, virus outbreaks have been kept out of facilities with confined populations such as nursing homes, adult foster care homes, jail and the youth detention facility. The steps taken, he said, have made a difference between other counties with higher numbers of deaths and cases such as Hillsdale County, which had an outbreak in one of its nursing homes. 

“I would say that unfortunately, we reported our first death associated with COVID-19 yesterday in Lenawee County. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to that family,” Hall said. “So we in Lenawee County, when we look at our numbers, our numbers are somewhat lower than our neighboring counties. But we also need to put it in perspective and realize that the numbers for Lenawee County ... we are well above the median for number of cases per county in the state of Michigan.”

Testing within the county has expanded along with a significant loosening of requirements for who are eligible to receive a coronavirus tests. Originally, testing was rationed for medical professionals, first responders and vulnerable populations. Since the state of emergency began, Hall said, the state’s criteria has changed multiple times.

"We are able to test individuals now that have mild symptoms," Hall said. "That's something that changed a couple of weeks ago. We're also able to test essential workers, so individuals who are currently working in jobs, even if they don't have symptoms, they are eligible to be tested as long as there are testing supplies available."

Hall said residents need to reach out to their healthcare provider if they believe they need to be tested and the provider would make the determination whether the person should be tested and forward the information to ProMedica Bixby or Herrick hospitals. 

Drive-up testing has been taking place at ProMedica Bixby Hospital in Adrian and on Tuesday, was expanded to ProMedica Herrick Hospital in Tecumseh. Both locations have testing by appointment only. 

Individuals without a provider may contact an urgent care facility to get connected with testing locally. 

The health department website also contains information about testing facilities outside of the county that can also be used by county residents, but warned that these facilities had varying requirements prior to testing and that residents should call ahead before making the drive.

Hall also told the attendees that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has added new symptoms to the list of coronavirus indicators, including muscle pain, headache, sore throat, chills, repeated shaking or a new loss of taste or smell.

She recommended that people start wearing cloth face coverings while they are out in public due to the CDC recommendation and the requirement from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order last week that residents wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces. 

"That is something that you're doing to help prevent the spread of a virus to someone else. We know that about one in four people potentially have the disease and never show any symptoms," Hall said. "We also know that individuals can be sharing the virus before they do come down with symptoms. So that cloth face covering is really just there to prevent those water droplets that come out of our mouths when we cough, sneeze, talk — trying to keep those from transferring to others." 

Marshall presented after Hall, saying that with the loosening of some restrictions statewide, the county will work towards staffing its offices back up to handle in person business.

Moving forward, the county will provide washable cloth masks to its employees and take safety precautions that have already been instituted in many essential businesses, such as splash shields and minimum distances. Individuals coming to conduct business in the county offices will also be required to wear a mask.

Marshall said that he believes these measures will be in place for a long time.

"There are at least three plans out there. The governor is developing a plan, the Senate has released a plan and the House has some kind of a plan," Marshall said. "All of those plans talk about a phase-in. There's no magic switch at some point down the road when we just all blissfully go back to the way that we've done things in the past and not have to worry about the spread of this virus. Until there is a treatment protocol, until there is a vaccine, we're all going to be concerned about recurrence of this virus and have to take steps to mitigate the spread of the virus. So we'll be looking at several months down the road as we phase in various parts of the economy and start up businesses." 

Lenawee County Commission Chairman David Stimpson, R-Tecumseh, who led the meeting, said that the county will provide masks for members of the public who come to the offices without one.

Meanwhile, county emergency operations believes it is in a good position with personal protective equipment (PPE), monitoring local agencies and ensuring that they all have at least a 30 day supply.

The county said that violations of the executive order are being handled by the health department and that residents should not call 911 to report violations, but instead contact the health department.

"They're going to investigate it. A lot of times it's an educational piece. We've had them go out and talk to a lot of different people and educate employers or individuals that are associated with what their behavior is and how it does or doesn't apply with the current executive orders. And we've gotten great compliance for the most part in that regard," Stimpson said. "If it escalates or it continues beyond that, the health officer will make a referral to law enforcement locally and law enforcement will do their investigation, which is the typical methodology. And then if they believe a criminal act has occurred, they'll pass it along to the prosecutor and the respective unit."