Schneck takes the lead in coordinating efforts to combat COVID-19


Schneck Medical Center wants to stop the rumors and panic about the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 from spreading as much as it wants to keep the illness from spreading to the community.

On Tuesday, the Seymour hospital and the Jackson County Health Department brought together health officials, county government leaders, school nurses, industries, first responders and nursing home staff to discuss and share preparedness and action plans.

“Obviously, this is a hot topic right now, and rightfully so,” said Dr. Eric Fish, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Schneck. “It’s changing quickly.”

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Jackson County’s response is a coordinated effort of agencies working together to provide open communication with the public to help make decisions regarding work, school and personal health and safety. Officials are meeting twice a week to discuss ongoing needs and actions being taken.

“It’s good to get the community together like this because this is going to be a community fight,” Fish said.

Right now, there are no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in Jackson County, said Dr. Christopher Bunce, infectious disease specialist at Schneck.

But with 10 confirmed cases in Indiana as of Wednesday morning, the likelihood of it coming here continues to increase, he added, especially with people planning to travel over the next couple of weeks for spring break.

Many people have canceled trips, and some employers, including Cummins and Valeo, are banning travel to those countries reporting widespread outbreaks of COVID-19, including China, Italy, Japan and South Korea. Travel by cruise ship also is being advised against.

Schneck has limited business travel for employees and will use teleconferencing for meetings of 25 people or more, Fish said.

Bunce, who also is the county health officer with the Jackson County Health Department, provided details about the virus, including symptoms and how it is spread, and dispelled myths. You shouldn’t wear a mask unless you are sick or are caring for someone who is, he said.

The panic has caused a shortage of masks, and the hospital currently is unable to keep them stocked, he added.

“It’s really not useful to have masks in the home,” he said.

Coronavirus presents with symptoms similar to the flu and other common respiratory illnesses. People develop a cough and a fever. The most telling and serious symptom, however, is shortness of breath, Bunce said.

Although coronavirus is a common group of viruses, COVID-19 is a new type that is very good at spreading, he said.

There are more than 114,000 cases of COVID-19 confirmed worldwide with 80,000 of those being in China, he said. It has been identified in 110 different countries and has resulted in 4,000 deaths.

Bunce said the overall mortality rate for coronavirus is between 1% and 2%, compared to the flu, which has a mortality rate of .05% and .1%.

“That means that it has about 10 to 20 times higher mortality rate than influenza,” he said.

If the virus was to spread like influenza, Bunce said between 100,000 and 200,000 people could die this year.

“That’s a big number,” he said. “That’s why from a public health perspective, everybody is really concerned. This could be more serious than the flu.”

The most vulnerable populations are the elderly and people with chronic health conditions, he said.

“That’s going to be the population that I think I’m going to be most worried about should we have widespread community-based person-to-person transmission,” he said.

He is not advising people to cancel their travel plans unless they are considered part of the vulnerable population or if they are traveling to any of those countries with widespread community transmission.

Representatives from Covered Bridge Health Campus said they have gone above and beyond to protect their elderly residents from coronavirus. The Seymour nursing home has restricted access to the facility, and anyone who enters the building is being screened for illness, including visitors, vendors and medical personnel.

“No young children and no pets are being allowed to visit. It’s being limited to immediate family only,” said Angela Short with Covered Bridge. “We’ve canceled all of our events through the month of April.”

The nursing home also has secured its personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, so employees and others cannot take them out of the building.

“At this point in time, everyone has been very gracious,” she said. “Families have been very considerate and understanding of what we’re doing.”

The nursing home’s parent company is screening employees who will be traveling, asking where they are going and how they are traveling. Anyone who is symptomatic will be quarantined for at least two weeks prior to being allowed to return to work, Short said. Also, anyone who is going on a cruise will automatically be quarantined, she said.

The virus is spread through droplets from an infected person when they sneeze or cough and can be transmitted on a person’s hands, which is why people should avoid shaking hands or giving high-fives and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth, Bunce said. People should also be diligent about washing their hands or using hand sanitizer frequently throughout the day.

In the United States, 647 cases have been confirmed with 25 deaths, but none of those deaths have been in Indiana, where a total of 43 people have been tested, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

Bunce said as testing for the virus continues to improve across the state and nation, the number of domestic cases will go up.

Currently, there is no COVID-19 testing available locally at Schneck or the county health department, said Stacy East, infection preventionist at Schneck. All testing is done by the state department of health, and even they are limited, she added.

If Schneck was to have a suspected case, it would notify the state health department for further instructions, which would likely involve isolating the patient for a period of two weeks.

“The incubation period, the period between when you acquire the virus and develop symptoms, has varied anywhere from two to 14 days,” Bunce said. “That’s the best data we have so far, but 14 days is a long time.”

A patient has to have severe illness and test negative for the flu and other respiratory illnesses before testing for COVID-19 is recommended.

“Clinically, it’s indistinguishable from influenza,” Bunce said. “Because it’s not widespread in most communities in the United States, at least not yet, when someone comes in with flu-like symptoms, they likely have the flu, not coronavirus.”

When testing becomes more widely available, Schneck may implement a drive-up clinic to limit people’s exposure to others, Bunce said.

East said the hospital currently has its annual flu restrictions in place and will continue to limit visitors for as long as necessary.

“We may see even more restrictions in the future as a result of COVID-19,” she said.

Schneck has taken other precautions, including asking everyone who walks through the doors if they are showing symptoms of the virus and if they have traveled outside the country.

The hospital also is asking patients to call ahead before they come to the hospital for a doctor’s visit or to the emergency room to let personnel know of their symptoms. To handle the increase in calls, a call center likely will be put into place, East said.

One of the biggest concerns is too many people flooding the hospital all at once, Fish said.

“Right now, the only thing we can do is triage people,” he said.

The public can find updates and videos related to COVID-19 on Schneck’s Facebook page and website and also the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Indiana State Department of Health.

“We want people to go to the right sources,” Bunce said.

Lin Montgomery, public health coordinator with the county health department, said that agency and the hospital are working together to educate people.

“We just need to assist people and give them them the power to take care of themselves and not rely on the whole system,” she said. “So we’ll be doing some preparedness classes coming up soon about what you should have in your home.”

Dennis Brasher, director of Jackson County Emergency Medical Services, said the guidelines EMS personnel are following are similar to those put into place in 2014 when there were cases of the deadly bbola virus in the United States.

“We have plenty of protective equipment and suits leftover,” he said. “I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

As for schools, Bunce said it would be left up to superintendents to make the decision of whether to close for any period of time or implement screening for staff, students and visitors.

Drew Markel, principal of Crothersville Elementary School, said it would cause a lot of disruptions if all schools in Jackson County closed.

“We would have the potential of 8,000 students sitting at home,” he said. “I think that’s one thing to be mindful of.”

Employers are facing a lot of questions from workers and are trying to implement policies to curb problems.

Valeo has banned international and domestic business trips for the time being and is doing additional sanitizing and cleaning of its facilities, said Tim Barker, human resources at Valeo. The company also is putting a coronavirus emergency preparedness plan in place and questioning all visitors and vendors to its facilities.

“We are not going to be reactive in this. We want to try to be as proactive as we can,” he said.

“We have to encourage people to stay at home if they are sick, particularly if they are sick with fever, not sniffles,” Bunce said. “It’s important to stay away from the workplace.”

Tammy Barker, human resources manager with Pet Supplies Plus, said the company is having a lot of attendance issues over the threat of coronavirus, but she is doing her best to educate people and quash rumors about the virus.

“We are encouraging people who are sick to stay home for at least 24 hours after they stop showing symptoms before they can return to work,” she said.

Erin Koons from Walmart Distribution said as the country’s largest employer, Walmart is taking a firm stand on coronavirus and keeping employees healthy. The company is giving two weeks of paid time off for any employee who tests positive for COVID-19, and through the month of April, employees will not receive attendance points if they stay home when sick.

“We’re trying to remain calm and take care of our associates,” she said. “We’ve got to keep those shelves stocked.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

It is important for the public to be aware of signs and symptoms of coronavirus and to follow these steps if a person thinks they have become infected:

1. If you have recently traveled or have come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

2. If you have recently contracted a fever or cough or respiratory distress.

If so, it is recommended that you:

1. Call your primary care provider for a health screening. Do not go to a medical facility for treatment unless you have called first.

2. For information, call the Indiana State Department of Health after hours and weekends at 317-233-1325.

The CDC recommends taking the same preventative steps that help stop the spread of any respiratory infection, including influenza, which is still a greater public health concern locally, washing hands often with soap and water, staying home when you are sick and covering a cough or sneeze.

For information, contact the Jackson County Health Department at 812-522-6474 or visit

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”By the numbers” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

COVID-19 by the numbers in United States and Indiana as of Wednesday 

938;Cases in the U.S.

29;Total deaths

39;Number of states reporting cases

10;Cases in Indiana

0;Deaths in Indiana

43;Number of people tested by the Indiana State Department of Health


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