Michigan House passes bill that would provide funds for event center in downtown Kalamazoo

Downtown Kalamazoo as seen from WMU's Heritage Hall/Alumni Center. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a spokesperson from United Way as speaking for the Kalamazoo Community Foundation (KCF). As well, the distribution of funds from the United Way's Disaster Relief Fund and the KCF totaled $1.2 million as of April 2 for the entire Kalamazoo community.

The Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department (HCS) held a conference call with local community partners to discuss the current state of COVID-19 and the coordination of communication and responses locally on Thursday, April 2.

The call was moderated by HCS Health Officer Jim Rutherford. Updates were given by William Nettleton, HCS medical officer; Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller; Adam Castle, community resilience program manager of Gryphon Place 211 and Alyssa Stewart, vice president of impact & engagement for the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.

Recently HCS has been prioritizing vulnerable populations in Kalamazoo, primarily the homeless population.

“First and foremost is the ability to be able to have a facility for our homeless population in the event that they are in quarantine or they are in a situation where they are waiting for results on COVID testing,” Rutherford said.

HCS is also continuing to work with shelters reaching overpopulation to provide relief. Rutherford addressed the potential for too many employees at shelters being ill causing the shelter to close their doors in which case HCS has a contingency plan.

The command structure and health department are holding health checks and monitoring for anyone that enters the building. Temperature is taken by an infrared thermometer for staff members and guests are asked a series of questions.

“We continue to remind all of our partners to make sure that nobody is coming to work sick,” Rutherford said.

Although there is a shortage of infrared thermometers in Kalamazoo county, the practice is being recommended to other organizations still operational in the Kalamazoo area.

“We still want to be able to make sure that people can successfully garner temperatures and the best way to do that is with an infrared thermometer allowing space between the individual taking the temperature and the person getting there temperature taken.”

Access to personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks is still a significant issue in Kalamazoo. HCS continues to work feverishly on acquiring more PPE that can be distributed to organizations in need. This shortage reflects a nationwide shortage in PPE.

Fuller emphasized the importance of staying home and staying safe during the pandemic.

“In our community right now we’re finding that for the most part there is compliance with the stay at home and stay safe order but there are some businesses we’ve had to go out and talk to,” Fuller said.

After a conversation, businesses complied with the order without citations. Travel has gone down but he hopes for a greater decrease in travel in Kalamazoo County.

“The women and men out there every day taking care of our community have a shortage of PPE and so the more people are out traveling, the more people are out interacting in the community, the more danger everyone puts the first responders in as well as our entire community,” Fuller explained.

Nettleton spoke on testing being conducted in Kalamazoo County.

Currently, there is a shortage of equipment for health care workers to collect the tests and diagnostic laboratories to perform them. Local health systems are partnering to increase the capacity so the most amount of people can be impacted and to prioritize people at high risk for complications. 

The prioritized testing in Kalamazoo County in accordance with guidelines from the CDC and the emergency order from Michigan Health and Human Services. This includes healthcare workers with symptoms, hospitalized patients with symptoms, people over the age of 65 with symptoms and those with underlying medical conditions.

Castle encouraged listeners to reach out to 211 for any assistance needed in relation to the pandemic. Gryphon Place has been collaborating with non-profit resources in Kalamazoo County and now offers 24/7 assistance in Spanish.

Stewart spoke on behalf of the United Way which is partnering with the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. As of April 2, the partnership has raised $1.2 million for community disaster relief in Kalamazoo County and has distributed just under $500,000 of those funds through grants to 22 agencies. Their focus is on supporting non-profit organizations providing critical basic needs services. Many requests thus far have been centered on shelter and food.

Question & Answer

During the question & answer portion of the call Kalamazoo County Mayor, David Anderson, asked whether shelter staff should be wearing masks and whether the masks can be washed and reused. 

Rutherford explained that pre-washed and sanitized homemade masks are given on an as-needed basis so N95 masks given to hospitals will last as long as possible.

“In a high-risk setting I think using masks is very reasonable at this time,” Nettleton said. “Particularly since we’re learning more about this disease and we’re learning about the fact that it can be transmitted even without symptoms.” 

Nettleton explained how this was conditional upon if masks were available to those at the highest risk in the healthcare setting. 

“If other resources can be dedicated to high-risk groups I think the benefits of using that outweigh the risks,” he said.

Anderson also asked how best to answer community questions about how testing resources are allocated. Anderson said constituents have expressed to him how it seems like other elected officials have called for an increased amount of testing and received it.

Rutherford reiterated his explanation of why testing is being prioritized and referenced the aforementioned CDC guidelines available on their website. 

“We can’t really point fingers at anyone,” Rutherford said. “This is what we’re dealing with this a reality that exists all over the world right now.” 

Nettleton also addressed how not having immediate access to tests upon a physician’s request is unfamiliar territory for many residents.

“From a public health perspective the prioritization does protect the overall well being of our entire community,” Nettleton said. “That’s the idea of prioritization and that’s where we’re at.”

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