DCH board told COVID-19 transmission high in region

DICKINSON COUNTY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL is dealing with a recent area surge in COVID-19 activity, with state data showing 11 coronavirus patients in the facility, four of them in intensive care. (Daily News file photo)

IRON MOUNTAIN — Dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases, Dickinson County Healthcare System stands “ready and able to treat” patients infected with the virus, the hospital’s CEO said Monday.

The hospital continues to “have everything in place” as the pandemic heightens after a relatively calm summer, Chuck Nelson said during the hospital board’s monthly meeting. DCH has 11 coronavirus patients, including four in intensive care, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ bed tracking website.

Meghan Rossato, the hospital’s director of operations, reports a very high rate of transmission locally. The number of people receiving positive results from COVID-19 tests in Dickinson County is 15%, compared with 11% in the Upper Peninsula, 9% in Michigan and 7% in Wisconsin, she said.

Acknowledging the surge, Nelson said treating COVID-19 patients is “not as dramatic” as earlier in the pandemic, though still a serious process.

“We’ve had a spike recently in the last month,” he said.

UP Health System in Marquette shows a similar count to DCH, with 15 coronavirus patients, including four in the intensive care unit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified Dickinson County as a high transmission area for COVID-19 and recommends everyone wear a mask in public indoor settings. The CDC says people should also consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.

Rossato, a member of the COVID-19 committee at DCH, said other preventative measures besides getting vaccinated include avoiding crowds, washing hands and practicing social distancing whenever possible.

The Dickinson County Board, meeting later on Monday, received an update from Peter Schlitt, emergency services coordinator, on whether a state of emergency should be declared. Even if the county board tried to issue mask mandates, or gathering restrictions, there is no enforcement option, Schlitt said, meaning such a measure “has no teeth.”

The county board on May 24 lifted a state of emergency for COVID-19 that had been in place for nearly seven months. It first declared a coronavirus emergency March 16, 2020, following suit with the federal and state governments, but rescinded it May 21, 2020, with the understanding it could be reinstated.

That was done in late October, just as the county entered its worst stretch of the pandemic, reporting 444 active COVID-19 cases, climbing to 1,004 active cases by late November. As of Thursday, the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department was reporting 537 active cases.

The county has reported 73 deaths linked to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, but just six since mid-January.

In other action Monday, the hospital board:

— Learned from Nelson the U.S. Department of Agriculture could possibly close next week on a $16.9 million Rural Development loan first announced by DCH in March. Anticipated proceeds from the loan have already been put to use for such projects as a new linear accelerator for cancer treatment. A renovation of the Emergency Department is on schedule and should be completed in October, Nelson said.

— Heard Brian Donahue, chief financial officer, report the hospital achieved a positive operating margin of $279,000 in August. No year-to-date figure was shared. DCH has 33 days of cash on hand, Donahue said.


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