Dr. Lydia Watson, Chief Medical Officer at MidMichigan Health on COVID-19 actions

If you think you have COVID-19 symptoms, call your primary care physician before you do anything else. If your doctor isn’t available, then call either the urgent care or the emergency department at your local hospital.

The first step in identifying and treating COVID-19 is an evaluation over the phone, said Lydia Watson, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer at MidMichigan Health. Do not go to the hospital before making that call.

“Our most important goal is to prevent illness by preventing being exposed to the virus,” Watson said.

“We are still telling all of our patients and the community to monitor for symptoms. If they have fever, cough, shortness of breath, or concern of having been exposed to COVID-19 because of travel or because of exposure to someone who has the virus, the first thing they should do is call their primary care physician.”

Your physician will ask questions about your symptoms in order to recommend your best course of treatment. For some patients, that will mean a referral to MidMichigan Health’s new telemedicine hub at the East End Building, 715 E. Main St. in Midland.

Watson said the hospital began providing video appointments via the online platforms Doxy.me and FaceTime on Thursday March 19. On the first day, 46 patients were screened through the hub. As March 26, more than 400 patients have been screened via video appointments. Eventually, Watson expects to be able to screen as many as 100 patients per day through the telemedicine hub. She also expects the hospital to expand the program further into its 23-county region.

“It’s really exciting because this allows the patient to stay at home,” Watson said. “They don’t have to get in their car and potentially expose anybody else in between home and wherever they’re being screened.”

At the beginning of the crisis, MidMichigan Health put emergency measures in place at its seven medical centers located in Alpena, Clare, Gladwin, Gratiot, Midland, Mt. Pleasant and West Branch. They set up tents outside emergency departments in order to screen potential COVID-19 patients without exposing other patients and hospital employees, Watson says.

Avoiding exposure is the key to fighting coronavirus. MidMichigan hospital has created a COVID-19 update page on its website at https://www.midmichigan.org/conditions-treatments/coronavirus/

“We can’t reiterate enough how much social distancing and handwashing help,” Watson says. “I know it sounds simple and I know we’ve said it a million times, but we still see people not following the guidelines.”

The virus is spread through droplets from an infected person who coughs or sneezes. The droplets spread up to six feet in the air before dropping down to coat hard surfaces such as countertops or handrails. The virus can survive as long as nine days on a hard surface.

That’s why social distancing guidelines call for staying at least six feet away from other people. Handwashing means using soap and water on all surfaces of your hand for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to scrub the top of your hand, palm, in between your fingers, and all the way up to your wrist. Wash your hands frequently, but especially after touching any hard surfaces.

“It’s is very important that if we touch surfaces, we don’t touch our mouth, nose, or eyes because we might transmit the virus to ourselves,” Watson said. “This can significantly reduce our risk of illness.”

Due to shortages in testing materials, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has mandated that only specific, high-risk populations are tested through state labs for COVID-19. The state has defined those high-risk populations as:

  • Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 who are identified as a known contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case.
  • Individuals who develop COVID-19 symptoms while already in a 14-day monitoring quarantine. This could include someone who is being monitored after visiting a region with widespread cases.
  • Individuals who are part of a cluster of illnesses associated with a vulnerable population, such as a long-term care facility or nursing home.
  • Individuals with symptoms who are likely to infect many others, such as health care workers.
  • Individuals presenting with severe illnesses who are admitted to the hospital and show symptoms.

As a service to the community, MidMichigan Health has published a COVID-19 informational hotline with a reminder of CDC guidelines and recommendations. Live calls are also being accepted Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The hotline can be reached toll-free at (800) 445-7356 or (989) 794-7600.

View the PSA from Dr. Watson here:



A reminder from MidMichigan Health to the community

Due to the heightened alert to the growing Coronavirus outbreak and for the safety of all, MidMichigan Health reminds you:

  • If you have traveled to a country with an outbreak of COVID-19 and are at high risk, the CDC recommends you stay home for the next 14 days and monitor your health. Take your temperature two times a day and watch for symptoms.
  • If you feel sick and have symptoms of a fever of 100.4 or greater, cough or shortness of breath, please call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room.
  • Please avoid contact with others and do not travel while sick.
  • Above all, the best way to prevent the spread of this virus is social distancing and proper hygiene, such as hand washing and not touching our faces. With these two measures we are all significantly less likely to get the illness.
  • For additional information, please call the MidMichigan Health COVID-19 hotline at (800) 445-7356 for more information.”