03-26-2020 Coloma holds City Council meeting in parking lot; COVID-19 outbreak prompts more governme

SOCIAL DISTANCING… The Coloma City Council held their March 23 meeting in the parking lot behind City Hall to maintain a distance of six feet to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. From the left: (Standing) Steve Lowder of Pride Care Ambulance Service, Commissioners Jason Hicks, Commissioner Kent Churchill; (in vehicles) Commissioner Fred Reeves and Commissioner Julie Smith. (Photo courtesy of Marsha Hammond)


Coloma holds City Council meeting in parking lot

Coloma postpones Vietnam Veteran’s celebration; A message from Mayor Polashak

By Nancy Albright

It was business as usual at the March 23 meeting of the Coloma City Council, with one notable exception—the meeting was held in the parking lot behind City Hall.

April meetings have been canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but the 2020–2021 city budget is on the table for April 1. “The budget must be passed,” said Mayor Pro Tem Marsha Hammond, “but we need to keep our commissioners, city workers, and the public safe, so we’re meeting outside. The city supports and encourages social distancing and it’s important that we follow public health recommendations and stay six feet apart.”

The council put the budget to bed and made a motion to override the Hedley Amendment for the 2020 tax season. Commissioners also approved seasonal Public Works employees Jacob Hammond, Conner Bitner, Hunter Crist, and Nick Eastman.

The city decided to close Randall Park to keep residents safe. “We hated to do it,” said Hammond, “but there is no way we can monitor social distancing in an outdoor space and it’s a matter of public safety.”

The doors of City Hall are locked, but staff are taking all precautions and working onsite. Residents can still drop their bills through the mail slot and they will be processed, and anyone with a question can call for help. “We are here to help,” emphasized Hammond.

Hammond also said that she is happy to see the community coming together to help during the crisis. “I saw it after 9/11 and I see it now. It’s great to see people responding to each other in such a positive way.”

Local restaurants offering takeout service

Many local restaurants are offering takeout, including Soulard’s Café. Soulard’s is offering curbside service during normal business hours, Tuesday–Friday, 8:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 9:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. Call (269) 944-9494 for custom orders and follow Soulard’s on Facebook, as hours may change. The owners ask that customers to stay healthy and safe.

Jonathan Romero, owner of El Asadero, (269) 202-6015, and Coloma’s new ice cream shop, Las Mangonadas, (269) 202-6074, is also offering carryout service. El Asadero is open from 11:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m. and Las Mangonadas is open from 4:00–8:00 p.m. Call ahead to order from El Asadero.

Many other restaurants in town, including Easy Street and Subway, are also offering pickup service. If you are planning on ordering takeout, please call ahead.

Message from Mayor Polashak

Coloma Mayor Jim Polashak is on the mend after a string of health issues including lung surgery. “I’m up and about and breathing well,” said Polashak. The Mayor and his wife are staying home, and friends and family are helping by delivering needed medications, groceries, and supplies. He especially likes the sandwich deliveries from Hot Spot.

“The community, businesses, the city council, Public Works, and especially [Mayor Pro Tem] Marsha Hammond have kept me well-informed and have been just wonderful to me from start to finish. I consider city staff not just employees, but friends. I am so proud of everyone—I cannot find the words to express how much I appreciate all the support I’ve received. Thank you.”

The Mayor concluded by saying that if anyone has a question for him he is happy to take calls, 24/7. “I’m in the book!”

Veteran’s celebration on hold

Coloma’s plans to honor Vietnam Veterans and all vets on May 9 have been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

City Commissioner Fred Reeves, who is deeply involved in the project, stated that planning will continue and when a new date is set the public will be informed.

When Paw Paw Street was widened, the green space in front of the Vietnam War Memorial in Baker Park was reduced and the names engraved on the stone are difficult to read unless you stand in the street. The city decided earlier this year to move the stone and create a military park. The stone is currently being refurbished at St. Joe Monuments Co., and the company will store it until the event.

The city plans to hang banners from the light posts along the parade route honoring several local veterans, and officials will read the names of forty area vets classified as Missing in Action in Vietnam. U.S. Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. James McCloughan of South Haven will speak at the rededication and award medals along with an official letter signed by him at a dinner hosted by Coloma FOP Lodge 147 on the evening of the event. Honor Flights will also have a booth at the FOP that evening. The non-profit organization arranges visits to Washington D.C. war memorials at no cost to veterans.

The commission emphasized that the event is also meant to celebrate the service of all veterans that have served in the U.S. military, and all vets are invited to walk in the parade and be part of the celebration.

The city asks that residents spread the word and keep their eyes on the Tri-City Record for updates. To participate or help in some way contact Coloma City Hall, (269) 468-6606.

To donate please visit Edgewater Bank in Coloma, 167 N. Paw Paw St. The city will donate leftover funds to a local or national veteran’s organization.

MORE FUNDS TO ENHANCE OFFERINGS… Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society joins Vanderlyn Community Center as Genealogical Society President Joyce Beedie (right) presents a donation in the amount of $100,000 to Hartford Public Library Director Stephanie Daniels for the library’s new Genealogy Room. The dedicated space will contain a collection of technology to access the extensive archive of local history. The Hartford Public Library becomes the new permanent home for the VBRGS, bringing with them their vast collection of historic research materials into the new state of the art facility providing easy access to all.


VBRGS donates $100,000 to the Hartford Public Library Community Center project

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) has made a $100,000 donation to the new Hartford Public Library (HPL) and Art & Bonna Vanderlyn Community Center. This donation supports the new HPL Genealogy Room and shows VBRGS’s gratitude to the library for welcoming the society and its one-of-a-kind genealogy and history collection into their new building. The VBRGS and the HPL will be working together with a spirit of mutual cooperation to provide the community with a unique learning resource. The VBRGS, using the materials of the Genealogy Room along with state-of-the-art technology, will welcome everyone who has an interest in “finding their roots” or learning about local history.

COVID-19 outbreak prompts more government action

By Jon Bisnett

The COVID-19 coronavirus has dominated every news source for going on two weeks, while the Tri-City Record (TCR) pledges to do its very best to provide information that affects our local subscribership. Recognizing the rapid evolving of the situation, all information that follows was deemed to be correct and vetted at the time of press.

Global

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control have now identified some 148 countries as affected by the outbreak. Japan is expressing concerns over the Summer Olympics. If the event is postponed to 2021, it would be the first time since World War II.

National

As of Tuesday, March 24, Capitol Hill is currently stalled in a battle across the aisle over the Economic Stimulus Relief Bill with hopes for resolution in the next days.

Meanwhile the White House has communicated a mixed message of continued concerns for public health safety along with getting business opened back up as soon as possible to secure the economic freefall.

Some mixed reviews on the success of drug therapy using the Malaria drug Chloroquine on COVID-19 are being reported.

Statewide

“We’re building the airplane as we fly it,” says Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The statewide curve is up as is testing. Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-21 that temporarily requires all Michigan residents to “suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life” as of Tuesday, March 24 at 12:01 a.m. and continuing until April 13, 2020. Under this “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, all Michiganders must stay in their homes unless they are a part of the area’s critical infrastructure workforce. With only a few exceptions, all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring among persons not part of a single household are prohibited. Businesses that employ critical infrastructure workers may continue in-person operations, but must adhere to social distancing practices including the promotion of remote work to the fullest extent possible. Included in the list of critical infrastructure workers are restaurant employees and childcare workers, as restaurants can continue to provide carry-out/delivery food service and daycares can continue to operate to serve the children or dependents of critical infrastructure workers. Gas stations and grocery stores are also able to remain open for people to use.

Responding to a controversial statement made by the Michigan Department of Education referencing online learning as “not counting…”, Governor Whitmer clarified her position with the following statement; “The MDE memo does not mean that school work done during the mandatory school closure won’t ‘count’ toward grades, credits, or graduation,” Whitmer said. “Each district should determine what services and supports they are able to provide during this unprecedented crisis.” Whitmer further added that she “will be working in the coming days to ensure our seniors graduate and that no child is held back” as a result of the COVID-19 school closure.

Reaction from Michigan educators to MDE’s memo proved to be a mix of outrage, shock and support.

Tri-City schools

Coloma, Hartford and Watervliet public schools continue an exemplary task to get thousands of meals into the hands of displaced students during the unprecedented shutdown. Kudos to all food service and volunteers making “Meet Up Eat Up” a continued success.

Any person 18 years and under may receive meals. No ID required and no questions asked.

Some 55 million students are currently affected nationwide.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association said on March 13, “There is always hope. With so many things surrounding these circumstances that are not within our control, we will take our lead from the state government, and our other partners, if and when school resumes. It is our hope that every championship can be contested. Whether that happens in April, May or June, every option remains on the table at this time.”

There are a few bright spots

Coloma Dairy Queen has awakened from its winter sleep to offer takeout options and a great way to pick up one’s spirits or just treat the kids.

Moo’s Place closed indefinitely on Sunday, but only after feeding healthcare workers and first responders free meals from their remaining stock.

Ken Jones and his crew at Gala T Inn have expanded hours to now include lunch.

Four Winds Casino Resorts donated nine pallets amounting to some 7,450 pounds of food to be distributed via Feeding America and Cultivate.

More cancellations & closures

Numerous additional cancellations occurred following the Governor’s most recent order.

Local concerns recently cancelled include the Hartford Lions Strawberry Run, now cancelled for 2020.

Blossomtime Inc. has announced the cancellation of the Grand Floral Parade, scheduled for May, for the first time since World War II.

Lane Automotive Showroom and Pick-Up Counter will be temporarily closed to walk-in business as of 6:00 p.m. Monday, March 23. Customers may place orders via 269-463-8136.

More corporations step up

Additional corporations have come forward to provide help amid the outbreak.

AT&T announced this week it has waived all wireless overage fees, retroactively back to March 13.

Harding’s Market (Coloma & Hartford), and B&B Grocery, Dollar General, Family Dollar and local pharmacies are open, busy as can be and committed to replenishing inventory as quickly as they can.

Harding’s is reserving the hours of 7-9 a.m. on Wednesdays for senior citizens and persons of compromised health, otherwise open until 8:00 p.m. daily.

Meijer stores, as Michigan’s largest grocery chain, is operating from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., while providing dedicated shopping hours for senior citizens and those with chronic health conditions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-8 a.m.

Walmart will host special hours for customers age 60 and up, 6 to 7 a.m. every Tuesday, Mar. 24 through Apr. 28.

Indiana Michigan Power is temporarily suspending all disconnections for non-payment.

Comcast/Xfinity WiFi hotspots across the country are available for free, also lifting data caps and suspending non-payment disconnects.

The Herald-Palladium moved all online stories of COVID-19 in front of their website paywall for free access to all. No subscription required.

Tri-City Record will update this list as events evolve. Check company websites and social media for all the latest information.

Municipalities

Local government offices continue to maintain a limited-contact office policy. Some are suspending utility shut-offs and/or utilizing remote payment systems.

Check with your locality for details:

Bainbridge Twp: (269) 468-8040

Coloma City: (269) 468-6606

Coloma Twp: (269) 468-7212

Hagar Twp: (269) 849-0455

Hartford City: (269) 621-2477

Hartford Twp: (269) 621-4658

Keeler Twp: (269) 621 – 6481

Watervliet City: (269) 463-6769

Watervliet Twp: (269) 463-5113

Tri-City restaurants

Local restaurants continue to adapt and adjust their staffing in reaction to the COVID outbreak by providing takeout and curbside service, while area’s national fast-food franchises continue to serve drive-thru customers.

Local eateries such as the Panel Room, Gala T Inn, Sidetrack Café, Soulard’s, Hub Central, Easy Street, Eddies Drive-In and several others are ramping up their ability to provide takeout/curbside service to their loyal patrons. These businesses are our friends and neighbors in economic crisis and need your support now more than ever!

Grab some takeout. Purchase a gift card to use at a later date. Make sure to call ahead. Be patient and tip well.

What else can anyone do?

Redundant it may be, but readers are urged to follow the recommended best practices: Wash hands often, cough into your elbow, avoid touching your face, keep a safe 6-foot distance from others, and stay home if able.

Above all, continue to exercise common sense and remain calm. Buy goods in moderation. Now is the time to shine by working together as a caring community. Take your cues from bona-fide news sources including the Governor’s Office, local Health Departments, Public Safety and Municipal Offices.

The TCR continues its pledge to make every effort to update its readers with accurate and timely developments as they occur.

Health Dept. announces first positive case of COVID-19 in Van Buren Co.

On Tuesday, March 24, the Van Buren/Cass District Health Department (VBCDHD) was notified by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) of one positive case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Van Buren County. The individual is a female in her 60s who is in stable condition and has been self-isolating at home. VBCDHD is continuing to investigate the circumstances around this case and working to identify individuals who may have come into close contact with the individual.

First COVID-19 cases appear in Berrien Co., victims had attended event where the performer later tested positive; Health Dept., Spectrum Lakeland Health and Sheriff Dept. preparing for onslaught of Coronavirus-19 in area

By Annette Christie

The dreaded announcement was made public on Saturday afternoon, the announcement that COVID-19 has found its way into Berrien County. The Berrien County Health Department, Spectrum Health-Lakeland and the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office were all represented at the 3:00 p.m. press conference.

Nicki Britten, Berrien County Health Department Health Officer, announced that the first two positive cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Berrien County had been identified. The positive persons were both adult women under the age of 60 years old and had close, personal contact with singer Sandi Patty, when she performed a concert at Andrews University on Berrien Springs on March 8. Patty had announced on March 17 that she had tested positive for the virus. The two women are both self-isolating at their homes and were reported to be in good condition.

Britten said that the two women had participated in a post-concert VIP type in-person event with Patty. The Health Department and Andrews University worked together to communicate directly with the people who had been in close contact with the individuals that tested positive. All close contacts of the COVID-19 positive individuals were asked to self-quarantine and will be assessed for symptoms and monitored appropriately.

The Berrien County Health Department also advised anyone who attended the March 8 concert and had close personal contact with Sandi Patty to self-quarantine and monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 including fever, cough, and shortness of breath through March 22, 2020. Those that may have experienced symptoms are asked to call the Health Department hotline at 1-800-815-5485.

“Our team has been preparing for weeks to ensure that we have the structures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Berrien County, including a partial activation of the Berrien County Emergency Operations Center (EOC). We are not yet seeing widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in Berrien County, although we anticipate that to change,” said Britten. “Everyone has a role to play in helping us prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as other viruses that can cause respiratory illness. It is very important that our residents remain committed to individual prevention of this virus in the community.”

“This is sobering news and these are sobering times,” said Loren B. Hamel, MD, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland. “The first cases of COVID-19 in Berrien County don’t come as a surprise. We have been preparing for weeks and working closely with local and state partners to ensure we are ready to care for our friends and neighbors. The most important thing you can do is be diligent about keeping social distance, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and call ahead before you come to the hospital or doctor’s office if you are sick,” Hamel said.

When asked about the numbers of tests available, Hamel reported that there is not enough. “There is not enough tests in the hospital, in the state, or in the country,” Hamel said. Over the weekend, the tests were limited to those that were hospitalized.

COVID-19 symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. “To prevent the spread of COVID-19, people should wash their hands, stay home when sick, avoid close contact with sick people, and disinfect commonly touched surfaces,” says Dr. Rick Johansen, medical director at the Berrien County Health Department. “Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes are at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. There is currently no vaccine or specific treatment of COVID-19,” Johansen said.

Berrien County Undersheriff Chuck Heit announced that the Emergency Operations Center was activated in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The EOC is established to provide a single point of contact, coordination and avenue to share information to all 39 municipalities, first responders, and volunteer organizations in Berrien County. The EOC is working with our local health officials as we continue to monitor and respond to this health crisis.

Out of an abundance of caution and based on the current spread of COVID-19, Berrien County closed all public access to their facilities effective Monday, March 23, 2020. Many county services will remain available via telephone, email, fax, and through the website www.berriencounty.org. The County is committed to serving its residents to the greatest extent possible, especially during times of crisis. Residents may access a detailed contact list for the various departments on the website, as well each department having their own page within the website.

At the time of the press conference on Saturday, Britten reported that there were 549 cases in Michigan with three deaths reported as of Friday. Indiana had 126 cases and three deaths.

As of reporting times on Tuesday, March 24, Michigan.gov reports 1,791 confirmed cases with 24 deaths in Michigan and Indiana positive cases reported on IN.gov website show 477 cases with 14 deaths. Berrien County Health Department reports 8 confirmed cases as of Tuesday with no deaths.

Hamel confirmed that the hospital was expanding the Intensive Care Unit and the number of hospital beds available. He noted that the spread of this disease was less dependent on healthcare and more dependent on residents taking this seriously.

Johansen complimented all the partners from the hospital to the schools and the senior centers, all doing their part in this situation. He noted that the state testing labs have been overwhelmed with the number of tests; however, Berrien County was able to get the two test results relatively quickly. Spectrum in Grand Rapids now has the capability to determine test results in their own lab. This will allow our health system to get its results even quicker.

Heit encouraged all residents to follow the recommendations of health officials, medical officials, and the Governor’s office.

As the Health Department will be reporting daily the number of positive cases in Berrien County, by Monday morning they reported that the number of cases in Berrien County had increased to five. The additional three included the husband of one of the previous victims, and an adult male over the age of sixty that is not associated with the Sandi Patty concert. Both of them are self-isolating at home to recover from their symptoms. The third case is an adult male, over the age of sixty, who is recovering at Spectrum – Lakeland in St. Joseph. It is not known at this time if this individual’s COVID-19 exposure was related to the concert.

The Berrien County Health Department is communicating directly with the people who had been in close contact with the individuals who have tested positive. All close contacts of the COVID-19 positive individuals will be asked to self-quarantine and will be assessed for symptoms and monitored appropriately. This contract tracing will help ensure that other individuals at risk for contracting COVID-19 are able to stay at home and prevent further transmission of the virus.

As testing for the virus increases across the area, laboratories in Michigan have significantly increased capacity to test for COVID-19. It is expected that the test results will be more expeditious moving into the future. However, due to so many labs now processing COVID-19, it is difficult to know the exact number of how many tests are being submitted and processed daily.

On Tuesday morning, the Health Department reported that there were eight cases in Berrien County. The State of Michigan has 1,328 cases and 15 deaths connected to the virus.

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