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Grand Traverse County Board Chair Rob Hentschel monitors regional COVID-19 developments from his basement office. Hentschel is part of the JOC that meets remotely seven days a week at 10 a.m.

TRAVERSE CITY — In daily meetings of Grand Traverse County’s Joint Operations Center, leaders study the science and make contingency plans for the region’s anticipated apex of COVID-19.

“Everybody’s got a place at the table,” Grand Traverse County Board Chair Rob Hentschel said. “From law enforcement to BATA to Munson.”

The JOC is made up of health, government, first responders, education, social service, and business leaders and meets seven days a week via call in and videoconference at 10 a.m.

“By getting people together we’ve been able to turn on a dime to get resources and make decisions,” Hentschel said.

Recent developments include:

An update of the county’s Mass Casualty Plan to accommodate a worst-case scenario regarding COVID-19 deaths, by coordinating with healthcare officials, first responders and funeral directors.

  • Cherry Capital Airport Director Kevin Klein requested approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to use airport grounds for a temporary morgue. As many as seven semi-trailers could be parked between the fence and the west side of the maintenance building, Klein said.
  • County Administrator Nate Alger is working with TCAPS Interim Superintendent James Pavelka to transform an unnamed school or schools into a Tier II isolation and alternative care site. Those who test positive for the virus but do not require hospitalization could be housed here.
  • Emergency Management Coordinator Greg Bird has placed requests with the state’s Emergency Operations Center for PPE on behalf of more than 50 regional providers from nursing homes to social service workers.
  • IT Director Cliff DuPuy updated protocols with homeland security so some county staff can work remotely and elected officials can hold legal meetings.

Commissioners briefly discussed recent good news at their study session Friday — the county health department has received $175,000 in grants for COVID-19 related expenditures — before returning to JOC updates.

“With the cases, the nine cases we’ve had, is there going to be any reporting of cases that are cured?” Commission Vice Chair Ron Clous asked.

“That was a large discussion in the incident command group,” Alger said. “The total recovered is something that is incredibly important in the nationwide discussion about COVID. But right now what I’m hearing is that there’s not good information available about that.”

Hentschel confirmed Friday that two of the nine positive cases in Grand Traverse County have recovered and no longer show symptoms.

Alger said the JOC reviews the COVID-19 map maintained in real time by Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center for updates and plans accordingly.

“If we lift the ban, and there’s still a concern that is going to spread the virus again,” Alger said. “It looks like this could be something we could experience for quite a while until there is a vaccine in place.”

Alger said in the BOC study group that discussions have begun about whether to cancel the National Cherry Festival, though no decisions have been made. For a community that depends on tourism, “It’s going to be a challenging year,” Alger said.

The JOC has been told a vaccine is a year to 15 months away; Hentschel said he is prepared to hold BOC meetings remotely for the rest of 2020.