Family doctor helps calm coronavirus worries as Hendrick County’s public health officer
By Lindsay Doty
Last Thursday morning Dr. David Stopperich headed into work at his family medical practice in Lizton to see a morning round of patients before heading over to the Hendricks County Health Department in Danville to get the latest on the local COVID-19 coronavirus situation.
In between, he fields an assortment of calls from media, school leaders and community leaders wanting recommendations on weekend activities: to cancel or not to cancel?
“I try to talk to as many people as I can, and I’m in close contact with area superintendents to guide them,” said Stopperich, Hendricks County’s public health officer. “It’s tough. I think the challenge is there is a medical side, then there is a perception side of this issue,” he said.
Avon schools released this statement to parents about the situation: “The Hendricks County Health Department has stated the Indiana State Department of Health has completed testing of all known close contacts of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Hendricks County. Cases of COVID-19 are being investigated by local and state health officials, but there is no confirmed community spread at this time. Regardless, our community is taking appropriate infection control steps. This is an evolving situation, so please continue to stay informed through reliable sources, such as the Indiana State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”
The amiable 43-year old doctor’s job as officer is to protect and promote public health in the community. He works closely with the Indiana State Department of Health and helps get the word out about public health laws, guidelines, while also applying his own medical expertise.
Stopperich was appointed to the role in 2014 by Hendricks County commissioners, but since the arrival of the COVID-19 or coronavirus, the job has become much more involved.
He’s now at the epicenter of virus questions and cancellation concerns with buzz topics like “social distancing” dominating daily chatter.
“You know, it’s a unique position to help the situation. I feel privileged to help get the word out,” he said.
He’s not panicked and says the community shouldn’t be either.
“Try and keep calm during challenging times and practice typical hygiene, like handwashing,” said Stopperich.
On March 9, he reiterated the basics at a joint press conference for the Avon Community School Corporation. The district announced it would be closing schools and all activities after a Hickory Elementary student tested positive for the virus, and another student displayed symptoms the night before.
“We (the health department) got the call on Sunday, and I went ahead and canceled my patients for the next day because I knew it would be a firestorm,” he reflects.
The district is doing e-learning for two weeks and plans to start up classes again after spring break on April 6, giving the schools time to sanitize and contain any spread.
“I really just want us to not panic, prepare, wipe down surfaces and everything is going to be okay,” said Stopperich, who has two daughters ages 12 and 14 in the Avon school district.
On March 12, public schools across Hendricks County including Brownsburg, Danville, Plainfield, North West Hendricks and Mill Creek districts announced schools would close, most using spring break as an extended time away. This includes “non-essential” events outside of usual school hours.
There were no confirmed cases but this act is prevention. The decision came on the heels of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s new state guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus, including limiting events to less than 250 people.
In the ever-changing storyline, Dr. Stopperich is a calming force.
“I’m a big fan of go live your life,” said Stopperich, a softball coach and family guy.
He’s used to giving health advice. Besides his practice with Hendricks Regional Health’s Lizton Family Medicine, he’s the wellness clinic physician through the community hospital, treats faculty and staff at DePauw University and keeps up with his role as health officer.
“His approach is professional, calm and caring. One of his main priorities is to keep the Hendricks County community informed of current guidelines during this evolving situation,” said Kandi Jamison, director of public health nursing with the Hendricks County Health Department.
“He genuinely cares about Hendricks County and its residents and it shows,” she said.
As of press time, Hendricks County has two confirmed cases of COVID-19, including the Avon student, the state’s only child case. The third case is still being investigated.
“They are all close contacts. They are limited to one small area of the county,” Stopperich said reassuringly.
If you’re healthy, the COVID-19 virus shouldn’t be a worry, he said. The mild to moderate symptoms are fever and a cough, and most people recover fine.
“If you have a healthy kid, you’ll be alright,” he said. “My biggest concern is the elderly. People with chronic lung disease, people with uncontrolled diabetes.”
As Hendricks County continues to cancel group activities, health leaders are working double duty to guide the community.
“I was chosen to look out for our community,” he said. “It’s a role I feel very privileged to be a part of and a role I take very seriously.”
Getting to know Dr. David:
Kids: Two daughters age 12 and 14
Dad style: Volunteer softball coach with Avon Junior Athletic Association
How do you relax as a family lately? Family movie night or play card games. We love UNO right now.
Pets: Two cats and a dog
Favorite spot to relax in Hendricks County: Golf course
Favorite subject in school? Chemistry
Dr. David Stopperich serves as a family practice doctor in Lizton and Hendricks County’s public health officer, guiding the county with a sense of calm in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. (Photos by Eric Pritchett)