MECOSTA, OSCEOLA, LAKE COUNTIES — Area residents in need of bank services have to call ahead or swing through the drive-thru for the next few weeks as local banks are taking extra safety precautions in light of the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Among the banks with new protocols in place for the health and safety of the public is Fifth Third Bank, in Big Rapids.

Branch manager Jessica Helfmann said the lobby officially closed to customers Saturday, with face-to-face meetings by appointment only and other transactions being handled through the bank's drive-thru location.

"The reason we are doing this is to minimize traffic in the building," she said. "...We want to help keep us safe and our customers safe."

In addition to closing the lobby to the general public, Helfmann said Fifth Third Bank has stepped up its cleaning practices, including cleaning the entire building every night; disinfecting the ATM, door handles and other surfaces every hour; and having staff sanitize their hands after working with a customer.

She said staff also have gloves they can wear and any customer who uses a pen can take the pen with them.

Many other banks in Mecosta, Osceola and Lake counties also have moved their lobby to appointment only-and are using their drive-thru locations to keep the community healthy.

Among these are Isabella Bank, Lake-Osceola State Bank and Chemical Bank.

Jenn Brick, vice president and director of marketing at Isabella Bank, said by closing the lobby they are hoping to limit the exposure risk of the coronavirus and maintain social distancing practices.

"Customers can call us and schedule time to speak with a bank representative also," Brick said.

At Lake-Osceola State Bank, president and CEO Robert Fisher said the decision to close the lobby was made to keep staff and customers safe.

However, Fisher said four of their 10 branches had to close entirely due to them not having a drive-thru option. These locations include Luther, Tustin, downtown Big Rapids and Wellston.

He added these locations do have night depositories, though, and bank representatives will be checking these frequently to make sure peoples' funds are deposited into their accounts.

Fisher said one positive of these locations closing is it has allowed the employees from these branches to integrate into the scheduling of the other six branches. He said all employees are now working a two week on, two week off split schedule.

Along with these steps, Fisher said the cleaning procedures at Lake-Osceola State Bank have been ramped up as well.

"We continue to have our cleaning staff working every day, and we are constantly wiping down drawers," he said.

Although many people may be concerned about the economic future of the country, Brick said Isabella Bank has not seen an increase in customers trying to deposit or withdraw funds from their accounts.

"Our drive-thru traffic has increased because we don't have lobby hours, but other than that, it is still business as usual," she said.

For those who are concerned about making payments on time due to business closures and layoffs, Helfmann said Fifth Third Bank is doing what it can to help put people on deferment programs.

"If anybody is having financial hardships, we are there to help them with that," she said.