Governor declares state of emergency as coronavirus reaches Michigan

By: 
JACKIE KOCH

Late Tuesday night Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency in Michigan after announcing that two presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, the coronavirus that started in Wuhan, China, have been confirmed in Michigan.  

The last week in February, the World Health Organization (WHO) increased the global risk assessment of the coronavirus to “very high,” its highest warning. Across the world there have been 121,340 cases of COVID-19, counted as of the morning of March 11. Of those, there have been 4,380 deaths and 66,909 have recovered from the illness, while there are still more than 50,000 active cases, 89% of those in mild condition and 11% in serious or critical condition. This information changes rapidly as infection information is collected.

One of the Michigan cases is a woman from Oakland County who recently traveled internationally, and the other is a Wayne County man with recent domestic travel.

In the United States, as of the morning of March 11 there were 1,016 cases of COVID-19 reported, with 31 deaths, 15 recovered, and 970 active cases, 10 of which were serious or critical. While these numbers seem low compared to the more than 327 million people populating this country, health officials say this is just the beginning of infection rates in the U.S., and many believe that there are individuals with mild symptoms who are not aware of their infection, or who may not be taking the risk of transmission seriously, and may be passing the virus on to others.

Although those with the virus are told to self-quarantine at home if their symptoms are not serious enough to put them in the hospital, there have been patients in New Hampshire and Missouri who have defied those recommendations and exposed others to the illness as they attended large gatherings.

State officials are working to educate the public and address the need for prevention to slow the spread of the virus, which will allow medical facilities to be able to treat those who need the most care.

“We are taking every step we can to mitigate the spread of the virus and keep Michiganders safe,” said Governor Whitmer in a press release. “I have declared a state of emergency to harness all of our resources across state government to slow the spread of the virus and protect families. It’s crucial that all Michiganders continue to take preventative measures to lower their risk, and to share this information with their friends, family, and co-workers.”

Residents are advised to practice steps that will help prevent coronavirus disease, including washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; covering their mouth and nose with a tissue or upper sleeve when coughing or sneezing; avoiding contact with people who are sick; and staying home if they are sick and contacting their healthcare provider.

According to the governor’s press release, COVID-19 symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus. They include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises employers to actively encourage sick employees to stay home until they are free of any fever that is 100.4° F or above using an oral thermometer, any signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines such as cough suppressants. Employers are also advised to provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces such as doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls and desks can be wiped down by employees before each use.

Another prevention advisement is for employers to consider whether they can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (telecommuting) and flexible work hours (staggered shifts) to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and others if state and local health authorities recommend the use of social distancing strategies. “For employees who are able to telework, supervisors should encourage employees to telework instead of coming into the workplace until symptoms are completely resolved. Ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home,” the CDC website advises.

Depending on infection locations, some early childhood programs and K-12 schools may be dismissed, and there will be those who will need to stay home to care for sick family members or to watch their children if dismissed from school. “Businesses and other employers should prepare to institute flexible workplace and leave policies for these employees,” said the CDC.

On Monday Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said that people who are over 60 years old and those with underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease are more vulnerable to getting sick or even dying from the novel coronavirus and should take precautions to protect themselves, and should avoid large crowds or travel on airplanes or cruise ships. The risk of serious illness increases with age.

She also recommended that those more vulnerable have supplies on hand like routine medications for blood pressure and diabetes, over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies to treat fever and other symptoms, and enough household items and groceries so that they will be prepared to stay home for a period of time. The goal of stocking up is so more vulnerable people can minimize trips to the store and stay close to home, she said.

The State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services were to announce additional recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 Wednesday afternoon. Updates will be posted to Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

Tecumseh City Manager Dan Swallow said the city is encouraging all city employees to follow COVID-19 prevention practices. “Our primary goal right now is to ensure our employees are following the CDC guidelines,” he said. They will also look at the city’s facilities to see how they can enhance sanitation. Swallow said that depending on what happens in the days ahead, events at the Tecumseh Center for the Arts may need to be postponed or cancelled. “Hopefully it doesn’t go far, but you never know,” he said. He has encouraged the Lenawee County Health Department to hold a briefing for community leaders such as city administrators, city managers, and township supervisors to advise them on next steps.

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