Oakland County declares state of emergency due to coronavirus

By: Sarah Wojcik | Online Only | Published March 14, 2020 | Updated March 17, 2020 8:23am

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OAKLAND COUNTY — On March 13, Oakland County Executive David Coulter declared a state of emergency in the county due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as Michigan announced that the total presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 rose to 25.

The declaration will grant Coulter the ability to quickly shift resources — including federal aid, should it become available — to help residents, businesses and communities affected by the spread of COVID-19.

“A state of emergency is meant to reassure Oakland County residents that we are leveraging every resource to contain the virus,” Coulter said in a county press release.

The county also established the Oakland County Help Hotline — (248) 858-1000 — for nonhealth needs of the general public, such as food and housing assistance. The hotline will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Callers with specific needs will be directed to county departments and divisions that can help, or to other agencies and programs that can assist, according to the release.

On March 10, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that two Michigan residents had tested presumptive positive for COVID-19 — a middle-aged woman from Oakland County with recent international travel, and a middle-aged man from Wayne County with recent domestic travel.

On March 11, the World Health Organization characterized the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic, or a global outbreak of disease.

On March 12, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced that 10 additional adults had tested presumptive positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases to 12. Forty-one more were announced over the next three days.

The cases were from Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Ingham, Kent, Montcalm, St. Clair, Washtenaw, Bay, Charlevoix, Monroe and Ottawa counties. The vast majority had histories of international or domestic travel. One person had contact with another confirmed case. Some had no history of travel.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,629 cases of COVID-19 and 41 deaths due to the disease were reported in 46 U.S. states and the District of Columbia from Jan. 21 to March 12.

As of March 16, the World Health Organization reported 164,837 confirmed cases of COVID-19, as well as 6,470 deaths in 146 countries, areas or territories.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. If any develop, the Oakland County Health Division recommends to stay at home and promptly call a health care provider or hospital prior to arriving so that the appropriate preventive measures can be put in place.

The Oakland County Nurse on Call hotline — (800) 848-5533 — offers information about health and related resources. It is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

The MDHHS advises people to wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds; to avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or upper sleeve when coughing or sneezing; to avoid contact with people who are sick; and to stay home if they are sick and contact their health care provider.

Additional prevention tips: Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol; avoid sharing cups and eating utensils; clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs; stay at least 6 feet away from others in public settings; and practice good health habits, including adequate sleep, stress management, hydration, good nutrition and exercise.

Older adults and people with serious chronic medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease and diabetes, may be at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.

“The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus,” said Leigh-Anne Stafford, the health officer for Oakland County, in a prepared statement. “The simple everyday actions you take to help avoid the spread of flu and other illnesses will also help prevent the spread of coronaviruses.”

On March 13, Whitmer signed an executive order to cancel all events and “assemblages in shared spaces” of over 250 people beginning at 5 p.m. March 13 and ending at 5 p.m. April 5. The executive order also closed all K-12 school buildings to students from March 16 to April 5, but allowed all child care facilities to remain open.

Certain assemblages are exempt from the prohibition, including those for the purpose of industrial or manufacturing work, mass transit, or the purchase of groceries or consumer goods.

On March 13, Whitmer signed executive orders to place temporary restrictions on entry into facilities for health care, residential care, congregate care and juvenile justice, as well as for state public bodies to postpone the public meetings they can and facilitate remote participation in the meetings that do occur.

On March 16, Whitmer signed an executive order to temporarily close bars, theaters, casinos and other public spaces — including restaurants, cafés, coffeehouses, bars, taverns, brewpubs, distilleries, lounges, clubs, movie theaters, indoor and outdoor performance venues, gymnasiums, fitness centers, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities, exercise studios, spas, casinos, libraries, museums and “places of public amusement not otherwise listed above” —  as well as to limit aforementioned businesses offering food and beverages to delivery and carryout orders only through March 30.

Restaurants may allow five people inside at a time to pick up orders, so long as they stay 6 feet apart.

The restrictions do not apply to office buildings; grocery stores; markets; food pantries; pharmacies; drug stores; providers of medical equipment and supplies; warehouse and distribution centers; crisis shelters; foot courts inside secured zones of airports; and facilities for health care, residential care, congregate care, juvenile justice, and industrial and manufacturing.

“This disease is a challenge unlike any we’ve experienced in our lifetimes,” Whitmer said in a prepared statement. “Fighting it will cause significant but temporary changes to our daily lives. By practicing social distancing and taking aggressive action now, the state is working to mitigate the spread of coronavirus so we reduce the risk that our health care system becomes overwhelmed.”

Coulter directed the full activation of the county’s Emergency Operations Center, which includes continuing essential county services, supporting online options, exploring grace periods and fee reductions, and encouraging teleworking and expansion of emergency leave policies for county employees; intensifying social distancing strategies by employers, faith-based institutions and entertainment venues; and supporting students out of school and in need of healthy food options and health care services.

On March 13, Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner issued a press release announcing his pledge that no Oakland County resident would lose their property to tax foreclosure because of circumstances related to COVID-19. On March 16, Meisner closed the Treasurer’s Office to the public.

“Closing our office to walk-ins from the public is the responsible thing to do given what we are hearing from public health professionals, and it will leave several options open for continuing the work of the Treasurer’s Office, including online payments, use of the drop box and meetings by phone,” Meisner said in a prepared statement.

On March 16, the Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center announced that, beginning March 17, members of the public must make an appointment if they wish to adopt a pet, surrender an animal, reclaim a pet or search for a missing pet. To make an appointment, call (248) 858-1070.

Oakland County advised residents to maintain a two-week supply of water and food at home; to routinely check regular prescription drugs to ensure they won’t run out; to keep nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand; to get copies and maintain electronic versions of health records; and to talk with family members about how they would be cared for if they got sick, and what would be needed to care for them in your home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.

Patients with COVID-19 have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness, and there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infection, as it is a new virus. The CDC recommends that people who are ill with COVID-19, but not sick enough to be hospitalized, isolate at home during their illness.

Early on, many of the patients at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, had some connection to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC. The CDC said the disease has now been detected in over 140 locations internationally, including the U.S., and spreads easily from person to person.

For preparedness planning toolkits, prevention resources and confirmed exposure locations, visit oakgov.com/health.

Information about the COVID-19 outbreak is changing rapidly. Check for the latest available information at michigan.gov/coronavirus and cdc.gov/coronavirus.