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Sterling Heights suspends city recreational activities due to coronavirus

Governor shuts down schools, UCS responds

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published March 16, 2020

File photo

STERLING HEIGHTS — The new coronavirus has swiftly forced a new way of life on Sterling Heights residents, students and beyond.

The virus, aka SARS-CoV-2, causes a disease known as COVID-19. According to the state of Michigan, the coronavirus’ illness includes symptoms such as a cough, fever and trouble breathing.

In the most severe cases, the illness can lead to pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome and death. The elderly and people with chronic pre-existing conditions — such as diabetes or conditions affecting the heart or lungs — are especially at risk of complications, health experts say.

On March 10, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and county officials announced that an Oakland County resident and a Wayne County resident tested positive for COVID-19. She also declared a state of emergency.

Health experts identified the virus when it broke out in Wuhan, China, late last year. It since has spread throughout the world and, at press time, had killed more than 4,000 people. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

The virus news has already impacted some Sterling Heights operations. On March 12, city officials announced that Sterling Heights would immediately cancel its programming activities associated with the brand-new Community Center, as well as the public library and the senior center. “Larger” nature center events will be nixed, too, they said.

The suspension will last at least through the end of March, and the city has offered refunds or credits for the canceled programming.

“The decision to temporarily cancel activities was not made lightly,” City Manager Mark Vanderpool said in a statement. “However, considering the newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Southeast Michigan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement discouraging gatherings of crowds of 100 or more, we feel these cancellations are a prudent move to help mitigate potential community spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

According to Mayor Michael Taylor, the city has been communicating with the offices of the White House, the governor, the county executive and public health agencies.

“The situation is changing, really, hour by hour, and we’ll do everything we can to keep the public informed on what’s going on and what to do,” he said.

Sterling Heights will livestream an online Coronavirus Community Leaders Forum 6-7:30 p.m. March 18 on Facebook Live. Hospital representatives will address the public, and local city, public safety, school and health officials will appear, too.

Officials also said the city wants to teach residents how they may conduct city-affiliated transactions online, such as paying bills and taxes, or checking out online library resources.

Meanwhile, city, county and state agencies are asking the public to do its part to lower the spread of infection.

The state of Michigan wants residents to keep up on hygiene with thorough hand-washing, covering sneezes and coughs, and cleaning objects that people often touch or handle. Residents may also want to stock up on essential supplies at home, including food and medicine, officials warned.

On March 11, Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services asked state residents to follow “mitigation strategies” to stop the virus’ spread.

They emphasized staying home when sick or when at risk of becoming severely sick. The state also advised the public to cancel or postpone gatherings or sporting events involving more than 100 people. Officials urged using options for teleconferences and video or audio links to events.

 

School response
Meanwhile, officials urged schools, businesses and other groups to “use their best judgment about what steps are most appropriate to keep people safe and slow the spread of the disease.”

Earlier in March, the Utica Community Schools district informed parents that it has emergency operations procedures to enact if an outbreak occurs, and it’s adding extra hygiene products in its buildings.

UCS officials said they are continuing to follow advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Macomb County Health Department, and the Michigan Department of Education.

“All agencies are working together to contain the further spread of the virus by encouraging individuals to continue using healthy habits,” Superintendent Christine Johns said in a letter.

Citing the Macomb County Health Department, Johns recommended using soap to wash hands for at least 20 seconds, with hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol or more as a backup. Individuals should also do their best to avoid being close to sick people, avoid shaking hands and avoid touching their face. Sick students should rest at home until their fevers are gone, without medication, for at least 24 hours.

In a March 11 letter, Johns also announced that UCS is delaying or canceling events like parent-teacher conferences, school assemblies, fine arts performances and the career expo. It’s also considering schedule changes for entry and dismissal to keep crowds from congregating. Lunch could possibly be eaten in class rather than in the cafeteria, though this is just being considered, the letter states.

Johns also said UCS will cancel all field trips, delay professional development and suspend rentals of their facilities. The district is reportedly also in talks with the Michigan High School Athletic Association, as well as school groups. The district’s desire is to put off out-of-state travel and, if ever applicable, international travel.   

But on the night of March 12, Whitmer announced that all Michigan public schools would close from March 16 through April 5. At press time, UCS said its spring break was scheduled to occur after that, so the district — under its current schedule — will close through April 12.

“School will be in regular session for a full day on Friday, March 13, to allow our students to meet with their teachers and prepare for the extended closure,” UCS said on Facebook. “Since students will be out of school for an extended period, we want to make sure they have a chance to connect with teachers and collect books, materials and any personal items. This full day of school will also allow families time to make arrangements for childcare during the closure.”

UCS spokesman Tim McAvoy said on Friday the district communicated with families and staff its plan to continue providing services during the closure, including instruction, food services and other critical student supports.

“Next week, we’ll transition to online learning using our digital platforms,” McAvoy said.

 

Businesses affected
Beyond the city and schools, businesses and locals are talking about the virus, too.

Daniel Ketelhut, a barber of around 40 years, owns A Danny’s Barber Shop in Sterling Heights. He said his shop is staying open, and it is sterilizing equipment, such as clippers and razors, with ultraviolet light-emitting equipment.

He said some customers are talking about the coronavirus.

“We deal with people here all day long,” Ketelhut said. “A lot of people say ...  it’s just too much. Some people are worried about it.

“I wash my hands all the time. I put rubbing alcohol in my soap for shaving. I’m not scared. I think it’s going to hurt business — not here, but other places, like shopping malls.”

Find out more about Sterling Heights’ coronavirus tips by visiting bit.ly/2Q3aNdC. Reach the Sterling Heights Senior Center at (586) 446-2750, the Community Center at (586) 446-2700, the library at (586) 446-2665 and the nature center at (586) 446-2710.

For additional Utica Community Schools updates, visit www.uticak12.org. To see state information on the new coronavirus, visit michigan.gov/Coronavirus. For CDC advice, visit CDC.gov/Coronavirus.