Coronavirus Death, Closure of Playgrounds & Malls, and More Updates
(Drew Saunders, March 21, 2020)
Four of Oakland County’s leaders sat about six feet away from each other as they updated local news media on the Coronavirus outbreak with a tragic update, someone has died.
“We are going to be Oakland together. We are really going to be Michigan together. Because as individuals together we can stop the spread of this virus, or at least slow it. The actions that we take today will prevent deaths tomorrow,” County Executive David Coulter said.
“For those who are wondering if we are overreacting for nothing, I’ll just say that overreacting is good. Overreacting is success. Overreacting saves lives,” Coulter added.
Normally, journalists huddle together and vie for the best shots while dodging each other’s elbows. But on Saturday, reporters were directed to individual desks, spaced out in the conference room of the L. Brooks Patterson Executive Building like they were taking the SATs. The social distancing portion of the meeting was emphasized to reduce the spread as much as possible.
County leaders are also asking people to call the ER or doctor’s office to limit the number of people showing up at hospitals, because they do not have enough equipment or beds. If you can self-quarantine at home, county officials say you should, so as to not overwhelm hospitals like Ascension Macomb-Oakland Health Center in Madison Heights.
That is where a 50 year old man with underlying health conditions passed away after testing positive for Covid-19.
The county is currently handling 227 confirmed cases through various hospitals and self-quarantine, although County Executive David Coulter warned journalist that that number is almost certainly misleading because “those people got infected seven to ten days ago.”
A nationwide backlog of testing, and the scarcity of testing and other equipment means that most people who have been infected are unaware. While emphasizing a need to not panic, county officials are encouraging the public to not travel unnecessarily.
Testing has been lacking nationwide, so as Oakland County catches up, the number of confirmed cases is going to rise. To that end, Oakland County is looking for new locations to put “sub-acute” victims, to avoid overwhelming local hospitals.
“I don’t have an exact number, but a significant number of our confirmed patients are hospitalized. These numbers are changing hourly as we get people,” Oakland County Health Officer Leigh-Anne Stafford said.
When someone does test positive, health officials trace who they have been in contact with, so anyone they have interacted with can be self-quarantined and can monitor themselves for symptoms. Stafford encouraged people to avoid in-person meetings with the most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, to avoid infecting them unintentionally.
Stafford said that while its true that the younger you are, the more likely it was that you would survive an infection, it also makes it more likely that the disease will spread to the elderly.
“They could have a more serious infection, which would require hospitalization. We’re talking about overwhelming our hospitals, running out of ventilators and supplies that we need. That’s why we need everyone to do what they can to reduce their movement in the community if its not essential, and focus on their families and people in the community that are most vulnerable,” Stafford said.
Shopping malls have been ordered shut as of noon on Saturday, and a ban on the use of playground equipment has been introduced and will be effective as of 6:00 a.m. on March 23. While Sherriff Michael Bouchard emphasized that rumors about martial law are overblown, he reinforced the message that social distancing is still crucial. Using large green-space parks is still permitted, and even encouraged, as long as groups do not exceed ten people and individuals stay at least 6 feet away from each other, according to the County.
The county is also ordering that all daycare centers bar all non-essential visitors. The County is ordering that daycare facilities screen “all staff, children, parents and visitors” for symptoms like a fever, cough, shortness or breath or a sore throat.
Sheriff Bouchard said that over his career he has responded to tragedies during both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. “During both of those times we saw the best of humanity and the worst. The worst has sadly shown itself already. We’ve got scammers out there, trying to take advantage financially.”
The Sheriff said that his office has been made aware of bogus charities, mirrored websites, and other phishing scams in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. Bouchard asked the public to be careful about where they get their information and to not fall for phone calls demanding money or personal information.
Bouchard added that his office is working with local courts for a legal route to release non-violent, infirm prisoners from the county jail. While emphasizing that violent convicts will not be considered for release, he emphasized that the most vulnerable prisoners could be released to defuse a potential health disaster, but that that conversation is in the early stages.
Anyone who has been in “close contact” with a confirmed Covid-19 victim will be isolated for 14 days.
The county is also reaching out to non-essential medical facilities to ask for equipment. Doctors who operate non-emergency practices like doctors offices are being asked to donate their gloves, respirators, gowns, face shields and touchless thermometers.
Anyone who has that equipment will be able to drop off that equipment at the Oakland County Farmers Market at the corner of Pontiac Lake Road and County Center Drive as of Monday. Oakland County will pick up donated equipment. To do so, you can call 248.858.5300.
If you want updates from Oakland County on the Coronavirus, text “OAKGOV” to 28748
Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.