Michigan reports first two coronavirus cases, in Wayne and Oakland counties

LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency late Tuesday after confirming Michigan’s first two cases of the new coronavirus, an infectious disease first found in China and now spreading through the United States.

An Oakland County woman with a recent history of international travel and a Wayne County man with a recent history of domestic travel have tested positive for COVID-19 and are hospitalized, said Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive.

Officials are calling these “presumed” cases while awaiting confirmation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both patients are middle-aged.

“It is very likely that we will see more cases and that there will be community spread,” Khaldun said in a 10:45 p.m. news conference with Whitmer at the Michigan emergency operations center. “We need everyone to do their part to prevent the spread of the disease as much as possible.”

Khaldun said the state learned of the diagnoses hours earlier. She was unable to detail recent travel by either patient but said local health officials are working to identify anyone who had close contact with the patients for possible testing or monitoring.

The Wayne County patient is “currently under isolation,” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said in a statement. “Our Public Health Division is working to identify individuals who may have come into close contact with the patient so we can take appropriate steps and monitor them closely.”

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said the Oakland County Health Division will investigate “circumstances” of the local woman who contracted the virus “so we can understand if there are any potential close contacts.” 

In a late Tuesday televised statement, Whitmer offered what she called “easy” advice to residents: Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds, touch your face less often, “replace handshakes with elbow bumps” and cover your mouth when you cough.

“I know these sound simple, but they work,” the governor said. “The main goal of these efforts is to slow the spread of the disease, not stop it. It has moved into Michigan.”

Khaldun suggested older residents or those with chronic medical conditions consider postponing long travel, staying away from crowds and avoiding long plane rides.

Declaring a state of emergency will help maximize Michigan’s ability to assist local governments, according to the Whitmer administration.

“We will get through this, but for now, please make sure your families and friends are taking every preventative measure to keep yourself safe,” Whitmer urged.

Michigan had already reported more than 470 suspected cases to health officials for monitoring and 124 cases were being actively monitored as of Tuesday. The state listed 39 people as having tested negative before Tuesday evening. 

In preparation for the potential spread of the virus to Michigan, Whitmer in late February activated a state command center to coordinate with local, state and federal officials to combat the spread of the virus.

But state health officials acknowledged then that it has a limited supply of specialized masks and other equipment that will be needed should the deadly coronavirus spread to Michigan. 

Whitmer announced last week that Michigan’s Medicaid program is waiving co-pays and cost-sharing for testing and health care treatment related to coronavirus. Other insurers announced that they will fully cover the cost of medically-necessary COVID-19 tests. The insurers include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Care Network of Michigan, Priority Health, CVS Health, McLaren, and Meridian.

As Bridge Magazine previously reported, nearly three-dozen Eastern Michigan University students and staff remain in self-quarantine until Sunday over fears of coronavirus after a recent trip to Italy –  one of the world hotspots for coronavirus. EMU spokesman Geoff Larcom had told Bridge they were instructed to stay at home and off campus until Sunday while they are monitored. He said 33 students, two faculty and two travel guides returned March 1 from a spring break trip that left for Italy on Feb. 21.

Italy had more than 9,000 cases and more than 460 deaths as of Tuesday, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University. There were more than 116,000 cases worldwide and more than 4,000 deaths according to its tracking.

There were 761 U.S. coronavirus cases and 27 deaths as of Tuesday, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, a second shipment of coronavirus testing equipment arrived in Michigan last Thursday, expanding the state’s ability to test more people for the virus, a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention further relaxed guidelines on who would be tested.

The CDC-developed kit, which can test 700 to 800 specimens, can deliver test results in about four hours, according to the CDC. The agency previously had limited testing only to sick patients with a travel history to the globe’s most affected areas or who had been in contact with a person with a confirmed case coronavirus known formally as COVID-19.

Developed by the CDC, the kit tests nasal and oral swabs samples from a patient with a productive cough. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan can now test 300 or more patients.

Even as coronavirus spreads across the globe, confusion continues even among experts over its mortality rate. WHO earlier this week said 3.4 percent of coronavirus patients had died. Coronavirus deaths in China were estimated at 2 percent of those infected.

But in South Korea – where more than 100,000 people have been tested – nearly 6,600 have tested positive and 42 have died. That’s a mortality rate of just over 0.6 percent. On average, seasonal flu strains kill about 0.1 percent of those infected.

Death rates for coronavirus are highest among the elderly and among those with underlying health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and high blood pressure. On the other end of the age spectrum, very few children under 10 have been diagnosed with it. Most have mild cases.

Some experts speculate that may be because children are exposed to a range of other coronaviruses, including those that cause the common cold, building up antibodies that may offer cross-protection for the virus.

To guard against the spread of coronavirus, MDHHS advises residents to wash hands frequently with soap or use hand sanitizers, avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, avoid contact with sick people and stay home if sick and contact a health care provider.

In Detroit, officials announced Monday the city would restore water to residents who have had service cut off due to unpaid bills so they can wash their hands to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. The plan would allow residents with unpaid bills to restore water for a $25 fee and keep their water on during the crisis for $25 per month.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the city would keep the water on for people who received a notice to turn their water off or are currently living without water due to unpaid bills. For anyone living without water, Duggan said users should call 313-386-9727 beginning Wednesday.

The city said it is also putting a temporary halt on water shutoffs until the coronavirus concerns are over.

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