Whitmer creates task forces to tackle coronavirus

Health orgs work together on disease testing

A researcher works in a lab that is developing testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus at Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation on February 28, 2020 in Nutley, New Jersey. | Kena Betancur/Getty Images

While Michigan has yet to see a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19), special task forces are being created to prevent the spread of the disease if it were to appear in the state. 

Local and state-level health organizations have also highlighted their teamwork when it came down to testing what turned out to be a negative case of COVID-19 last weekend. 

According to the World Health Organization, there are now more than 91,000 positive cases of coronavirus globally. More than 3,000 people have died, including nine people in the United States. There are now also 12 states with confirmed cases of COVID-19, as well.

Task forces created 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the State Emergency Operations Center | Madeline Ciak

Four new task forces created by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer aim to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 if it is detected in the state:

  • The COVID-19 Task Force on State Operations, covering all aspects of state operations, including employment and facilities.
  • The COVID-19 Task Force on Health and Human Services, covering the provision of medical and human services, including protecting the health care workforce.
  • The COVID-19 Task Force on Education, covering K-12 public schools and universities and colleges.
  • The COVID-19 Task Force on Economy/Workforce, covering general economic impact, workforce, supply chain, business continuity and related issues.

On Feb. 3, The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) activated the Community Health Emergency Coordination Center. DHHS has been working with local health departments, health systems and medical providers to make sure appropriate screening and preparations for COVID-19 are being made.

As previously reported by the Advance, Whitmer also participated in a nationwide COVID-19 briefing with Vice President Mike Pence — who’s coordinating the White House response — other state governors and health officials on Sunday night. The briefing was the first of what will now be weekly briefings on coronavirus.

Whitmer briefed by Pence on coronavirus 

Team effort on testing

DHHS conducted its first in-state Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Saturday and received negative test results on the same day.

The department said the specimen came from a person who lives in Oakland County. DHHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said that last weekend’s testing involved both the Saginaw County Health Department and the Oakland County Health Division, adding that the individual had sought health care in Saginaw County. 

Based on the patient’s symptoms and no other known source of illness, health care professionals suspected coronavirus. A specimen was collected and sent to the DHHS bureau of laboratories, which just recently became able to perform in-state COVID-19 testing. The DHHS bureau of laboratories is funded through the DHHS budget, plus federal grant funds from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Michigan medical chief outlines state coronavirus response

Coronavirus prevention protocol

Sutfin also explained the protocol that DHHS must follow when it comes to COVID-19. 

A health care provider who suspects COVID-19 in a patient first contacts the local health department. Then the local health department works with the provider to ensure the patient meets the case definition for testing and that the proper specimens are taken for testing. 

DHHS is then notified about the person under investigation and works with the local health department and provider to have the specimens sent to the MDHHS bureau of laboratories in Lansing. Once the specimens are received, they are tested and results are shared with the state, local health department and provider. 

In the case over the weekend, information about the negative test results was relayed to DHHS, local health department and hospital staff. A news release was then issued to the media that evening and the website Michigan.gov/coronavirus was updated.

Sutfin said the correct protocol was followed last weekend and that she wouldn’t have changed how anyone responded to the case.

Whitmer activates State Emergency Operations Center for coronavirus

Expanded criteria leads to patient tested

Notably, the CDC expanded its testing criteria on Thursday, which is what led to this patient being tested. 

There are three different sets of criteria that the CDC uses to positively diagnose someone with COVID-19. One set of criteria include fever, cough or shortness of breath paired with any person, including health care workers who have had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient within 14 days of symptom onset. 

The second set of criteria includes fever, coughing or shortness of breath that requires hospitalization, plus a history of travel from an affected geographic area like China within 14 days of symptom onset. The third set of criteria include fever accompanied by a severe acute lower respiratory illness like pneumonia that requires hospitalization without alternative a diagnosis, plus no source of exposure being identified. 

The patient was tested for COVID-19, and results came back negative.