Michigan almost at 1,800 COVID-19 cases, 24 have died

DHHS has new emergency test guidelines, state parks still open

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has activated its Emergency Operations Center to coordinate with the World Health Organization, federal, state and local public health partners, and clinicians in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. | James Gathany/CDC Public Health Image Library

Nine more people have died of COVID-19 since Monday, bringing the total to 24 people in Michigan.

A statewide coronavirus hotline is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1-888-535-6136. Information can be found on the DHHS website or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website.

There are now 1,791 positive cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, as of Tuesday afternoon, although state officials believe the actual number of cases is much higher. 

COVID-19 is now in more than half of Michigan’s counties — 41 of 83.

Highly populated Southeast Michigan continues to have the bulk of cases and deaths. There are 563 cases in Detroit and eight deaths, including one Detroit police officer. 

Wayne County has 310 cases and five deaths. Macomb County has 225 cases and three deaths. Oakland County has 428 cases and four deaths. Washtenaw County has 50 cases and three deaths. On the west side of the state, there is one death in Kent County, which also has 31 cases.

The new state-reported numbers only recently began incorporating data from other commercial and private labs and hospitals around Michigan, which caused an apparent spike in numbers that speaks more to the number of cases just now being publicly reported.

The first two cases of COVID-19 were reported in the state on March 10. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency that day.

The World Health Organization reports that there are more than 372,000 confirmed cases worldwide and 16,000 deaths. In the United States, there are more than 42,000 confirmed cases and 402 deaths.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also issued an emergency order Tuesday that established procedures that must be followed during Michigan’s COVID-19 outbreak. DHHS Director Robert Gordon has ordered that:

  • Facilities in the state of Michigan processing tests for COVID-19 must prioritize sampling and testing for COVID-19 as instructed by DHHS. This includes specimens associated with active investigations of known contacts, individuals with concerning exposure histories and risk profiles and specimens obtained during cluster investigations. 
  • All laboratory tests conducted for COVID-19 must be reported to DHHS via the Michigan Disease Surveillance System within four hours of completion of the test, whether negative or positive.
  • Health facilities must contact the local health officer to inform them of a COVID-19-related death within two hours of the death.
  • Physicians and other health professionals who collect specimens for testing of COVID-19 must label specimens in the manner instructed by DHHS. This includes patient name, date of birth, specimen source, collection date, etc.
  • Hospitals in the state of Michigan must abide by DHHS’ instructions on reporting of information related to the COVID-19 response. This includes reporting updates on bed capacity, personal protective equipment (PPE) inventory, laboratory testing capacity, number of ventilated patients and the number of ventilators. In addition, hospitals must report a patient census, staffing shortages and units or areas dedicated to COVID-19 treatment.

“This is another step the state is taking toward saving lives during this pandemic,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “The ultimate goal is to slow the spread of the virus so our health care system doesn’t get overwhelmed and we prevent as much illness as possible.”

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Michigan Legislature sessions

Michigan Senate GOP spokeswoman Amber McCann said that while the Senate is scheduled to hold session Wednesday, it is highly unlikely that the body will meet. McCann added that the Senate will maintain one weekly session day in case there’s a need for legislative action, but there’s no anticipation to do so this week. 

Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), said that while there will technically be a session held for the House of Representative, there will be no attendance and no voting. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order last week that public bodies can meet electronically during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Michigan Press Association wary of Whitmer electronic meeting order during COVID-19

Stay at home order impacts driver license renewals

The “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order put in place by Whitmer to slow the spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus, has been in effect for less than a day, and is already affecting absentee ballot applications, camping reservations and drivers license renewals.

According to a report from the Detroit Free Press, some drivers in Michigan will soon have expired drivers licenses due to the stay at home order.

According to state law, drivers who renewed their licenses online the previous time they renewed will now have to renew in person. But the Michigan Department of State said Monday it is closing Secretary of State branch offices for at least three weeks under Whitmer’s order.

The Secretary of State said the department also will begin waiving late fees for people if their license expires through April 13.

In addition, the Secretary of State says it has also been in contact with the Michigan State Police to notify them about the office closures because it will impact some drivers’ ability to update their licenses and vehicle registration.

Whitmer signs ‘stay at home’ order, warns businesses not to ‘play fast and loose’ with public health

State parks open — for now

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, state parks will stay open amid Whitmer’s order.

In addition, people are being reminded to practice the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation of social distancing while outdoors — park visitors must stay at least 6 feet away from one another.

“We want residents to use and enjoy our public outdoor spaces, but we ask them to do so responsibly and safely, whether in a forest, on a trail or in a parking lot,” said DNR Director Dan Eichinger.

Eichinger added, “If it becomes evident that people are not practicing effective social distancing while visiting these state-managed resources, we will close them to protect the health of our visitors and our staff.”

Maybury State Park | Susan J. Demas

However, state park campgrounds and overnight lodging facilities will be closed through April 13.

Reservations made for camping facilities between March 23 and April 13 will be automatically cancelled and the money refunded, according to DNR officials. 

Voters in May 5 election will receive absentee ballot applications

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said applications for absentee ballots for the May 5 election will be mailed to all voters with postage-paid return envelopes.

Michigan ballot | Susan J. Demas

“Our country has a long history of carrying out elections in times of crisis, and we are fortunate to have the tools to uphold that history today,” said Benson. “Voting by mail protects public health, is highly accessible, and was clearly mandated by Michiganders when they overwhelmingly voted in 2018 to amend our state constitution and afford everyone this right.”

For the past two weeks, Benson has been working with clerks across the state to determine if they need to hold an election in May, or if the entity placing the item on their ballot could postpone it until August. A majority of the questions on the May ballots are school district millages and bonds, and many districts have postponed.

Madeline Ciak
Madeline Ciak covers the economy, health care and safety net, immigration and politics. She’s a University of Michigan-Flint graduate and previously worked as a digital media manager at NBC25/FOX66 in Flint and a weekend producer at ABC12. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found reading, whipping something up in the Instant Pot, gardening or treasure hunting at thrift stores.
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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.