Michigan grapples with testing shortage, school closures, and other massive disruptions as coronavirus cases increase

click to enlarge A visualization of the coronavirus. - SHUTTERSTOCK
A visualization of the coronavirus.

What a difference a day makes.

In a 24-hour span, Michigan officials and businesses have taken enormous steps to quell the spread of the coronavirus, from closing all public and private schools to canceling concerts, sporting events, and other large gatherings.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the first two positive cases of coronavirus late Tuesday night. By Wednesday evening, the state had 12 confirmed cases and acknowledged it may run out of test kits as the coronavirus spreads.

“As we start finding more cases, there's a possibility that we will run out of tests,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health in Michigan, said at a press conference Thursday night. “It's incredibly important that the federal government keeps up with that demand.”

The state has confirmed positive cases in Wayne, Oakland, Ingham, Kent, Montcalm, St. Clair, and Washtenaw counties. All infected people are adults.

With limited testing, health officials fear the coronavirus is far more widespread than reported and has the potential to infect millions of people across the country. In Ohio, a top health official estimated that more than 100,000 people in the state, which borders Michigan, have coronavirus.

Whitmer isn’t taking any chances, and on Thursday night ordered the closure of all public and private schools through at least April 5.

“This is a necessary step to protect our kids, our families, and our overall public health,” Whitmer said in a news release. “I am working with partners across state government to ensure educators, parents, and students have the support they need during this time, and to ensure our children who rely on school for meals have access to food. I know this will be a tough time, but we’re doing this to keep the most people we can safe. I urge everyone to make smart choices during this time and to do everything they can to protect themselves and their families.” 

School closures can be very disruptive, especially in lower-income districts. For some students, school is their only source of a warm meal or running water. In addition, many parents don't have jobs with paid time off or the extra money to afford a babysitter for an extended period of time. But studies show that keeping children home is an effective way to reduce the severity of outbreaks.

Whitmer has also called for the cancellation of events of more than 100 people. On Friday, the state also canceled all in-person prison visitations.

On Thursday, concert promoting giants Live National and AEG canceled all of their scheduled tours. Detroit’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Marche du Nain Rouge parade have also been canceled.

Professional sports, including baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer have been postponed.

Hospitals across the state are bracing for more cases. On Thursday evening, Beaumont Health alerted officials it is temporarily halting respiratory virus panel testing “due to a shortage of reagents” that will be needed to test for coronavirus.

“We determined that having the ability to perform an in-house COVID-19 test is valuable to our patients and health care providers, and the benefit exceeds the risk of not being able to perform respiratory virus panel testing in the interim,” Beaumont doctors said in a bulletin obtained by Metro Times.

On Thursday, Michigan lawmakers approved $25 million in funding to combat the coronavirus.

“I expect us to find more cases of this disease, and I expect there to be community spread,” Khaldun said. “While we do not need to panic, this is very serious and everyone needs to do their part to prevent the spread of this disease.”

As of Thursday night, the state was awaiting the results of another 26 possible coronavirus cases. More than 170 sick people are being monitored and have not been tested, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Health officials recommend taking the following steps to prevent the illness:

• Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
• Avoid close contact with sick people.
• Stay home if you’re sick.
• Cover your mouth if you cough or sneeze.
• Wear a facemask if you are sick.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

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About The Author

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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