Disaster declared; COVID-19 death toll surpasses 100 in Michigan

Coronavirus in Michigan: Day 18

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(This story was updated at 3:05 p.m.)

SATURDAY, March 28 — As COVID-19 spreads, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is concerned about whether Michigan hospitals will have enough supplies to last through the weekend. But a recent major disaster declaration should help unleash federal funding for those struggling in Michigan.

“We’ve got people that are fighting for their lives in the hospitals, families mourning loved ones and we need assistance. We need more masks and more gloves and more gowns,” Whitmer said on Twitter last night. “We are worried about making it through this weekend, so that’s why it’s on all of us to lock arms, to meet this challenge and remember that the enemy is COVID-19. 

President Donald Trump today signed a major disaster declaration, enabling crisis counseling for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, among other federal funding and assistance, reports Crain’s Detroit Business. Help is also available to state, tribal and local governments. 

The declaration also provides some medical supplies and personal protective equipment for frontline medical staff, as well as some options for health care and transport and child care. But Trump did not approve Whitmer’s entire request for individual assistance and public programs. 

“This is a good start, and it will help us protect Michiganders and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a press release issued earlier this morning. “I’m hopeful that the president will review my request for individual assistance programs that would provide meals to families who need them and rental assistance and temporary housing for families.”

According to state reports released this afternoon, 4,650 cases of coronavirus have been detected in Michigan to date, with at least 111 deaths statewide. That includes at least 53 cases identified in Ingham, Clinton and Eaton counties, but no deaths reported near Greater Lansing. 

State data reflected one death in Ingham County yesterday; That was no longer listed today. State and county officials were not immediately available to comment on the inconsistency. 

Lansing native and New York City health care worker Kious Kelly died in New York City Tuesday, and became sick with COVID-19 about two weeks ago, reports the Associated Press

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of this afternoon, listed a total of 83,356 cases of COVID-19 and 1,246 deaths in the U.S. The New York Times database, also as of this afternoon, listed at least 113,031 confirmed cases and at least 1,895 deaths nationwide. 

Today’s surge of nearly 1,000 more identified COVID-19 cases makes Michigan the state with the sixth most cases in the U.S., the country that is also the coronavirus epicenter of the world. 

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, told MLive yesterday that her “biggest fear” surrounding the pandemic in Michigan is that hospitals will not have the capacity to be able to care for the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 patients statewide. 

Beaumont Hospital in Wayne closed its emergency room, obstetrical services and curbside COVID-19 testing yesterday to handle surging numbers of COVID-19 patients, shifting as many patients as possible away from its Wayne County location to other hospitals, reports the Detroit Free Press

That could include hospitals in Western Michigan and Greater Lansing, as hospitals follow suit with state requests to serve as “relief hospitals,” clearing up to 10% of their facilities to balance the load amid overflowing emergency rooms and intensive care units. 

Lansing health care leaders have said they are prepared for a patient influx, but at least one central Michigan health system administrator expressed some concern about moving patients, and the possibility of it reducing service for local residents, reports the Lansing State Journal

Sparrow Hospital in Lansing is “continually assessing” its capacity to meet those needs, officials said. A McLaren spokesperson said its hospitals are “working around the clock” to prepare for a patient influx and remain able to “accommodate all necessary inpatient admissions” locally. 

Officials at Sparrow and McLaren have otherwise declined to comment further to City Pulse. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said drive-thru COVID-19 testing at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds went “extremely well” yesterday. It resumes today, reports the Detroit Free Press

Whitmer yesterday suggested the apex of the COVID-19 pandemic is “probably a few weeks out” in Michigan, noting the level of transmission depends largely on whether residents stay home. But in southeast Michigan, those constant fears are edging closer and closer to reality. 

In local headlines… 

The city of Lansing yesterday extended its income tax filing deadline to July 31. Payments can still be made in person at the City Hall dropbox, by mail, on the phone at 1-855-474-4076 or online at lansingmi.gov/onlinepayment. Call 517-483-4115 for other income tax information. 

Ingham County has set up a $50,000 contingency fund, extended paid sick leave for hundreds of employees and ramped up salaries for many at Ingham Community Health Centers as the number of cases of COVID-19 rises to nearly 3,700 in Michigan, as reported by City Pulse

The Ingham County Health Department also issued an emergency order yesterday that requires all essential businesses in the county to conduct brief health screenings of employees and implement a social distancing plan.

Employers are now required to screen all remaining staff for symptoms, maintain a six-foot distance between people in their workplaces if they remain open and post this county health order at the entrance of open buildings.

“We must be absolutely vigilant and do all we can. We’re at a critical point in our community’s COVID-19 response,” said Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail. “The best and safest thing for people to do is to stay home, but this order helps reduce the risk for those who must work or interact with workers while seeking essential services.”

As of yesterday, more than 315 Lansing businesses had applied for only 60 available $10,000 grants being distributed next month by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, reports the Lansing State Journal. Applications are accepted through Tuesday at purelansing.com/businessrelief. 

The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce is also setting up weekly calls with local businesses to discuss COVID-19 and its economic impact on the region. Email tdaman@lansingchamber.org for more details or to participate in the new weekly calls. 

The Lansing State Journal reports that local hotels are offering discounts for first responders. 

In state and national headlines… 

Whitmer told WWJ 950 yesterday that it’s “very unlikely” schools will reopen this year. 

Trump yesterday signed a $2 trillion bipartisan stimulus package, the largest in U.S. history, which will eventually provide loans, grants and checks to $1,200 checks to Americans. 

Trump continued to trash Whitmer again yesterday, telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity that he has had a “big problem with the young — a woman governor” and that “it’s not been pleasant.” 

He also instructed Vice President Mike Pence not to call Whitmer, among other governors, due to their public criticism of his administration. “If they don’t treat you right, I don't call,” Trump said, reports the Associated Press

He also signed an order yesterday requiring General Motors Co. to produce ventilators to fight the pandemic under the Defense Production Act, also encouraging Ford Motor Co. to ramp up output of the devices to treat COVID-19 patients, reports Crain’s Detroit Business

In other news… 

Detroit Police Chief James Craig tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, the 39th officer to test positive in the department so far, with 468 in quarantine, reports Crain’s Detroit Business

Some funeral homes in Bay City have moved services online as the industry is faced with tough decisions on how to handle grieving families and arrangements for loved ones, MLive reports

Meijer is no longer accepting returns, exchanges or product refunds until at least April 16. Stores will extend their return policies by an additional 120 days to accommodate late returns. 

Officials in some northern Michigan cities want residents to skip trips up north and avoid moves to cabins and summer residences during the pandemic, the Detroit Free Press reports

As yesterday, more than 1,000 gallons of hand sanitizer had been produced at New Holland Brewing Co. to be delivered to health care and emergency service providers in Michigan. 

And some golfers aren’t thrilled about Whitmer’s order to close golf courses, MLive reports

Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at michigan.gov/coronavirus and cdc.gov/coronavirus

City Pulse also needs your support now more than ever. Advertising — almost all our revenue —  has fallen sharply because of closures due to the coronavirus. Our staff is working seven days a week to help keep you informed. Please do what you can at this time to contribute to the City Pulse Fund. All donations are tax-deductible.

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