Warren closes City Hall after spike in employee COVID-19 cases

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
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Warren closed its City Hall to the public beginning Monday after at least two dozen city employees contracted COVID-19, Mayor Jim Fouts said Sunday, a surge potentially linked to residents turning in ballots or voting there for the presidential election.

"We have more employees positive than at any other time since this pandemic began in March," Fouts said Sunday in an email alert to the media.

The spike in the virus comes after cases during the pandemic have climbed in recent weeks and people have let down their guard, Fouts told The Detroit News. Hundreds of people have come into City Hall in recent weeks to hand in mail-in ballots and cast their vote for the presidential election. 

Jim Fouts

The virus has infected people working in several Warren city departments, including nine cases in the public safety department, nine cases in the District Court and five cases in another department. Fouts said a "key department administrator is now on a ventilator at a nearby hospital." The employee on a ventilator is in his 50s who is athletic and has been in good health, the mayor said.

"It’s just not wise for people to be coming here," Fouts said late Sunday. "We have had a significant, disturbing spike. This spike is almost getting out of control. I wanted to do something to stop it from getting out of control."

Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer said that the COVID-19 case increase has not hindered the Warren police department's ability to respond to calls for service or conduct investigations.

“We have had increases in COVID-19 cases as far as police officers; over the weekend four officers tested positive, but nobody is in the hospital and all of the officers that tested positive are in quarantine” said Dwyer. 

He added that the department continues to use protocols to identify officers with symptoms or who have come in contact with COVID-19. 

“Our officers also have daily temperature checks along with wearing face masks and driving in one-man vehicles to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Dwyer said.

Warren City Hall, which employs about 600 people, shut down at the beginning of the pandemic in March then reopened during the summer, Fouts said. About 30% of the staff are working in City Hall, the mayor said. The rest are working remotely.

Warren City Hall

People have been making appointments to come to City Hall to pay taxes or get a building permit, Fouts said. They are encouraged to social distance and wear a mask. Many who have come to the four-story building are older residents who pay their water or other bills in cash, he said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people have shown up in recent weeks to deliver their ballots because they didn't trust the mail and wanted their vote to count, the mayor said. Hundreds also showed up at City Hall to vote Tuesday on Election Day. They waited in line, but not everyone stayed 6 feet apart or wore a mask, Fouts said.

"The election was probably a good way to spike up COVID-19," Fouts said.

He is trying to err on the side of public safety by closing City Hall and the court, though the court will be open for key cases. The Warren Community Center and libraries remain open.

The court, City Hall and police department will be disinfected. "We are going to take every necessary step to prevent a wider outbreak in City Hall, including the city of Warren," Fouts said.

"I urge everyone to continue wearing masks, keeping a distance from others and only go out if absolutely necessary."

The spike in cases in the city corresponds to a surge in the number of cases in the state in recent weeks. 

Michigan announced Saturday that it had added more virus cases to an already record-setting number, its fourth in a row. It recorded 6,225 confirmed cases Saturday.

The week's confirmed cases were 29,614 for a total in the state of 207,794, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Michigan added 65 deaths Saturday and now has a total of 7,578 confirmed deaths related to COVID-19.

Detroit News Staff Writer Jasmin Barmore contributed to this report.

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