Southgate awaits travel history of resident who died from virus

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

A Southgate man was the first patient in Michigan to die from the coronavirus, the downriver community confirmed Thursday.

Dustin Lent, the city administrator for Southgate said officials of his 30,000-resident city, were notified late Wednesday by the Wayne County Health Department. County health officials, he said, are now working to complete a history check of the potential travels and sites visited by the man, who was in his 50s and had underlying health issues. 

"Unfortunately, we are the first community that had a death," Lent said. 

Map: Track the cases of COVID-19 in Michigan

The man, who has not been named, was treated at one of four hospitals in the county operated by Beaumont Health after testing positive for COVID-19. Medical officials say he had underlying health conditions.

Two others with underlying health conditions — a woman at a McLaren hospital in Oakland County and an 81-year-old at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit — also have died of the virus, officials of both hospital systems confirmed. 

Southgate Mayor Joseph Kuspa said news of the resident's death has saddened the community.

“It’s really heart-wrenching to know that we have a Southgate family grieving the loss of a loved one due to exposure the COVID-19 virus,” Kuspa told The News. “We share that grief. Certainly, Southgate is a close community and we grieve together, especially in circumstances like this.”

The man's death was reported Wednesday as cases in Michigan have continued to climb, first to 80 confirmed positive coronavirus cases and, by the close of the day, to 110.

As of Wednesday, 7,038 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in the United States and 97 people have died from the virus nationwide, according to the most recent data listed on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Southgate, like many other municipalities, has shut down its library, senior center, recreation and public works offices. It also has enhanced safety precautions for its police and firefighters, Lent said.

The city is restricting the flow of visitors at its municipal building and urging residents to make payments online or use a drop box. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday approved a shutdown for restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues and she's limited public gatherings to a maximum of 50 people in an attempt to curb spread of the virus.

During a Wednesday news conference at the state's emergency operations center, Whitmer addressed the Wayne County death, warning "people need to take this seriously."

"There are other people that have been diagnosed that are fighting for their lives,"

Beaumont Health officials said they were unable to discuss the details of the patient's case or what symptoms he arrived with because they said they were still gathering information.

A spokesman for the medical system did not immediately respond to an inquiry on Thursday. 

More: Hospitals brace for surge that could overwhelm capacity

Hospital officials said Wednesday that they continue to care for other COVID-19 patients. The number of infected patients the eight-hospital, 3,000-bed system is in the "dozens" and changes by the hour, Dr. Nick Gilpin, Beaumont Health's medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology, told reporters on Wednesday.