Oakland County orders daily screenings at essential businesses

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said Tuesday the county is ordering businesses that remain open to conduct daily screenings of employees and mandatory distancing to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The order for daily screenings takes effect at noon Wednesday and includes a variety of stores, businesses, restaurants and doctor's offices, officials said. At least one Michigan association representing small businesses said the Oakland County measure goes too far and could force some firms to shut down unnecessarily.

"We continue to see a dangerous rise, not an unexpected rise, of the numbers of cases, too high for our health care system to absorb," Coulter said. "We're not trying to imprison local grocery store owners, but provide clear guidance. We want essential staff to be quarantined at home as well and reassure residents that when they go out for these essential services, that they will be safe."

The requirements come in addition to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home executive order that mandates businesses to fill out paperwork explaining why their business should be considered "essential" during the COVID-19 outbreak and remain open. Others are required to shut in-person operations

Oakland County Executive David Coulter

County businesses must implement daily screening programs that check for symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat and diarrhea, according to the order. Employees must be routinely asked if they have had any close contact with an infected person and if they traveled within the last 14 days. 

Employees who display or report symptoms will be required to go home. They are able to return to work if they go three days without experiencing fever — without taking fever-reducing medication — and after seven days have passed since their first symptoms.

Businesses are instructed to keep employees at least six feet from one another to the maximum extent possible and enable social distancing for customers who are standing in line. 

The new order is supposed to be observed through April 13. Businesses not complying with the order could face misdemeanor penalties and fines, officials said.

There should be an exemption for smaller businesses or "businesses that cannot reasonably comply with the order," said Charles Owens, Michigan director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

"Local governments piling on their own ordinances and requirements undoes all of the flexibility that the governor has provided in order to ensure supply chain integrity," Owens said in an email to The Detroit News. "Smaller businesses that cannot comply with this local order will shut down and disrupt the supply chain up and down the line. This could lead to shortages of critical services and supplies.

"The governor should preempt these local orders and rules that are unnecessary and often unworkable in many operational environments."

It's unclear how many businesses in the county are considered essential. Businesses that would like to check if they're considered essential to remain open can call the county at (248) 858-0721.

Jeffrey Donforio, director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, tweeted Monday that his best advice is to "make a judgment call. If you're critical to an operation sustaining/protecting life, keep working, if you're not, stay home and help us save lives."

Donforio added that any business that decides to stay open should be able to "pass the sniff test."

The new Oakland County order follows the Saturday closure of all malls, a prohibition on using playground equipment and the required screening of visitors, children and parents entering child care facilities. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, Oakland County had 436 confirmed cases, 100 of which have required hospitalization, compared with 335 cases reported this time last week. The confirmed cases range in age from 14 days old to 97 years.

The county has had five deaths, officials said. It's unclear if all those who died had underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk.

Coulter said he fully supports Whitmer's stay-at-home order, which covers non-essential businesses and prohibits people from leaving home except for outdoor activities, to care for family members, or to purchase needed supplies such as groceries or medicine.

"Worst case scenario, Italy," he said. "Right now, we’re looking at Italy for what happens when your health care system is overwhelmed. We’re watching what’s happening there and following best practices."

Italy has reported more than 59,000 cases of COVID-19 and is seeing more than 600 deaths per day from the disease.

Coulter said Beaumont Health, which is near capacity in the county, is converting surgical rooms into bed space to serve more patients. In the meantime, the county is preparing for when hospitals run out of space, he said.

"We know this is going to be an issue and talking with partners and anyone with conference center, hotels, motels, and we're working with the National Guard on building a transportable hospital for when it's necessary."

In a news release Tuesday, Beaumont said its eight hospitals were caring for nearly 450 confirmed COVID-19 patients and had 185 patients awaiting test results as of 4:30 p.m. 

The health system said it "has some ventilator capacity right now, but that could change as more people become infected." 

As of Tuesday, Michigan has 1,791 confirmed cases of COVD-19 and 24 deaths tied to the virus. 

► More: Detroit coronavirus cases jump to 551, eight deaths

Residents with health-related questions can call the health division at (800) 848-5533. Other inquiries should be directed to (248) 858-1000.


Twitter: @SarahRahal_