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Flushing — The defense team for state Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon on Monday called its last witness to the stand, where the expert made comments that bolstered the arguments of both the prosecution and defense lawyers.

Michael Reilly, an adjunct assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University in New York, testified under cross-examination that the public should have been warned about the 2014-15 Flint area Legionnaires' disease outbreak in “the most timely manner as possible.”

Before this, under questioning from Lyon's attorney, Reilly warned about how giving the public certain information about an outbreak can “cause anxiety” and create panic.

Some people complain of “these symptoms even though they’ve never been exposed to anything” and strain the health care system so “that people who are really sick have to wait longer," said Reid, director of the Center for Disaster Medicine at New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York.

"It’s a major problem," he added.

 

But Reilly also admitted under persistent prosecution questioning that the public should have been warned at least a year prior to January 2016 about the Legionella outbreak.

The state's delay in notifying the public about the Legionnaires' outbreak until a mid-January 2016 press conference by Gov. Rick Snyder has been a key point of contention in the criminal preliminary exam hearing of Lyon, who faces involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office charges.

Under questioning from Special Prosecutor Todd Flood, Reilly seemed to support the prosecution's premise of the need for a "most timely" informing of the public about the deadly respiratory disease, especially when people’s lives were at stake.

In response to questions from Flood, Reilly admitted that public health officials wouldn’t want to withhold information if they wanted to build trust with the public.

When asked when he would warn the public based on the hypothesis that the Flint River caused the Legionnaires' outbreak, Reilly said he would "need a reasonable degree of certainty before I say the wrong thing."

The first part of the hearing featured Flood and Lyon attorney Chip Chamberlain arguing before 67th District Court Judge David Goggins about the limits of Reilly's expertise. Goggins allowed him mostly to be questioned on just public health issues.

Reilly said the state wouldn’t necessarily step in to handle an outbreak such as Legionella if the local health department officials don’t have the resources. “The local health department usually requests assistance,” he said.

Although “bureaucracies aren’t always the easiest things to work in,” local and state health officials should be communicating to save lives, Reilly said.

The result of the water switch, he said, could result in Flint residents distrusting the government on lead levels in the water system, for example. “The action on the issues that were presented by the public were probably not received and handled very well,” that led to the “distrust,” he told Flood.

Reilly is expected to be the final witness of the preliminary exam, and closing arguments could come at the next hearing, Goggins then would decide whether to bind over Lyon for trial. First, both sides must present briefs to the judge.

 

Reilly is expected to be the final witness of the preliminary exam, and closing arguments could come at the next hearing, Goggins then would decide whether to bind over Lyon for trial. 

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter: @leonardnfleming

 

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