Hundreds monitored in Michigan for coronavirus after China travel

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Michigan has asked 357 people since Jan. 31 to quarantine themselves for 14 days at any one time following recent travel to China that may have exposed them to coronavirus, state health officials said Thursday.

All of the people were travelers who showed no signs of infection when entering the United States, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The disclosure came as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer planned a Friday press conference to update the public on the state's approach to the coronavirus.  

More: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer activates state's emergency center for virus response

State health officials also said Thursday Michigan now can test for COVID-19 at the state laboratory in Lansing with a turnaround time of four hours per test. 

Jay Butler, Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases addresses the media about response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirusas as Senior Advisor Ed Rouse looks on, at the Emergency Operations Center inside The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Atlanta.

All coronavirus testing was previously handled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, after testing kits sent to all state health departments in February were deemed defective by the CDC.

Federal health officials said Thursday they fixed the problem with the kits by revising the protocols for how they're used.  So Michigan now has the ability to test up to 150 people using testing kits the state received from the CDC on Feb. 8.

The CDC said it also loosened the protocols for who can be tested for coronavirus. Until now, only travelers to the epicenter of the epidemic in China, and those known to have been exposed to someone confirmed to be infected, were being tested. 

The expanded testing protocol followed news from California late Wednesday of the first case of coronavirus acquired through "community spread" — an expected but alarming new phase in the worldwide epidemic. The patient had not traveled to China or been exposed to a confirmed case of the disease.

"It had to happen," said Dr. Teena Chopra, corporate medical director for infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at the Detroit Medical Center and a professor of infectious diseases at Wayne State University. She noted the health system received an alert Wednesday about the California case.

"The fact that it is globally in every continent, we knew that this was coming.  As far as the magnitude of extent, that is still uncertain, but as a community we all have to be prepared," Chopra said. "It is important that we think about it and we test appropriately, especially when they have a risk factor. 

"We have been in communication with the state, and if we have a patient we are in a position to draw labs and send it to the state to test it." 

At the height of the flu season, Chopra noted, decisions about who might require testing often will be made through a process of elimination. Patients who don't test positive for flu or any other known disease or condition may be referred for coronavirus testing, she said.  

"It would be helpful if we had availability of (testing) kits in-house," Chopra added. "That would be the gold mine, if we can get that." 

Michigan has no current plans to send testing kits to hospitals, Michigan Health and Human Services department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said. 

"The CDC is sending out more kits, and we will be able to get additional. I am not aware of a shortage," Sutfin added. 

The state health department wasn't able to provide the current number of people being isolated and monitored because the total changes daily as some people complete their 14-day quarantine while others are added to the list, spokeswoman Sutfin said.

In West Michigan, Kent Health Department Director Adam London said his department has had 13 people under self-quarantine. They get either a visit or a phone call from the health department every day. 

So far, six have been cleared from quarantine after passing 14 days in isolation with no sign of infection, London said.  Eight are still being monitored, he said.

"These are not sick people, these are just people who have been in mainland China," London said. 

"I’m hoping that the state lab, in partnership with CDC, can be a little more liberal in their approach to testing — that’s certainly concerning to us," he added.

"The previous (limited) surveillance system, I think that works really well as long as we have a small number of other countries that are hot spots," he said. "The concern is that we have with this spreading into so many other countries now."  

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Thursday he held a call with public health officials and hospitals from across Michigan on preventing the spread of coronavirus in Michigan

“I heard from today’s experts that there are a lot of mixed messages and misinformation circulating about coronavirus, and I will be pressing the federal government to provide clear guidance and adequate resources to state and local government officials working to help Michiganders protect their families," said Peters, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Twitter: @kbouffardDN

New testing criteria

Symptoms that determine whether someone is tested for the coronavirus:

►Any person who had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient within 14 days of the symptom onset and has a fever or lower respiratory illness, such as a cough or shortness of breath.

►Any individual with a fever and lower respiratory illness (such as a cough or shortness of breath) requiring hospitalization as well as a history of travel from the five countries with widespread community transmission — China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea — within 14 days of symptom onset.

►Any person with a fever, a severe acute lower respiratory illness (such as pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome) requiring hospitalization, without an alternative explanatory diagnosis (such as influenza) and no source of exposure has been identified.

Source: Centers of Disease Control and Prevention