Oakland County: COVID-19 patient had little to no exposure to others in county

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Oakland County officials believe the county's only confirmed case of COVID-19, one of the first in the state, presented little to no exposure to others within the county limits.

Within a day of arriving back to Michigan after international travel, the woman reported to the hospital, said Dr. Russell Faust, medical director for Oakland County. The Oakland County patient is in good condition and is being held in a respiratory isolation unit at an undisclosed hospital, Faust said.

The woman was tested Monday night and, roughly 24 hours later, the state announced she and a man in Wayne County who had recently traveled domestically were the state's first presumed positive results.

An undated electron microscope image shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S.

The confirmation of the virus in Michigan prompted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to declare a state of emergency Tuesday night and, on Wednesday morning, Michigan State University announced it would move all instruction online. The state is expected to announce further action Wednesday afternoon.

Specimens from the individuals in Wayne and Oakland counties were sent to the state Monday night, but didn't arrive at the state laboratory in Lansing until Tuesday morning. They were tested that day and identified as positive at 9 p.m., said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

At least one of the patients confirmed positive Tuesday night is being treated at the University of Michigan Health System and is in stable condition, spokeswoman Mary Masson confirmed. The hospital used proper precautions to isolate the patient, she said. 

"Based on that, risk of infection is low for our employees and visitors, even if you work in our hospitals or near the unit where the patient is isolated," Masson said. 

Additionally, a Michigan State University student is being tested for COVID-19 who had contact with the individual in the Wayne County case and is symptomatic, said Amanda Darche, a spokeswoman for the Ingham County Health Department. 

The individual's test was submitted Wednesday to the state. 

Wayne County is working to assess how many people, if any, its patient came into contact with, said Mike McElrath, a spokesman for the health division. 

Overall, the county is monitoring 11 people and has monitored a total of 18 since the beginning of the outbreak. Eight people have been tested, including the most recent confirmed case. 

Wayne County is expected to launch an outreach program that would involve training for 60 managers who would then train 900 volunteers to deliver meals and educational materials to seniors throughout the county, McElrath said. The county hopes to reach the most vulnerable to the virus through the outreach. 

"We’re delivering to our 3,500 (Meals on Wheels) participants first and then working with our community partners to deliver to other seniors," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday gave Michigan $14.5 million to help with its response to the coronavirus outbreak. The money comes from the $8 billion supplemental spending package that Congress passed last week and that President Donald Trump signed. 

That package allocated $1 billion for state and local response, roughly half of which was expected to be distributed to certain localities. Wednesday's allocation was $560 million nationwide.

Michigan municipalities would also be able to apply for $350 million in "hot spots" funding in case of an outbreak, said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township. Another pot of funding is available to reimburse states and localities for activities they already carried out related to the virus, such as testing, monitoring and infection control, according to Peters' office. 

Hospitals across the state have been preparing for a COVID-19 confirmation in Michigan for weeks, and many have activated emergency response plans, according to the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. 

Hospitals treating COVID-19 patients are working to minimize "the risk of exposure for all other patients and hospital employees," said Brian Peters, CEO for the association.

The Veterans Administration has cancelled non-treatment activities such as ceremonies outreach activities for the next 30 days to help prevent the spread of the virus, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said Wednesday. People with appointments or who are feeling sick should still come to VA offices, including those in Detroit and Ann Arbor. 

Oakland County will not release where the individual traveled to, but Faust said it was a country that, at the time, had no confirmed cases of COVID-19.

"The country they traveled to at that time had no positive cases of coronavirus report, which just tells you its everywhere now. It’s a global phenomenon," Faust said. 

Oakland County is well positioned to address the case and the likelihood of additional ones, in part because of its experience stemming a measles outbreak last year, he said. 

The county has evaluated 70 possible cases; 35 of which were not positive and 34 of which are currently under evaluation, Executive Dave Coulter said. Coulter partially activated the Oakland County Emergency Operation Center Wednesday morning to coordinate response.

"We know that this isn’t going to be the last case here so we encourage people to be cautious," Coulter said. 

The Oakland County Board of Commissioners recently approved roughly $500,000 to ensure the county has the resources it needs, but the question remains whether enough testing resources are available, Faust said. 

"There are not adequate resources in the United States for all of the testing that could be done," he said. 

Nationally, the number of case has risen to 998 in 38 states with 31 deaths, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said Wednesday morning. 

In Michigan, 91 individuals had tested negative for COVID-19 and 28 test results were pending as of Wednesday night.

Michigan public health officials since Jan. 31 have asked a total of 520 people to self-quarantine for 14 days due to travel to areas with a high risk of exposure to the coronavirus, according to the state's data. 

There are 150 people in isolation under active monitoring by county health departments in Michigan. The remainder were released after completing their 14 days of quarantine without showing symptoms.

Patients with confirmed infection have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. The CDC believes that symptoms might appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. 

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services activated the state's Community Health Emergency Coordination Center last month to coordinate with local health departments and medical providers.

Michigan can test for COVID-19 at the state laboratory in Lansing with a turnaround time of four hours per test. The testing that confirmed the cases in Wayne and Oakland counties was performed in the state lab.

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed