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The Detroit Metropolitan Airport is one of 11 U.S. airports where passengers who have been to China in the last 14 days are being diverted for enhanced screening for coronavirus. With as easily as the virus spreads, that could put Michigan at a higher risk, and state officials have to be ready to address the health threat.

The federal government chose Detroit's airport for screening because it is one of 20 in the U.S. with a federal quarantine station.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is assessing passengers arriving at DTW to determine their risk levels. If passengers are at risk, it’s up to the Wayne County health officials to transport them to area hospitals for isolation. 

Six states now have confirmed cases of coronavirus. While Michigan is not yet among them, our neighbors Wisconsin and Illinois are not so lucky.

Though there have been no deaths due to the virus in the U.S. so far, one U.S. citizen has died in China, where the death toll has surpassed 600 and is growing quickly. There are more than 30,000 cases worldwide.

Jay Fiedler, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' director of the Division of Emergency Preparedness and Response, says that Michigan is well equipped to handle the threat.

In 2009, Michigan dealt with the H1N1 pandemic influenza which stressed, but didn't break, the state’s public health infrastructure.

And officials say coronavirus is easier to handle than Ebola, which has a higher mortality rate and requires more specialized isolation and infection control.

“Virtually any hospital in the state is equipped to safely and effectively care for a potential coronavirus patient,” Fiedler says. 

Since there's no cure yet for the virus, however, that care would consist mainly of symptom relief and, in severe cases, care to support vital organ functions.

Over the last two weeks, MDHHS has received 62 referrals from Michigan doctors, the state reports. Only five have resulted in patients being put under investigation by the CDC.

Five tested negative for coronavirus — three from Washtenaw County, one from Macomb County and, most recently, one from Oakland County.

As of Friday, only  one patient had been transported to area hospitals from the Detroit airport.

Fiedler does not expect the volume of suspect patients to surge much more given the travel restrictions that have been put in place.

University of Michigan's Joseph Eisenberg, chair of the Department of Epidemiology, says that, with the viruses' incubation period of 14 days, it's going to be a couple of weeks before we see if the travel bans have effectively isolated the epidemic. But he also notes that Michigan residents should be more worried about the seasonal flu than the outbreak in China. 

MDHHS has worked with area hospitals to enhance surge capacity, to designate alternate care sites and to maintain cashes of ventilators and personal protective equipment reserve stockpiles. 

In addition, Michigan’s Public Health Laboratory is expecting shipment of the initial coronavirus lab test kits. The kits will allow the Lansing-based lab to test samples for coronavirus within a matter of hours — much quicker than shipping samples to CDC headquarters in Atlanta for testing.

Federal and state health officials must continue to coordinate their efforts to protect citizens from this virus. 

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