Editorial: Lawmakers, budget for coronavirus

The Detroit News

Now that the coronavirus has become a real threat to the U.S., Michigan has to be ready for an outbreak. To help prepare for the inevitable, the state should reserve some funds in the budget to deal with the virus, should it come here.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, says those discussions haven’t happened yet during the ongoing budget negotiations. But they should — and quickly so that Michigan isn’t caught off guard. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the media about the state's steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus at a Friday press conference at the Michigan Emergency Operations Center in Dimondale.

As we’ve seen around the the country this week, primarily in Washington state and California, the virus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19, spreads quickly and it’s not easy to detect in its early stages.

In the past week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has taken several actions to coordinate the state’s response to an outbreak. That’s a good first step.

There are still no confirmed cases of the disease in Michigan. Five suspected individuals have been tested in Michigan, and their results were negative.

On Tuesday, Whitmer created four task forces to fight the spread of the coronavirus, as well as to assess the potential impact in Michigan. 

The task forces include state operations (employment and facilities); health and human services (including protection of the health care workforce); education (K-12 and higher ed); and the economy and workforce (supply chains and business continuity). 

In a statement, Whitmer said, “While there have been no confirmed cases in Michigan yet, we must recognize that this virus has the potential to impact nearly every aspect of our lives.”

That’s true, and it’s important for the state to be proactive. 

The task forces are in addition to work the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is doing to coordinate with local health departments and medical providers.

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And last Friday, Whitmer activated the State Emergency Operations Center, staffed by emergency managers from all state departments, “to maximize coordination with state, local and federal agencies, as well as private partners, and to help prevent the spread of the disease,” according to a statement. 

The federal government is also taking action, and on Wednesday Congress approved an $8.3 billion emergency spending package to address the coronavirus and fight its spread. President Donald Trump has said he’d support the spending measure, after initially requesting a much smaller amount. 

That funding will be directed in part to the states dealing with outbreaks. So that could come in handy for Michigan, when the need arises here. But state lawmakers should also take necessary steps to set aside funds that will be necessary if an outbreak occurs.