By Jan Worth-Nelson
Four cases of the coronavirus COVID-19 have been confirmed in Genesee County as of Friday morning, with the numbers expected to increase quickly as more testing becomes available, Genesee County Health Director John McKellar announced in a press conference at the county administration building.
The four, with no known connections to each other based on what he called “an early and ongoing investigation,” were identified as:
- a female, 35
- a female, 15
- a female, 22
- a male, 54
What the four had in common, McKellar said, was recent visits to outpatient facilities. He said the health department had received two calls last night and two this morning, the most recent at 10 a.m. He said all are “stable” and self-isolating in their homes.
To protect the patients’ privacy, McKellar decline to identify where they live. So far, the department has determined that the four have no known travel history.
He said the GCHD is conducting “contact tracing” to determine with whom they’ve had close contact, and to advise those people as appropriate to self-isolate for 14 days. He said the department will be in daily contact with the patients to see how they’re doing and to keep track of whether their symptoms are worsening.
“I know this news probably is frightening to many of us Genesee County residents today,” McKellar said.”I and all of us should really be doing nothing different than what we were doing yesterday.
“We knew we’d eventually have cases in Genesee County, and we have been preparing and practicing important behaviors,” he said, reemphasizing that residents should practice social distancing activities, stay six feet away, work from homes, cover coughs, wash hands, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth–and staying home.
He repeated the symptoms are fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
And he emphasized that because of the contagious nature of the virus, all residents should avoid emergency rooms if they have mild symptoms, recommending calling your health provider first.
For Genesee County residents with immunocompromised systems or other chronic conditions, he said, it is especially important to call the health provider for direction and not visit the ER, where it might be possible to catch other illnesses that might be present in the waiting room.
The threshold for getting testing, although McKellar noted test kits still are hard to come by, is to have the symptoms — fever, cough, trouble breathing — or to have come into contact with someone who has it.
McKellar had said at a previous county press conference he did not know the inventory of hospital beds in general or ICU beds in particular. He said he believes for now there is protective equipment available in the county, and asserted testing is increasing and laboratory capacity to process tests is improving.
He was not as clear on when the four had been tested or specifics about whether other patients in the outpatient settings could have been exposed or had been notified.
“We assume those offices were using protective practices,” he said, while declining to identify the settings where the diagnosed patients had been.
He said he had heard about a worker at the General Motors Flint assembly plant diagnosed with the virus, but said the county has not yet received any information about it. He said the lab or health provider notifies the department, depending on where the patient lives, and then the GCHD notifies the state.
He said the department had been on a roller coaster Thursday when the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) incorrectly reported a case of coronavirus in Genesee County. It was a reporting error, he said, and “they corrected it shortly after that.”
“All this suggests how fluid and fast-paced this is,” McKellar stated. “we’re doing the best we can.”
This is frustrating,” he said, “…especially frustrating in a county like Genesee County and a city like Flint, who have weathered a lot of crisis and misinformation coming from governmental bodies. It’s unfortunate, but this is such an extraordinary time.”
As of Friday morning, county labs were processing 114 sample kits, of which 57 were negative, with results not yet available on the others. He warned the public to expect many more cases as testing results come in.
“It’s all happening so quickly,” he said.
The MDHHS has been delivering daily coronavirus briefings at 2 p.m. More information from the state is available at michigan.gov/coronavirus. At Friday’s briefing the department announced Michigan cases had increased to 549, up 225 from Thursday.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.