County officials extend emergency declaration

Shiawassee County Health Department Executive Director Larry Johnson, right, provides an update regarding the coronavirus during the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday.

CORUNNA — The Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the county’s current state of emergency through April 30 amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The emergency declaration originally was set to expire April 1, though after receiving brief updates from Shiawassee County Health Department (SCHD) Executive Director Larry Johnson and Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Jeff Weiss Tuesday, board members voted to extend the declaration.

The board increased Weiss’ and his assistant’s authorized hours to ensure both are compensated for overtime dealing with the situation.

The board also approved additional funding for the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), providing up to $100 per day through April 30, and adding another contract employee for the EOC.

“Shiawassee County has led the way in our area with what we’ve done so far,” Weiss said. “Larry Johnson and the Health Department have made decisions early on, the county has made decisions early on and this board has made decisions early on, and I think the fact that we still have no cases in our county shows that we’ve led the way and we’re doing a great job; however, as Mr. (Larry) Johnson said, this is a scary pandemic, this is a scary issue. As a board, as a government, as a health department, we’ll be here for our citizens and lead by example.”

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), 1,791 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the state as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, and the statewide death toll stands at 24.

To date, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Shiawassee County, however, more than 260 people have been tested, but results from at least 170 tests are pending. Eighty-nine people have been cleared.

“The remaining tests are pending due to laboratory backups; it’s taking up to seven to 10 days for some of these private labs,” Johnson said. “Memorial Healthcare has purchased equipment to do in-house testing, and they hope to have that up and running by the end of the week. Once that is up and running, they should be able to get results within four hours.”

Family and friends of one Owosso man have posted on Facebook that he is in very serious condition with a suspected case of COVID-19.

They say he was being treated at Memorial Healthcare and had been tested, however, the test remains incomplete.

In their posts, they say the man has been receiving medical intervention to breathe.

Officials Tuesday did not discuss any potential cases involving people who are hospitalized.

To help curb the spread of the virus, Johnson recommended area residents continue practicing social distancing — staying at least 6 feet apart from other people. By doing so, people are protecting the health care system, Johnson said, which is crucial given the major shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers at this time.

“We’re not trying to be doomsday scenario here, but this virus is very contagious and it can be deadly,” Johnson said. “It’s not just older folks that are getting it, there are a number of younger folks in that 20 to 49 range that have developed this virus, some of whom are on a ventilator, so let’s take the proper steps to get through this and hopefully by doing this we’re going to make a difference and save lives.”

As the pandemic continues, the county is going to see an increase in needs from its citizens, Weiss said. To help address those concerns, the county has set up a community needs hotline that operates from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at (989) 743-2460. There will also be voicemail for after-hours calls.

The line is intended to provide help to residents who need aid meeting essential needs, such as retrieving medication. People may call on their own behalf or for friends, family or neighbors.

Weiss added rumor control is important.

“On social media we see a lot of rumors being put out there, and as an Emergency Operations Center we do have people monitoring social media and we try and find those rumors and dispel them and give them attention right away,” Weiss said.

For the most up-to-date, accurate information, Weiss urged residents to follow the Shiawassee County Health Department and Shiawassee County Emergency Management’s Facebook pages.

In regard to the additional funding for the EOC, Commissioner Dan McMaster, R-District 2, said he doesn’t foresee the center exceeding those funds, as the number of personnel within the center will likely decrease — with some of them working remotely — in the coming weeks.

The additional funding, he noted, will be for small, day-to-day expenses, including allowing the group to stay in for lunch, so all outside food is coming from one source.

To assist in the county’s emergency response, Weiss called upon Tim Crane, who holds a professional emergency manager designation through the Michigan State Police Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and also holds qualifications for amateur radio.

“When this started on March 9 and we started ramping up the EOC, there was one person that I called to assist us and that’s Tim,” Weiss said. “Tim comes to us with qualifications that meet or exceed my own. He’s very knowledgeable and without him in our Emergency Operations Center, it would make life much more difficult for myself and Larry (Johnson).”

Crane previously assisted the county in its emergency response in March 2019 after two tornadoes struck the county, according to McMaster. For his services, Crane will earn $15 per hour, not to exceed 40 hours per week.

“This contract employee, the operation of the emergency center, any extended hours to the emergency manager and the assistant, anything that we’re expensing right now we are going to keep track of,” Board Chairman Jeremy Root said. “We are going to watch for, during and under the state of emergency, the section 19 funding to hopefully have some reimbursement from the state come in. All of these would be items we didn’t budget or we didn’t plan on, so we will look for reimbursement. Whether we get it, we don’t know.”

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