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How Michigan is preparing for a potential coronavirus outbreak

Adobe Stock
Officials are urging people to wash their hands frequently to prevent the spread of disease.

The new coronavirus has yet to make a confirmed appearance in Michigan. And while the bigger threat in the state is still the flu, the Centers for Disease Control has warned the public to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer activated the state Emergency Operations Center to coordinate with state, local and federal agencies to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Right now, we’re harnessing all of the resources of state government to help people prepare and keep themselves and their families safe,” said Whitmer. “By activating the State Emergency Operations Center, we’re ensuring that every branch of state government is on alert, and actively coordinating to prevent the spread of coronavirus if it comes to Michigan. We are taking this step out of an abundance of caution. We will continue to take every necessary precaution to keep Michiganders safe.”

But what does it mean to prepare for an outbreak like this?

Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun told Stateside it’s not that different from how the state handles any other public health crisis.

Credit The Journal of the American Medical Association
This JAMA infographic highlights the danger of coronavirus compared to that of influenza.

“So what we’re moving toward is something called community mitigation. And it’s a tool basically that public health uses regularly,” Khaldun explained. “For example, if there’s a response to a chickenpox outbreak in a school, or if a hospital implements visitor restrictions during flu season.”

State health officials are working with local health departments and health providers to monitor potential cases of coronavirus. As of February 25, 346 people in the state were referred to the state for assessment and monitoring. None of the five cases that met the criteria for actual testing came back positive for the coronavirus.

There is no vaccine for the coronavirus. If there are positive cases in Michigan, Khaldun said the state’s strategy will focus on slowing the spread, not stopping it entirely. That could include closing schools or quarantining sick individuals. But for now, the state and local health departments are working to remind people about the basics of disease prevention.

“And again, these simple things I’m talking about, washing your hands, not coming to work if you’re sick. Those are things everyone can do to be prepared, not only for the coronavirus, but also for flu, cold, and other viruses we would normally see.”

How you can be prepared

While health officials are still learning about coronavirus, it is similar to other viral diseases, meaning you should take the same precautions to avoid catching or spreading the illness. The biggest step you can take to protect yourself and others is to frequently wash your hands.

Viruses can spread through the air by coughing or sneezing, through personal contact such as touching or shaking hands, or touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. So you should also avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands, and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Health officials also advise that you stay home if you are sick, and to contact your physician. The symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms can appear anywhere from two to fourteen days after exposure to the virus.

Beware of coronavirus scams

Coronavirus isn't the only problem state officials are worried about. Multiple scams related to the outbreak have popped up, such as websites selling fake products, and fabricated emails, texts and social media posts used to steal money and personal information.

Attorney General Dana Nessel and MDHHS issued a warning to consumers Wednesday.

“Do not fall for these scams," said Nessel. "In fact, this is the perfect example of criminals preying on people’s fears. Don’t give a single piece of personal information to anyone reaching out to you regarding coronavirus.”

The emails and posts may be promoting awareness and prevention tips along with phony information about cases in residents’ neighborhoods. They may also ask for donations to victims, provide advice on unproven treatments or contain damaging attachments.

The Federal Trade Commission has issued a consumer alert offering the following tips:

  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know;
  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus;
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations; and
  • Be alert to “investment opportunities.”

This post was updated Friday, February 28 at 8:30 a.m.

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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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