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Some things to know now that the novel coronavirus has made it to Michigan

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has confirmed there are three presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Michigan. COVID-19 is the disease cause by the novel coronavirus.

Now that the outbreak has reached Michigan, it is likely there will be more cases and community spread. The state is taking numerous steps to slow the spread of the virus, but many things remain unclear about how individuals should react.

Here's what you need to know.

You'll need to know what to do if you think you or a loved one has COVID-19

Don’t panic.  Call your doctor.  

“It’s very difficult to tell the difference between respiratory illnesses, such as a cold, with a fever and cough, from influenza or coronavirus,” says Dr. Marie Lozon, chief of staff of Michigan Medicine, which includes the University of Michigan hospitals. 

“And this is evolving so quickly,” she says. “So even if you haven’t traveled, and even if you have no known exposure – but you still are worried about what symptoms you’re having right now, and you’re short of breath and feel ill, then you should contact your health care provider and take direction.”

You should expect changes in protocol at hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices if there is an outbreak.

Lozon notes that all health care providers right now are thinking about how to keep their patients safe – both those who may have been exposed to coronavirus, and those who haven’t.

She says if there is a serious outbreak in Michigan, and your doctor thinks you might be infected with the coronavirus, you may be greeted outside your doctor’s office or the E.R. and asked to wear a mask before you even go in the front door. You will likely be taken right away to a more isolated area rather than sitting in the waiting area with other patients.

Dr. Paul Turke is a pediatrician in Dexter, Michigan. He says his private practice, like many in Michigan, is not well equipped to handle COVID-19 cases. 

His office doesn’t have an isolation room that keeps air from flowing into other areas of the building, which is what the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is recommending before a swab is taken to test for COVID-19.

He says in the event of an outbreak in Michigan, he would likely ask patients who are very sick and who’ve come in contact with someone with COVID-19 to go straight to the E.R.

Turke is also investing in telemedicine services, so he can counsel people via video and determine if they should stay home and nurse their symptoms, come in to the office, or go to the E.R.

You will not be able to demand a test for yourself or a loved one simply because you are worried or want to rule out coronavirus.

As of Friday, the state health department said Michigan currently has the ability to test about 300 people for COVID-19. There is a strict protocol in place for deciding if someone should be tested. If you have a cough and fever, doctors will first rule out other illnesses that can look like coronavirus, like influenza.

If after that, doctors think a patient might have the coronavirus, they must call their local public health department to see if it agrees there should be a test. The local public health department will then call the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to get final permission. Currently, MDHHS is the only place in the state that can test for the coronavirus, although Michigan Medicine is seeking authorization from the FDA to test for it.

The good news is major health insurance companies say they will pay for the test, so it won’t result in a big bill, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced late last week that Medicaid will waive co-pays and cost-sharing for coronavirus testing and treatment.

You may be asked to “self-quarantine”

Well, we’re not going to lie. Self-quarantining isn’t most people’s idea of fun. Sure, most of us have binge-watched a favorite television show, but for two weeks straight? (Between two and 14 days is currently the estimated incubation period for COVID-19).

If you've been near someone with COVID-19, or if you've returned from an area that has a lot of cases of COVID-19, you might be asked to self-quarantine for some period of time.

This means not leaving home except to go the doctor’s office. (And be sure to call ahead, remember?)  You’ll likely be asked to take your temperature a couple of times a day. If you have to see the doctor, try to get there without using public transportation, or wear a mask if you have to take the bus.

You should try not to share any utensils or other objects, and someone should religiously clean surfaces you have to touch.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, your doctor or public health department may recommend even stricter measures, and a longer period of isolation.

Dr. Marie Lozon says this means no hugging, cuddling, or kissing your loved ones, staying in a separate room from others, and sleeping by yourself. And you may be advised to wear a mask when someone is near you.   

Visiting a loved one in a nursing home may become more difficult 

Nursing homes are especially concerned about coronavirus, since they house large numbers of the people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus – the elderly, who often also have chronic health conditions – all living in close quarters.    

The coronavirus protocol looks pretty much the same as for influenza, says Cathy Sunlin, vice president of Regulatory Services for the Health Care Association of Michigan.

To protect workers, “handwashing, handwashing, handwashing,” she says. And she says all visitors are being screened for signs of respiratory illness. “If staff at the nursing home see someone like that, it’s okay to tell them they can’t come to visit right now.”

She says employees are also being told to stay home and self-isolate if they have any symptoms of a cold, the flu, or coronavirus.

If the outbreak is severe, schools could close

School districts all over Michigan, along with Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) and the State Department of Education, are discussing what to do if they have to close schools. 

Some districts have the means and expertise to offer online learning, but not all do. ISDs may be able to step in to help if that’s the case. 

But helping low-income students who do not have internet and a laptop at home is a big worry, because libraries may also be closed. This is a complicated issue the state will have to resolve. 

This post was updated Tuesday, March 10 after officials confirmed the first two COVID-19 cases in Michigan. It was updated again on Thursday, March 12, after another case was confirmed. 

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Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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