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Oakland County closes malls and playground equipment to curb spread of COVID-19

Aaron Burden

Oakland County’s Health Division is issuing emergency orders, immediately closing shopping malls and putting playground equipment off-limits as the number of COVID-19cases in the county rise.   

The county is also imposing new restrictions on people entering child care facilities.

As of Saturday morning, 225 people in Oakland County have tested positive for the virus. On Friday Oakland County recorded its first coronavirus death. The 50 year old man was the fourth person in Michigan to die since the outbreak.

County health officials say the number of positive test results are expected to continue to rise sharply. They also say they need more test kits to meet rising demand.

Playground equipment in childcare centers are exempt from the order. So are walking trails and grassy areas. The order is in effect until April 17th. 

County health officials say the number of positive test results are expected to continue to rise sharply. They also say they need more test kits to meet rising demand.

Oakland County executive Dave Coulter says the county is identifying places to house people who test positive for the disease, but don’t yet need to be in a hospital.

Coulter says this strategy is based on what has been seen in Italy and New York. 

“Some of the most at-risk people are people living in a household where someone is positive,” Coulter said.

Coulter is asking Oakland County residents to stop going to hair and nail salon and other non-essential businesses.**

“As of now, that is voluntary.  But I will tell you that we are coordinating with the governor and the statewide folks who are looking into this,” Coulter said, “And I believe more steps will be coming and need to be coming to make this requirement for all of our people.”

**Update 7:00 p.m. Saturday evening, Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order mandating the closure of salons and other "non-essential personal care service" businesses that require individuals to be 6 feet or less apart.

Credit Oakland County Health Division
Oakland County Health Division charts the number of positive COVID-19 tests by day.

On Friday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer insisted there are no immediate plans to impose a “shelter in place” order to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. 

As the outbreak grows in the county, Oakland County officials say needed medical supplies are in increasing short supply.

Beginning Monday, the county will start accepting donations of masks, surgical gowns, touchless thermometers and other medical equipment from dentists and other businesses.

“The steps we take today – as individuals, businesses and government – will save lives,” Coulter said. “We have to protect our hospital systems so they stay equipped to help the very sickest. We can get through this together, but we have to act together.”

With the growing outbreak statewide, Whitmer is eying a role for the National Guard in providing humanitarian relief and other missions.

But that concerns Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard. He was on a conference call Friday with state and federal officials discussing the issue. Bouchard worries calling up the National Guard will deplete staffing for local public safety departments. 

“If there’s not an exemption for first responders and even medical folks, it’s going to be an increasing challenge to staff 911 calls,” Bouchard said. 

Statewide, the number of positive COVID-19 cases rose to 549 on Friday.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter says the power to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus is “in our hands.”

This post has been updated to reflect that the closure of hair and nail salons are no longer voluntary, after Governor Gretchen Whitmerissued an executive order Saturday evening.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.