Just last Thursday, the state of Michigan had two confirmed cases of COVID-19 and Washtenaw County had zero. At press time, seven cases were confirmed in Washtenaw County and a total of 54 cases were confirmed statewide. On Sunday, Washtenaw County announced all nonessential operations would be closed until April 6 to prevent further spread of the virus.
However, for the Washtenaw County Health Department, it's all hands on deck.
Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, Washtenaw County Health Department communications manager, says the health department has been monitoring COVID-19 for weeks and gathering information to keep the public informed.
"We're trying to walk that line between providing timely information and information on what could happen with causing too much alarm. That's always a challenge," Ringler-Cerniglia says. "This is moving quickly and changing quickly, and we want to keep reiterating to check back to our site for official information."
In addition to providing information, the department is now monitoring cases and assisting with ruling out other illnesses, such as influenza, before sending samples to be tested at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Bureau of Laboratories.
Once a sample is sent for testing, patients are kept in isolation and asked questions to help the health department find a possible source if the test is positive. The MDHHS lab has increased its test batches to twice a day, and results are usually available within five or six hours, Ringler-Cerniglia says. The University of Michigan Health System has said it hopes to be able to take additional COVID-19 tests soon to increase the number of test results and the speed with which they're processed.
So far, most Michigan patients who have tested positive have been associated with domestic or international travel, or with someone close to them who has traveled recently. Ringler-Cerniglia says the business closures and social distancing ordered by state and local officials are a good start to prevent the virus from circulating more widely in the community. But she cautions organizations to be ready to keep these strategies in place for a while.
"If we're trying to prevent additional spread ... that could go on for weeks or even months," Ringler-Cerniglia says.
Emily Benda is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Washtenaw County Health Department.