Sterling Heights leaders gathered last night to address how the city is dealing with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Medical, government, and education officials met to conduct a Facebook live community forum, taking questions from the public via the social media platform and sharing information about how their respective fields is responding to the virus and city closures.
“There are going to be some painful days, weeks and months ahead of us,” said Mayor Michael Taylor, “but I promise you, we are resilient and we can get through this, we will get through this.”
Here are five areas where initiatives are being implemented:
Care for the elderly
The city has established a senior assistance hotline for members of the community at a higher risk of Coronavirus complications. Sterling Heights senior residents can call 586-446-2757 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to connect with volunteers for transportation to stores and medical appointments, grocery shopping and delivery, with a voicemail message service after hours.
City leaders pointed to at least three stores with designated hours for seniors to conduct grocery and essential shopping, to limit their exposure. Dollar General, Nino Salvaggio and Target have specific times that they ask others to avoid.
“I am incredibly proud of all the support from our residents,” said Taylor. “They want to contribute any way that they can.”
The city is calling for volunteers to be a part of the initiative, and Taylor encouraged residents to sign up at the city’s website.
“We are working to pair you up with someone in critical need,” he said.
With K-12 schools closed state-wide, representatives from Warren Consolidated Schools, Kerry Wishaw, and Utica Community Schools, Christine Johns, were the focus of many of the community’s questions. Both pointed to the community information being provided on their school websites.
Johns and Wishaw both said that task forces have been operating since before the closures and that this week they were focused on the care of students and their families. Johns said with more than 38% of UCS registered for reduced meal plans, this includes the school breakfast and lunch programs that were made available this week at public locations, which she estimates by Friday will have served more than 33,000 meals. The program is calling for volunteers.
Johns said next week online learning would be rolled out through the platform Schoology but warned that the task would take time and patience from the community. This would not mean six hours of screen-time, John said, but face-to-face time with teachers and assignments to do at home.
“We think it's important, as we implement social distancing, that we get back that connection,” Johns said.
The front desk at the police department of Sterling Heights will remain open.
All public facilities are now closed, including the city library, community center and senior center, with the exception of the front desk of the police department. City manager Mark Vanderpool said he expects the March 31 date to reopen will be extended and said the closure of some play spaces and recreation amenities may also occur.
Garbage and recycling programs are still running and with many of the city’s staff continuing from working from home, Vanderpool said some services are still operational. These include bids in process from businesses, permits that can be processed online, site plans that can be reviewed electronically, online bill payments, registration for future events, e-books and online tutoring from the library.
Fire Chief Chris Martin wants his team to be as safe as possible during the epidemic.
Fire Chief Chris Martin spoke of the increased risks to first responders, and encouraged residents to be aware of the changes to emergency services procedures.
“We have to be on the front lines of this epidemic,” Martin said.
He explained that this risk would alter the way responses were handled, starting with calls to 911 meeting extra questions to determine if emergency responders might be exposed to COVID-19 upon arrival. With a 14-day quarantine, Martin said his team “can't afford to sideline” firefighters.
“First responders will not rush in,” Martin said, “but will address the patient to reduce the risks.”
Martin also warned that patients would not immediately be taken to hospital if it was not deemed necessary. “If we send everyone to the hospitals they will become overwhelmed,” he said.
Melissa Jackson from Henry Ford Macomb Hospital was on hand to discuss medical preparations and said that some of their emergency plans had been developed after the response to previous global emergencies, such as the Ebola outbreak between 2014 and 2016.
“Our care teams are well-trained,” Jackson said. “We’ve taken safety measures and I can assure you we are doing our part to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Jackson recommended residents continue to thoroughly wash their hands, use alcohol-based sanitizers and stay home if they are sick. She also advised avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people, and cleaning hard surfaces.
Some dental services in the city have decided to close, as high-risk locations, but Jackson recommended residents contact their own provider if needed, to ask about opening hours.
“We know this public health emergency feels scary,” Jackson said. “ We are here for you.”