FRIDAY, March 6 — One Ingham County resident with flu-like symptoms is being tested for coronavirus as local officials prepare for a “highly likely” global pandemic to hit Greater Lansing, said county Health Officer Linda Vail.
“I certainly would not be surprised at all if there are cases. That doesn’t mean there definitely will be, but it seems highly likely, so that’s why we’re prepared,” Vail said at a press conference today to discuss COVID-19, a new respiratory illness spreading across the globe.
“Will we see widespread illness all over the world, all over the United States and in every state? I can’t tell you for sure, but it does seem likely and it’s appropriate to be preparing as if it’s likely or going to happen,” Vail added.
Vail said one patient remains in “active monitoring” at the county Health Department after recently traveling overseas and returning to Ingham County with flu-like symptoms. Six others have also been monitored in Ingham County since the virus began to spread. So far, none of the patients have tested positive for COVID-19.
“This epidemic can be pushed back, but only with a collective, coordinated and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of government, and I would add, our health system and community partners,” Vail said. “We should be prepared for sustained community transmission. That’s the best approach at this point.”
No cases of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 have yet been reported in Michigan. But a relentless drip of new cases in Italy, Iran, South Korea and the United States has left Greater Lansing hanging between blithe business as usual and pit-of-the-gut dread. But Vail said it’s not time to panic.
Ingham County’s health department is actively monitoring reports of coronavirus symptoms. The city of Lansing’s emergency management department is “prepared for a pandemic,” said Mayor Andy Schor. The best plan: Take precautions to prevent transmission.
Added Vail: “You’re either going to get coronavirus from someone that is infected and coughing near you — so stay away from them — or you’re going to touch something, neglect to wash your hands, and then you’re going to touch your face, or your eyes or your mouth,”
Among her suggestions to fight it:
1. Wash your hands.
Vail cautioned residents to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds — or like you’ve been chopping jalapeno peppers and need to put in contacts. At the very least, use some hand sanitizer.
2. Stay home if you’re feeling sick.
Vail also encourages employers to be flexible about sick leave policies in the interest of public safety.
3. Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces.
Doorknobs, lightswitches, office printers, cell phones — all of them. Keep them clean, Vail said.
4. Keep a 6-foot distance from sick people.
COVID-19 can only be spread through mucus droplets — such as coughs and sneezes. If you see someone who is sick, keep a safe distance, Vail cautioned.
5. Avoid touching unwashed hands to your face — especially your nose and mouth.
6. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your elbow.
Vail warned that coughing into your hand doesn’t do much to prevent contagions from spreading.
7. Stop buying facemasks if you’re not sick.
A face mask or a respirator mask will not prevent someone from getting sick, Vail said. Those masks are designed primarily for those who are already sick and medical professionals. Officials cautioned residents to save their money and keep the masks available for those who need them the most.
8. Stop blaming the Asians.
Vail noted recent reports of discriminatory behavior against those of Asian descent because COVID-19 originated in China. Asian people are not more susceptible to the coronavirus. And not only are such fears unfounded, stigmatizing those with medical conditions can make it hard to control, Vail said.
“This is not a one-way street. We can push this virus back. Our actions now — and importantly your actions now — will determine the course of an outbreak in our community, should that happen,” Vail added.
Hospital officials warned those exhibiting flu-like symptoms to only seek medical attention if they’re severe and include severe headaches, mental deterioration, sustained chest pain, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, dark urine or a lack of appetite or desire to drink water. Otherwise, simply stay home, stay hydrated and stay rested.
Those looking to be tested for the coronavirus must have traveled to a state with known cases and must also be exhibiting symptoms. Vail said local officials will have “room for judgment” to avoid wasting testing resources.
“We have a strong community with many resources,” said Bryan Crenshaw, who chairs the county Board of Commissioners. “While COVID-19 is undoubtedly, deeply concerning, our community is well-positioned and resourced.”
“Don’t panic,” Schor added. “Take appropriate preventative measures.”