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Tuscola Commissioners heed health officer's COVID-19 concerns
Sun, 28 Jun 2020 10:41:09 EDT
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During the county meeting Thursday, Tuscola Commissioners were expecting to approve reopening of county buildings, but they didn't.
Ann Hepfer, who is the health officer for both the Huron County Health Department, and the Tuscola County Health Department, urged against it following an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Thumb and in the state.
Friday marked five straight days of increased of new confirmed cases of the virus in the state.
The 389 new cases on Friday of the virus brought the state's total to 62,695 since the outbreak began in March. The virus has caused 5,888 deaths.
On Thursday, there were 353 new cases of the virus detected, and on Wednesday there were 323 new cases.
Those numbers are the highest since May 31, when there were 513 new cases were reported by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
Updated data will be released at 3 p.m. today.
That data along with some increased cases in the Thumb as well as a new concern over travelers to the area, is a concern to Hepfer; and which commissioners decided to heed.
The annual influx of migrant workers in the state and Thumb area from Texas, Arizona, and Florida are contributing to the uptick in confirmed cases along with those who are not following social distancing and wearing a mask, noted Hepfer.
"My concern is that our rates had been flat, but we have not been to zero yet. I'm concerned about the populations that we are just now testing," said Hepfer noting that migrant workers are necessary for the farming industry and agriculture depends on them.
"We need them healthy. All of us need to remain healthy."
Hepfer is working with Great Lakes Bay who has migrant programs in place, and are helping with COVID-19 testing.
"It is concerning. If we have more than a hand full of positive cases, that means the numbers are going up again. We cannot afford for that to happen. The virus spreads rapidly," she said.
There are also concerns about the virus in those who are traveling to the state, and the Amish communities in the Thumb.
"Right now I'm kind of nervous, and I've been watching the national news. If we are going to see an increase in infection we are going to see it in the next 10 to 14 days. My recommendation would be to hold off opening just a little longer before opening doors," she said.
"And when doors are opened, we need to be cautious about letting people in who do not wear masks. I know that is not popular. You can serve people from a window, but when they come into buildings they should wear a mask."
Commissioner Dan Grimshaw questioned why Huron County was allowed to reopen and the recommendation for Tuscola is not to.
According to Hepfer, there are a lot of reasons. Huron County only has 56 cases, and they had been able to go seven days without an increase before four more were added.
"I know one of the cases was from long-term care. The other cases were from contacts," Hepfer explained as she pointed to Tuscola County having over 200 cases of the virus. "We had long-term care cases.
"Our new cases are community acquired. We have a minimum number of new cases and want to keep it there. We are going in the right direction and we need to maintain that. The goal is to get to zero and keep it there.
"We are also learning from what is happening in the southern states."
Because the cases are increasing in those areas, necessary personal protection equipment (PPEs) are going there, and are in short supply.
"Getting PPEs is still and issue. Dentists are really struggling with this so that they can open," Hepfer noted.
During discussion on reopening county facilities, Judge Amy Grace Gierhart weighed in.
"We are directed by the Michigan Supreme court.
The building is physically closed to the public but we have been working remotely doing limited hearings," she said. "Ann has to sign off to allow phase 2 for the Supreme Court to move forward, and she has not."
And, Hepfer will not sing off for the courts at this point.
"I would error on the side of caution with on courts. We've been talking about opening up the other county buildings," said county Controller - Administrator Clayette A. Zechmeister. "I wonder if we should follow the courts guidelines and health officer, who has concerns and not signing off, and hold off until the courts move to phase 2."
And, commissioners agreed. So although county employees returned to work, have face masks, and protective shields, access to county services will continue by appointment, email or use of drop boxes.
For more information or questions, call (989) 672-3890.