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Public health experts say Michigan could soon take the lead of other states and take dramatic measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer late Tuesday announced the state’s first two confirmed cases, in Oakland and Wayne counties. On Wednesday, hours after World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the coronavirus a global pandemic, Whitmer encouraged companies to allow employees to work from home and called for the cancelation of events that would attract more than 100 people and limiting visits to hospitals.
Other states with more infected residents have already taken big steps to encourage social isolation. Ohio is banning large gatherings and limiting visits to nursing homes and prisons.
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Michigan may need to implement measures such as a travel quarantine, said Peter Gulick, an infectious disease expert at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“I don’t want to cause panic in the streets. But until I know more about this disease, I want to protect as many people as I can. If I overdo it, so be it,” he said.
In Washington, the hardest hit state so far, Gov. Jay Inslee is expected Wednesday to announce a ban on any gathering of more than 250 people. He’s already sought $100 million in emergency spending to combat the effects of the virus.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a one-mile “containment” zone around the city of New Rochelle, where several cases have been found. People are allowed to enter and leave the area but Curomo’s order bans large gatherings in the region. Likewise,
The goal is to “flatten the curve” of infections by limiting person-to-person contact early. In areas where restrictions were not implemented, new infections rose sharply, public officials said. The intent of clamping down early is to lessen the rapid spread of the virus.
Many health experts agree that early, dramatic steps may be the best guard against the sort of widespread outbreak seen in China, Italy, South Korea and Iran.
“If you do that in the beginning, you don’t have as many cases,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan’s school of public health.
Because there have been so few tests, just 77 so far in Michigan alone, there are likely many more people with the virus, Monto said. The two positive tests so far, he said, are the “tip of the iceberg.”
To minimize the spread, taking dramatic steps early may be the best path. It could slow the rate of infection so that hospitals have the capacity to handle them rather than getting swamped.
Monto said enforced isolation is credited with slowing the spread of the deadly SARS virus in 2003.
But making decisions that affect millions are difficult. Monto said politicians will be criticized for overreacting if the risk ends up being minimal — or criticized for not doing enough if it blows up.
“The politicians are paid the big bucks to make those decisions,” Monto said. “Because they are difficult.”
All of Italy is currently under a state-imposed lockdown as that country deals with the worst outbreak in Europe, with over 10,000 infected and over 600 deaths.
“If you look at the curves of outbreaks, they go big peaks, and then come down. What we need to do is flatten that down,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters Tuesday.
“That would have less people infected. That would ultimately have less deaths. You do that by trying to interfere with the natural flow of the outbreak.”
Ohio, which had its first confirmed case on Monday, has already taken steps to limit large gatherings.
Gov. Mike DeWine asked all colleges and universities to suspend in-person classes, banned visitors to state prisons and called upon large sporting events to consider games without spectators, including the upcoming NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which has games in Cleveland and Dayton.
In Indiana, with six confirmed cases, there are no specific plans though Gov. Eric Holcomb has declared a public health emergency. School districts have been encouraged to make contingency plans.
Many of the decisions are being made at a local level, or by individual colleges or universities, school districts and businesses. As of Wednesday afternoon, Michigan State and Michigan Tech universities have halted in-person classes and events have been cancelled.
In Illinois, the Chicago mayor postponed that city’s hugely popular St. Patrick’s Day parade amid virus fears and some communities have moved polling places out of senior citizen housing because of the virus.
In California, Santa Clara County this week banned gatherings of 1,000 or more people for three weeks after a death there.