Michigan virus cases top 9,300; new ventilators put to work

Employee Tonya Ramsay, right, holds a sign outside the Amazon DTW1 fulfillment center in Romulus, Mich., Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Employees and family members are protesting in response to what they say is the company's failure to protect the health of its employees amid the new coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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DETROIT, MI (AP) - The number of Michigan residents who have contracted COVID-19 crept toward 10,000 on Wednesday — one of the highest totals in the U.S. — while the state said hundreds of ventilators from the federal government would be quickly put into service, especially in hard-hit Detroit-area hospitals.

Detroit residents make up 26% of the state’s cases and 83 of its 337 coronavirus-related deaths. Mayor Mike Duggan credited an aggressive testing program, including a drive-up station at the former state fairgrounds, and predicted higher numbers each day.

He acknowledged that Detroit has a “serious problem” with infections, but he also said it was “disturbing” to read stories that it might be a hot spot because of poverty. Duggan noted that prosperous areas in Michigan, New York and Massachusetts are also struggling with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

“Somebody brought the virus into this community early on,” the mayor said. “It spread in this community before we knew what was happening. And the places in this country that are getting hit are the places that were infected first.”

THE LATEST:

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reported statewide jumped Wednesday by 1,719, bringing the total count to 9,334. Meanwhile, deaths rose by 78, which was a 30% increase. Only a few states have had more confirmed cases.

Of Michigan’s cases, 80% have been in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, which are in the Detroit area.

Nearly 150 prisoners and 25 staff members at various prisons have tested positive, the state Corrections Department said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a disaster and asked lawmakers to extend her previous emergency declaration by 70 days. The Legislature’s approval next week, needed to keep the declaration from expiring under state law, would allow the Democrat to stretch a stay-at-home order, although the order might not last for 70 days.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said he backs an extension of the emergency, but 70 days is too long, and his support does not transfer to a “lengthy” continuation of the stay-home measure.

The governor has identified ventilators as a critical need. Half of the 400 breathing machines from the government will go to hospitals in southeastern Michigan, the state health department said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

A University of Washington model cited by the White House projects that Michigan could see a rapid increase in hospitalizations and fatalities, with 3,200 coronavirus-related deaths by May 1.

RARE SIDE EFFECT:

Henry Ford Health System reported that it had nearly 600 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday morning. It also said a 58-year-old woman with the virus developed a rare form of encephalitis — acute necrotizing encephalitis — a central nervous infection that mostly afflicts children.

Dr. Elissa Fory, a Henry Ford neurologist, said all hospitals need to be aware.

“This complication is as devastating as severe lung disease,” Fory said.

FLINT CURFEW

The mayor of Flint ordered a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, starting Thursday, for 30 days. He said too many people have been gathering in store parking lots, raising the risk of spreading the virus.

“Don’t smoke and drink plenty of water. This curfew is so important,” said Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, a local physician who joined Mayor Sheldon Neeley.

ROADS:

Whitmer said construction projects on state roads will continue as long as contractors think it’s safe. A trade group, the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, had asked her to deem the work as nonessential. There will be no penalties if work is delayed due to COVID-19 safety measures and smaller crews. Contractors can request that a project be suspended.

AMAZON PROTEST:

Some workers protested conditions at an Amazon warehouse in Romulus, southwest of Detroit. The action occurred during a shift change. At least two positive COVID-19 cases have been confirmed there, workers said.

“We’re working through a crisis, not by choice but by necessity,” Tonya Ramsay said.

Amazon defended the conditions, telling The Detroit News that it has been “tripling down on deep cleaning” and changing procedures so employees were keeping a safe distance from each other.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.