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County press conference offers updates on closings due to COVID-19

Photo: Genesee County Administration Building

Written by Tanya Terry

UPDATE: As of 2 p.m. March 24, there were 1,791 COVID-19 cases in Michigan with 34 being in Genesee County. For daily updates, visit https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus.

UPDATE: As of March 23 following the number of COVID-19 cases in Michigan doubling over the weekend, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a stay at home order. There were 1,328 cases of COVID-19 in Michigan (including 23 Genesee County cases).

UPDATE: As of 2 p.m. March 22, there were 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Genesee County and 1035 statewide.

UPDATE: As of 2 p.m. March 21, there were seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Genesee County and 787 in the state as a whole.

UPDATE: As of 2 p.m. March 20, there were 225 daily confirmed COVID-19 cases, including one in Genesee County, according to www.michigan.gov. However, John McKellar, county health officer, reported four presumptive Genesee County cases in a news conference March 20, saying they involve three women aged 15, 22 and 35 and a man, age 54. There were also two daily confirmed deaths in Detroit, according to the state website.

UPDATE: According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services,  Michigan had 334 confirmed COVID cases by March 19 at 8:27 p.m. There were 254 cases confirmed on March 19. The Genesee County case was removed from the website and said to be an error. The highest percent of cases have been confirmed in those ages 60-69. Daily updates on the number of COVID-19 cases are available at https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus, with a link for cumulative data being available there as well.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced March 16 20 positive cases of coronavirus. That brought the state total of COVID-19 cases to 53 at the time.

A press conference was also held on March 16 to update the public on what the county did that day in regards to the COVID-19 situation.

Genesee County Health Officer, John McKellar, gave the status of COVID-19 cases.

“There still are no cases for our county. We do have 33 specimens submitted for testing. We’ve received 11 negative results from those tests. We’re still waiting on results from 22 of the specimens,” McKellar said.

He said the county was still encouraging messages of good hand washing as an important preventative activity for the disease.

“We’re encouraging folks to stay home when they’re sick and to stay away from others who might be sick. We’re also encouraging folks that if you develop symptoms to contact your primary care physician first. Call the office first and see how they might want to receive you in their office. Avoid the emergency room unless you really are in an emergency situation,” McKellar said.

He also encouraged social distancing. According to McKellar, six feet is the recommended limit. Employers are being encouraged by the county to look at ways they can allow employees to work at home when possible.

“We’re well aware of the actions the governor has taken to close down places of active socialization to assist in social distancing importance.”

All county buildings have been closed to the public. This is for their safety and the safety of county employees, according to Genesee County Board of Commissioners Chairman, Martin Cousineau. The county is working on a plan on what is essential staff and what is not essential staff to reduce the number of people that come in county buildings. All county buildings will have a central entry point for everybody. Employees will be screened and told to go home if they have a “problem.”

“The out coming courts; we’ve ordered those to close. The central court has a plan of reduced dockets,” Cousineau said.

Those entering the courts will also be screened when they come in.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton informed those at the press conference the prosecutor’s office will have a reduced staff for the next three weeks.

“We will still be writing warrants. We will still be handling sentences as the circuit court calls them up on the docket, but we are minding the recommendations from the health department and health officials to keep apart. So, I sent my support staff home for the next three weeks. Lawyers will come in only as needed. We are going to abide by the necessity for a reduced number of people in the public buildings,” Leyton said.

The Genesee County Circuit and Probate Court has an order prepared. A court order indicates the essentials of services the courts will be open for. There will a central point of access that will allow search court filings of the first floor of the Genesee County courthouse near the security checkpoint on Beach Street.

Genesee County Treasurer Deb Cherry said the treasurer’s office would also be closed to the public effective March 17.

“This is also the period of time when people come to make a prevention plan so their house will not be foreclosed. That deadline is usually set for March 31. We have gotten a court order also, and we have extended the foreclosure period through the end of May,” Cherry said.

County treasurers as a whole are expected to ask the governor to extend this date also, according to Cherry. Residents should make payments to the treasurer’s office by mail. They are also able to call the treasurer’s office if they have questions as workers will be in the office.

“We do not want to foreclose on anyone that is experiencing difficulties with COVID-19 or other hardships they might have,” Cherry said.

Judge Christopher Odette of the 67th District Court said for the next three weeks the court would be down to observe social distancing. The out court facilities will be closed. The central facility at the McCree Building will be open for essential services only, including felony and misdemeanor arraignments of incarcerated individuals, the issuance of warrants and authorizing search warrants.

“We recognize it is a difficult time. We will continue to serve the Genesee County residents both inside the city and outside the city,” Odette said.

John Gleason, Genesee County clerk and register of deeds, suggested Genesee County residents utilize the website gc4me.com; the contact and website for Genesee County services.

“We know there are a lot of personal, very private and important ordeals that are transitioned through our office,” Gleason said.

He requested the community’s patience and use of the website, and said his office shared the other offices priority to have a rigid parameter on the coronavirus.

“We must establish the parameter and not let us infect the public nor the public infect our public buildings. We must limit our service in that fashion,” Gleason said.

He commended the leadership of Genesee County for being on-schedule and professional in their response to COVID-19, saying Genesee County would get through the hard times while residents get the services from his office at the same rate they are accustomed to.

Visits to inmates will still be allowed. Recreation time for inmates has been doubled.

“We want everyone to know that calling 911, you’re still going to get a public servant. You’re still going to get your local police department, your fire department, your EMS, said Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson.

“It’s going to be OK,” he said, in closing.

Genesee County declared a local state of emergency on March 13 in response to the ongoing health threat that the corona virus poses, allowing Genesee County to tap into state and federal funding.

A county commissioners meeting will occur March 18 and be open to the public, though the definition of open to the public had not been established at the time of the press conference.

There is currently a limit in the availability of testing kits for COVID-19. There has been a recent release from the federal national stock pile of personal protected equipment essential to healthcare providers in order to do the testing. There is a coordinated effort between the county health department and the hospitals, and the possibility of a countywide testing venue which would not be close to the emergency room is being explored.

 

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