Some MI inmates could be released as COVID-19 cases rise

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took steps to protect people in Michigan’s county jails and juvenile detention centers during the COVID-19 pandemic, including allowing some inmates to be eligible for early release. 

Sunday’s order gives local officials more flexibility to release inmates who are vulnerable to the virus and do not pose a threat to public safety.

Those inmates could include older adults, those with chronic conditions, pregnant women, people nearing their release date and folks incarcerated for a traffic violation or failure to appear.

The order also suspends transfers into and from state facilities until risk-reduction protocols are implemented, such as screening everyone who enters jails, restricting all visits except with attorneys and ensuring access to adequate personal-hygiene supplies.

Local jails can be reimbursed for housing inmates who would have been transferred if it wasn’t for the order. 

“The health and safety of all Michiganders remains our top priority during this public health crisis and that includes those incarcerated in our jails and juvenile detention centers,” Whitmer said in a news release. “It is challenging for inmates and employees to practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, and this Executive Order will put commonsense protocols into place to protect our jail and juvenile detention center populations.”

Also Sunday, Whitmer signed a separate order to give hospitals and health care facilities the ability to use physician assistants, nurses and other providers to combat COVID-19.

She says the order reinforces an existing law that protects hospitals and health care workers from liability for taking necessary steps to protect patients during an emergency.

“Michigan’s dedicated health care professionals continue putting their lives on the line every day during this unprecedented crisis, and we must do everything we can to empower them to do their jobs,” Whitmer said in a release. “This executive order temporarily sets aside some existing rules to allow qualified physician assistants, nurses and other health care providers to treat COVID-19 patients and help slow the spread of this virus in every corner of our state.”

Michigan’s COVID-19 cases rise to nearly 5,500

Michigan’s COVID-19 cases increased by 839 and 21 new deaths were reported Sunday.

The tests run Saturday, the results of which were released Sunday, brought the state’s total number of confirmed cases to 5,486 and with 132 deaths.

The largest concentration of cases is still in southeast Michigan. Wayne County (including Detroit), has 2,704 confirmed cases and 56 deaths; Oakland County has 1,170 cases and 34 deaths; and Macomb County 620 cases and 20 deaths.

Kent County has 72 confirmed cases, 19 more than the day prior. Ottawa County has 25 confirmed cases, two more than the day before. Berrien County reported 29 cases.

The dead range in age from 25 to 97, but the average age is 64. Sixty-nine percent of those killed were men and 30% women. In 1% of those deadly cases, the sex was not reported to the state.

Out of the 15,282 specimens tested, 11,893 were negative for COVID-19. A patient can have more than one specimen tested, so the number of specimens tested may be more than the number of patients tested.

Health officials have noted that the number of test kits available is limited. Not everyone displaying symptoms is going to get tested. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said as recently as Monday that not enough testing has been done to get a clear scope of the spread of the illness.

WMU student dies from COVID-19 weeks before graduation

In Kalamazoo County, there are 19 confirmed cases. On Sunday. Western Michigan University President Edward Montgomery announced Bassey Offiong’s death Sunday.

Courtesy photos of Bassey Offiong.
Courtesy photos of Bassey Offiong.

“Bassey was a young man of enormous potential who was scheduled to graduate with his degree in chemical engineering in just a few weeks. On behalf of the entire Bronco community I want to extend my deepest condolences to his entire family, including his sister Asari, who has been generous in communicating with us regularly. They are in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time,” Montgomery stated.

Kalamazoo County Health Officer Jim Rutherford confirmed COVID-19 led to Offiong’s death.

Rutherford said Offiong was not a resident of Kalamazoo County, “however, this virus has no borders when it comes to who it affects and how it is spread. We urge everyone to help us fight community spread by following the Governor’s executive order. Stay home and, if you must go out for essential items, stay safe by taking preventative measures.”

Offiong is the fourth person in West Michigan known to have died from COVID-19. Two men in Muskegon County also died; the first reported death in West Michigan was a person in Kent County.

COVID-19 presents with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. For most who contract it, symptoms are mild. The people most at risk to develop severe complications are the elderly and those with preexisting health problems.

If you think you have coronavirus, call your health care provider. Unless you are in need of emergency help, do not go to the emergency room. Get advice from a doctor over the phone or a televisit and they will direct you on how to get tested.

Whitmer has ordered Michigan residents to stay at home unless they must leave to go grocery shopping or unless they are an essential service worker. If you’re sick, you shouldn’t leave the house at all. Restaurants are allowed only to offer drive-thru, carry-out or delivery. The goal is to keep the number of severe cases small enough that hospitals can handle them.

Other than following social distancing guidelines, you should keep following common-sense health practices, like washing your hands frequently for 20 seconds with soap and warm water, coughing into your arm or a tissue rather than your hands and avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands.