By Jessica Mathews/

Livingston County’s voice in Congress held a tele-town hall event Tuesday about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The 8th District Democrat from Holly was joined by Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist and state health officials for the call. More than 6,000 constituents participated and updates were offered what the state and Congress are doing to address the coronavirus crisis but also gather feedback. The House recently passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, providing assistance to working families affected by disruptions from the crisis. As the House awaits Senate action on that emergency legislation, Slotkin was also soliciting feedback on additional economic recovery legislation the House is likely to begin drafting soon. Slotkin said she’s pleased to see from administration that there is consideration on how for how to get cash in the hands of those who can’t work at restaurants, bars, airlines and other businesses who are trying to figure out how to pay their bills until things get back to a sense of normalcy. Slotkin says a package is just being discussed now and she will be soliciting feedback from businesses and employees on what they need to see in that package.

It was noted the state is finalizing paperwork to become one of first states to have disaster declaration and therefore be eligible for small business loans. Slotkin encouraged constituents and businesses to work with their financial institutions for deferred payments and flexible arrangements with creditors. She says businesses should also read the fine print of their insurance plans for potential relief. Slotkin’s office is also planning a business summit to discuss the effects of the crisis in the days ahead. Meanwhile, the state has set up a resource line for small businesses to get through the crisis that are looking for assistance through available state programs. The MEDC small business support hotline is 888-522-0103.

Many of those who called in had questions about testing. Elizabeth Hertel is Senior Chief Deputy Director for Administration for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. As of Tuesday, there were 65 positive individuals. Hertel said the lab the state operates is running at capacity but they are working rapidly to expand staffing so they can expand testing, and they should be on-line to do that by the end of the week. She noted there are also a number of hospitals coming on line to start testing and discussions are taking place to bring larger commercial labs on line – all of which will help in being able to expand testing. That being said, Hertel noted the MDHHS is prioritizing testing to certain individuals. She says they hope this will help them streamline to identify areas they need to focus mitigation strategies on and slow down the spread the virus across the state.

The MDHHS is prioritizing testing for any individuals with symptoms who are identified as a known contact of a confirmed case and are not members of the same household or living in the same situation. It is also being prioritized for others who are symptomatic while being in a 14-day monitoring and quarantine period after travel; symptomatic individuals who are part of an investigation of a cluster of cases such as a nursing home and symptomatic individuals who might be more likely to infect a vulnerable population such as public safety and health care professionals. Any individuals with a severe illness requiring hospitalization who is in a health emergency would be tested immediately. Hertel said they’re working closely with health providers across the state to make sure they’ll have adequate capacity for individuals who may come through their doors. She stressed that people who feel they’re experiencing symptoms and are not having a medical emergency should first contact their physician for guidance. Hertel says they’re trying to limit to people who will actually require hospitalization and not get to a point where they’re addressing capacity issues. However, she says it is prudent to plan for those types of instances and continue to ensure there are adequate supplies, materials and machines so hospitals can care for people. Hertel says the state is working closely with federal government and vendors to make sure they have adequate supplies of machines and equipment – adding there are great public health professionals in Michigan who are working around the clock.

During the tele-town hall, Slotkin acknowledged that there has been a lag in getting tests not just in Michigan but across the country so it was heartening to hear about the road forward for the state and more hospitals to ramp up testing. Slotkin said she feels it is important to maintain a prioritized list for testing as the goal is make sure hospitals and the healthcare system is not overrun so people with medical emergencies can access care. Slotkin further commented that there are no issues with food supply lines or any shortage with getting food to market, there has just been increased demand. She added that there are food banks in every county that are not turning people away.

Lt. Governor Gilchrist noted the state took unprecedented action to try to limit how the virus might spread in the community but also to protect and extend a safety net to those still working such as healthcare workers and providers and emergency responders. Gilchrist noted the goal with social distancing is to try and get out ahead of the situation and limit community spread as people could unknowingly be carriers of the virus and have no symptoms. Since it is an emerging crisis, it was stressed there is a lot to be learned from this and health care systems across the spectrum are struggling right now, regardless of format. If someone thinks that they have symptoms, they’re instructed to first contact their healthcare provider. If someone doesn’t have one, then the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has set up a hotline. The COVID-19 hotline for health related questions is 1-888-535-6136.

A press release from Slotkin with more information on the event is attached.