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Health chief says state won’t ration COVID-19 tests

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says Medicaid patients will be allowed more access to tele-medicine services as part of the state’s response to COVID-19. The state Capitol is temporarily closed to school group tours.

The state’s top medical official told a state House committee her office won’t ration tests for people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

“I’ve asked my team not to wait until you get low on testing kits but to order, order, order because I expect more to be coming in,” said Michigan Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun in remarks before the House Health Policy Committee.

She said the state’s still inventorying the needs of health care facilities. But she says vigorous prevention efforts can help manage the flow of patients to emergency rooms and doctors’ offices.

“We have asked our hospitals to think about their surge capacity, their staffing capacity, and that’s part of the community mitigation strategy – making sure our most vulnerable who would need those hospital beds, making sure that they don’t get sick so they don’t overwhelm the hospital systems.” 

Khaldun said this pandemic should be mistaken for an influenza outbreak. The fatality for known cases of COVID-19 is between 1 percent and 3 percent, while the flu fatality rate is .1 percent. 

The Legislature also just sent Governor Whitmer a spending bill that includes $25 million dollars to aid in coronavirus response. She is expected to sign it.

The Legislature is curtailing its activities. The House and Senate will meet next week, but Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) says session days beyond that will be scheduled only as needed. The Republican leader said that this is an area of bipartisan agreement.

“The governor has asked citizens to limit social interactions, especially congregating in large groups, and we intend to lead by example,” he said in a statement released by his office.

Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) both said committee chairs have also been asked to consider whether public hearings are necessary while the health scare is ongoing.

“We need to do our part to help limit the spread of this virus to vulnerable populations, while still doing what we can to do what we can to keep our state functioning and remaining available for possible future legislative action on this situation,” Chatfield said in a written statement.

Rick Pluta is the Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He is heard daily on WCMU's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.