Local police departments in recent days have been receiving 911 calls about the coronavirus that don’t involve emergencies.
Some of the calls have been basic:
“Where do I get tested?”
“How long will it take to get results?”
“I think I have coronavirus.”
Police and fire departments routinely urge the public to not dial 911 for any situations that do not involve an emergency. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some frightened or concerned residents have turned to police first, expecting answers.
Public safety officials Friday acknowledged an increase in such calls this week, but the volume appears to have subsided. Efforts by government leaders and health care institutions to step up information efforts may be to credit.
At the Macomb County Communications & Technology Center, which handles emergency communication and dispatch operations for the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office and police and fire service in Sterling Heights, Mount Clemens, Clinton Township and most of the northern half of Macomb County, dispatchers handled numerous calls early this week from people concerned about COVID-19.
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said dispatchers he spoke with Friday at the facility reported the call volume had dwindled to almost none by the afternoon.
“They said it’s kind of like a lull, like just before a winter storm,” he said. “They’re not really getting inundated whether people want to know if they have COVID.”
The county executive said dispatchers have, and will continue, to ask questions to callers who reported immediate health concerns — a sort of phone screening to assess whether an officer or paramedics should be sent to the person’s home.
“I think most people are starting to realize it’s their personal responsibility for them to check with their primary care provider or go to the hospital. It’s no different than if you have the flu or sinus problem,” Hackel said.
Callers also have been advised to call the Macomb County Health Department’s hotline at 586-463-3750 for information about the coronavirus.
The county executive said some callers awaiting their own COVID-19 test results have unsuccessfully turned to police and asked whether first responders will report the test outcome to them.
“They are not going give you test results,” Hackel said.
Some people have inquired about the test result for individuals with whom they may have been in contact, wondering if they need to self-quarantine.
“I got a few calls myself. It was amazing,” he said.
Officials say testing labs will report positive COVID-19 results to the Macomb County Health Department, which will notify the individual and then attempt to gather information about places the person went and with whom he or she may have had contact.
To that end, Hackel stressed the public should rely on notification from a public health agency, hospital personal or a physician for official direction about being quarantine. He emphasized anyone who hears a rumor or learns from a non-public health agency, from someone other than a doctor, or through word of mouth that he or she may have been exposed to someone in a building or other location where an infected was at prior to testing positive – should assess their own symptoms but also contact their own doctor or a hospital for advice and determine whether they should quarantine themselves.
On Thursday, county officials learned that an attorney contacted the 42-1 District Court in New Baltimore to report a client in a criminal case whom he accompanied to the courthouse on March 11 for a hearing had since tested positive for COVID-19. No court staff came into close contact with the defendant and nobody at the courthouse was notified by a health agency, so court officials assessed the situation and concluded self-quarantine of any court staff was not ordered, Hackel said.
“Everybody’s sense is heightened” amid the pandemic, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said.
He added dispatchers asked a series of questions to help determine whether a caller needs emergency service and, if necessary, to forward those details to paramedics heading to the individual’s location.
“If everyone is feeling just a little ill and wants an ambulance, there’s not obviously enough resources out there. If you had the flu, you wouldn’t call police and 911,” said Wickersham, noting that folks who feel very seriously ill and need emergency help should still ask for it.
“Initially we were receiving a lot of calls as far as where to go to be tested,” Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer said. Dispatchers provided callers with phone numbers to appropriate resources.
Those types of calls to police in Warren trickled to a few by Friday morning, he said.
To protect police personnel, Dwyer said road patrol officers have been provided with hand sanitizer, gloves and materials to disinfect the interior of scout cars. The Police Department’s lockup is cleaned daily and police administrators are considering whether to transport violent individuals arrested for felony offenses directly to the Macomb County Jail to await an interim bond hearing, as opposed to keeping them behind bars at Warren police headquarters to await arraignment via video link with the 37th District Court.
An unspecified number of Warren officers have called in sick in recent days, the police commissioner said. No positive tests for COVID-19 have been reported, although one officer awaits the result of a test taken on Thursday.
To reduce risk of infection, the Warren Police Department locker room is sanitized twice a day and, to improve social distance, patrol officers are no longer working in 2-man units, said Dwyer. However, police response to emergency runs will not be diminished, he said. Other services, such as fingerprinting, have been curtailed as possible to reduce contact with the public.
“We haven’t fielded too many (calls) about testing,” Clinton Township police Sgt. Nicholas Mixon said Friday. But as health experts expect the reported numbers of positive infections and deaths attributed to the virus in Michigan, it’s “maybe more likely that more people will be calling,” Mixon said.
For most people, the COVID-19 virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
Beaumont Health launched a free online COVID-19 risk assessment tool March 18, which allows patients to answer a series of questions about their symptoms and help them determine whether to stay home or seek medical attention.
To use the free online risk assessment tool, visit: beaumont.org/coronavirus
After answering the questions, the online tool will suggest what action a patient should take such as:
• Contacting a primary care physician
• Going to a curbside screening
• Seeking treatment at an emergency center
• Staying home and monitoring symptoms
“Many people who become infected with COVID-19 can stay home and treat their symptoms with over-the counter medication, unless their symptoms become severe. The primary symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath,” said Dr. Nicholas Gilpin, Beaumont Health’s medical director of Infection Prevention and Epidemiology. “This online risk assessment tool will help our patients better understand what steps they should consider taking if they are not feeling well.”