Oakland County Executive, Dave Coulter, talks with Christy McDonald about mapping the rise in cases of COVID-19, the opening of a field hospital in Novi, the economic impact of the crisis on small businesses, as well as what it would take to reopen the economy in the county.


Christy McDonald With me now is Oakland County Executive, Dave Coulter. Dave, it’s good to see you.

Dave Coulter, Oakland County Executive Always great to see you. Thanks for having me on.

Christy McDonald Obviously, Oakland County is one of the counties that has been hit hard by Covid-19. Give us a sense from your perspective how things are going.

Dave Coulter, Oakland County Executive You know, the numbers don’t look good. We’ve been hit hard. One of the hardest hit counties in the country, really. We’re close to four thousand positives, over 200 deaths so far. And those aren’t just statistics to me. Those are individuals and people and families who have been affected. So it’s been really challenging from that perspective. On the other hand, it’s been really heartening to see how our public health office, our law enforcement people are our staff and our county and the people here have really responded and pitched in and have done a pretty amazing job and we’ll see in a couple of weeks how well our stay-at-home and social distancing policies have work. But they feel like they’re working really well. It feels like everybody’s taking this very seriously as they should. And so, you know, we’re making do.

Christy McDonald You know, in terms of making sure that messaging continues to get out. And you see areas you now have a mapping system in Oakland County. You can go on and see where the most cases are, where where they have been. Is there any kind of different specific messaging that you give to certain areas of the county?

Dave Coulter, Oakland County Executive You know, we do, you know thanks for mentioning that because we’ve had a dashboard on our Website for a number of weeks. We recently added to the map that can break it down by zip code, which is helpful. But, you know, the reality is we we just assume and we know that the virus is in every community in Oakland County. And so even in communities we’re testing or we’re showing higher positives. We don’t know exactly why that is. It could just be that more people got tested there or they had better access to health care. So we’re going on the assumption from a public health perspective that the entire county has this virus in its midst and we have to be really vigilant everywhere.

Christy McDonald Let’s talk a little bit about the field hospital that’s going to be a that’s going to be going up at the Suburban Showplace in Novi. How is that going to be staffed and what’s the timeline there?

Dave Coulter, Oakland County Executive Yeah, super excited about that. For me personally, if there’s been one bright spot in the last week, it’s been the fact that we’ve been able to bring everybody together around opening a field hospital at Suburban Showplace. This is going to reduce capacity on our hospital systems, which we know are just going to magnify in the next couple of weeks. The timing is they need a couple of weeks to put these up. So right now, it looks like April 20th will be when the construction is done. The construction is happening now. And I have to give a shout out to a lot of the labor unions, the building trades, who have all volunteering their time to go in and help make this happen so quickly. But yeah, the big issue is going to be all right, you know, FEMA and the State can build a field hospital, but who runs it? And so we needed we needed a health system partner. And I’m really excited that just recently Ascension Michigan has stepped up to take the lead. They can’t do it by themselves, but they’ll take the lead in helping manage the staffing. What are the big issues is all our health systems are slammed and they don’t have spare staff. so, we’re going to have to figure out working with the state, working with FEMA, working with private partners, how we get this staff. But Ascension Michigan is going to take the lead on that. By the way April 20th is when construction’s done. I’m told it can be up to about another five days before we’re ready to actually see patients. So we’re looking at somewhere the last week of April or so, April 25th. Before we can start putting patients in that in that field hospital.

Christy McDonald Let’s talk a little bit about business, Dave. And what are some of the small business owners talking to you about, their concerns about getting back up and running and their concerns with unemployment right now across the county?

Dave Coulter, Oakland County Executive It’s a huge concern. We started a three million dollar emergency fund for our small businesses, especially if you think of restaurants and things like that. Not only did their revenue just immediately cease, but all of their employees revenues. It’s it’s devastating for small businesses, but medium and large businesses as well. So we have an emergency fund that we established, but we’re also working really closely with the unemployment folks in Lansing. We have six Michigan Works offices throughout Oakland County. And I keep telling folks here that are trying to apply for those benefits. It takes longer than usual. They’re getting slammed. But keep trying because those benefits are coming. And in fact, thanks to the stimulus from Washington, additional funds are coming. Hopefully this will be a short term thing. So there’s going to be this huge almost economic pandemic that’s going to follow the health one. But for now, the best thing we can do is focus on the health, because the better we get this right and the more we bring the curve down, the less economic impact we’re going to have. We know it’s going to be a devastating economic impact, though, on individuals and companies around the country and and all over the county.

Christy McDonald Talk to me a little bit about compliance and the businesses that are essential that are staying open right now and trying to do the best they can and complying with the emergency orders from the state. What is the county doing to help them or have you had to go out and do some ticketing or, you know, kind of saying reminders of you’ve got to make sure that you’re complying?

Dave Coulter, Oakland County Executive The good news is most businesses are doing everything they can to do the right thing, and that’s what we found. But in Oakland County, we actually did take a step further than the state, even, when the when the stay at home and the non-essential business order was released. And that is if you’re an essential business, you also need to make, keep certain health protocols done to keep your health worker. You mean to keep your employees safe and your customers safe. So, for instance, we make them screen their employees every day before they come to work. It’s a simple screening to make sure they don’t show symptoms. We make them practice social distancing. There’s been some confusion over that because the entire state doesn’t make you do that. Although I am pleased to see that Washtenaw County, Kent County and some others have followed our lead there. So what we just did this we because that can be a little confusing as we put together a health toolkit for our essential businesses and we’re getting this out to all of our essential businesses so they know what’s expected. And the other thing I would tell you, Kristie, is this isn’t just for today’s essential businesses, but as we begin to reopen the economy and reopen, quote, unquote, nonessential businesses. It’s not going to be business as usual. So some of these protocols are still going to have to be followed even as we begin to open up our economy a month from now or so.

Christy McDonald Yeah and as we kind of look down the road and who are you talking to to kind of start to formulate the first steps of a plan of 30 days from now, 60 days from now. Again, we don’t have that timeframe of how you do start to reopen things. And what are you taking into consideration?

Dave Coulter, Oakland County Executive You know, we’re working really hard behind the scenes on what it looks like to reopen an economy. Oakland County is in many ways the economic engine of Michigan. It’s important that we do this right. And even though our public facing is all about the health aspects right now, you know, behind the scenes, we’re working very hard on this. And I expect that in the next few days or at least the next week, that we’re going to be announcing a task force In Oakland County around how do we restart our economy. And I’m going to ask the smartest business leaders, nonprofit leaders, economists and others to help us come up with a plan that makes sense so that when we do reopen these businesses, we’re offering the type of help that’s needed to the types of businesses and employees that most need the help. And so we’re working on that now and we’ll probably be rolling more out about that shortly.

Christy McDonald I guess in closing Dave, what would your message be to Oakland County residents right now as we kind of watch this wave and and we really don’t know what day it brings the next day. So what would your message to people?

Dave Coulter, Oakland County Executive You know, don’t get discouraged. The social distancing and stay at home orders are starting to have an effect. But these next two weeks are going to be hard and they could be discouraging. I saw some numbers out of the University of Michigan and they do their modeling and what the projections could be. We’re at about, 4000 positive cases today. It’s possible that by April twenty seven, Oakland County starts to maybe hit its peak at around twenty seven thousand positives. That’s a lot more people than we have today, but we can prevent every single one of those if we all get really strict about staying at home and practicing the social distance. You know, this week is Passover, Easter than Ramadan starts. These are naturally times where we want to come together, be together with people in our family and people in our faith. We just can’t do that right now. But if we if we sacrifice now, it will be better in the long run. And I just encourage people to take heart. We can beat this thing, but we have to do it with the social distancing that we all know so well.

Christy McDonald All right, Dave, good to see you. Thanks for the time. Dave Coulter. Oakland County Executive. We’ll be checking in with you as this continues to go on. Keep up the good work and be well.

Dave Coulter, Oakland County Executive Thank you so much. You, too.

Christy McDonald Okay.