Saturday, December 4, 2021

Health Officer Vail says legislature leaders might be ignoring health advice

December 9, 2020
<p>The Lansing Capitol building on Sept. 19, 2019. </p>

The Lansing Capitol building on Sept. 19, 2019.

Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said leaders of the legislature are undermining her authority, the same leaders who claim there are no close contacts of President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, following his hospitalization with COVID-19 days after a hearing in Lansing.

During the Tuesday meeting Vail said while Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines define a close contact as an individual with whom one was within six feet and not wearing a mask, they also take into account a number of other factors including being indoors for a prolonged period of time.

Giuliani had not been wearing a mask during the hearing, so even if these additional factors failed to play a role, the lack of mask wearing on a potentially contagious individual changes the context regarding the six-feet rule, which changes CDC guidelines, Vail said.

“What happened was reckless and risky,” Vail said. “I made an assessment about what a close contact is in that context and that is the definition of close contact that they need to be working with — one that has been defined by the Ingham County Health Department. Otherwise, they are disregarding public health advice and direction.”

With Giuliani being hospitalized on Sunday, Vail said the progression of his illness makes it highly likely that he had been contagious on Wednesday ahead of the hearing.

According to Vail, we do not typically see someone hospitalized before they have had symptoms for about seven days, so if he had been positive any day before Saturday there was an exposure at the House Oversight Committee — absent a test result or provided onset date.

Vail has made attempts to communicate with the legislature in the past including a recent letter to the Senate and a letter to the House of Representative after an exposure in April.

In the letter to Michigan Senate leaders last Monday, Vail reminded them of the necessity to follow COVID-19 guidelines when holding hearings at the Capitol, expressing their responsibility as an employer under the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) rules. 

While Vail does not have the authority to shut down state government, nor did she make an attempt to do so, she does have the responsibility to notify people of their potential exposure, which is what she did following the Giuliani exposure.

With recent reports of members of the legislature having confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, Vail said the legislature should be quarantining.

None of those currently known to be impacted reside in Ingham County, so their names and cases have been handed off to the health officers in their counties, Vail said.

“I think we all feel a little at sea with how to work with the legislature," Vail said. "... When the protests were happening back in April and most of the protests were just here in Lansing, the Lansing Police Department (didn’t) have any jurisdiction over the Capitol grounds. I think similarly I probably don’t have jurisdiction over the Capitol building, which is why I made no attempt to shut down the state government."

As much of this takes place in committee meetings in Lansing, Vail said it is their responsibility as officials to protect Ingham County and do what they can to make sure individuals are aware of and following the rules in place.

Current MIOSHA guidelines for employers outline a need to maintain a six-feet distance, provide and enforce mask wearing in shared spaces and conduct daily health screenings of all employees. 

While the news broke of the Giuliani exposure this week, Ingham County surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. As of Tuesday, the county reports 10,104 cases and 130 deaths.

Current hospitalizations at Sparrow and McLaren Health systems report 170 confirmed and suspect cases. Of these, 17 are in the intensive care unit.

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