By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
On March 10, the first case of Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) was confirmed in Oakland County, one of the first two cases in Michigan. Things began rapidly changing from there as closures and event cancellations rolled in. More things may have changed since press time.
As of Sunday, March 15, there are 14 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Oakland County and 53 in Michigan.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency on March 10. County Executive David Coulter followed suit, and declared a state of emergency on March 13.
Coulter said the declaration was necessary to open a path for federal funds, should they become available. “A state of emergency is meant to reassure Oakland County residents that we are leveraging every resource to contain the virus,” Coulter said.
The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China late last year, has had major outbreaks across Europe and has been confirmed on every continent besides Antarctica and in every U.S. state besides West Virginia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a pandemic on March 11.
Back on March 4, under guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Oxford Schools suspended their attendance incentive programs, including elementary and middle school perfect attendance awards, in order to discourage students from attending while sick. Illness-related absences would not count against the high school exam incentive, under condition that a parent call the attendance line within 24 hours.
On March 12, the district began cancelling or postponing all large group events and field trips, including all school-related international and domestic travel scheduled through spring break, all before/after-school activities and clubs, parent-teacher conferences; musicals; concerts; PTO events and meetings; band, choir, state festivals; community enrichment programs; all large group gatherings during the school day and any and all programs outside of the normal school day that occur within the schools.
The biggest event to be cancelled was the high school musical, Into the Woods, which had been scheduled for March 19-22. The play’s director, Theater Teacher Krista Price, is hopeful that they will still perform the play at a later date, depending on how the state and district decide to proceed.
“I just want to make sure I do right by the cast, pit, crew, volunteers, parents, and staff who have put in thousands of hours to create something of value for our community,” Price said. “The musical is one of the biggest and most complicated things our district pulls off every year. I just want to make sure we honor everyone’s dedication, sacrifice, and hard work/talent.”
Another important event that cancelled was the Michigan Department of Transportation’s public information meeting regarding the M-24 construction project, which was supposed to be held at the high school March 25. MDOT is still deciding whether there will be a meeting in the future or possibly a virtual meeting, but for now the event is cancelled.
At a press conference late Thursday night, Governor Whitmer order the closing of all schools statewide from Monday, March 16 until April 6.
The district still had school as scheduled on Friday, March 13.
“Students and staff need to take this opportunity to bring home their books and items necessary to continue schoolwork from home along with any musical instruments and personal items. This will be the only opportunity for the next three weeks for students to have access to their classrooms and lockers,” wrote Superintendent Tim Throne wrote in the district’s closure announcement.
School buildings remained open until 7 p.m. for parents of students who were not in school to pick up any personal items.
“Today was a bit of a chaotic day,” Krista Price described, “as the only information we received was that which was blasted out by the district. Not many answers existed, but many questions were asked of me that I couldn’t really answer. I like to wait and deal with facts rather than speculation, so it made things a little tough.”
The district will not provide direct instruction over the next two weeks plus the one week of scheduled spring break. Teachers are welcome to provide optional learning resources for students through Haiku or other learning management software. None of this material will be due back to school, it is purely for additional learning experiences and to give students a productive option during their time at home.
It is uncertain whether these ten school days of closure will be forgiven or will be treated similarly to snow days and will need to be made up at the end of the school year to fulfill the required number of days of instruction.
Online classes through Oxford Virtual Academy (OVA) and Oxford Schools Early College (OSEC) in which building closures do not affect daily educational expectations will continue. Attendance for students at OVA Optional Learning Experiences will be at the discretion of each family. All OVA Labs and satellite campuses throughout the state are closed.
Childcare at Oxford Early Learning Center is also suspended until April 6.
“I know this has been a very difficult week for all of us,” Superintendent Throne continued, “not just in our school community but our state and our nation. We will get through this together. I assure you, we are doing our best to navigate through these unchartered waters to make decisions in the best interest of our students, staff, and families.”
[Free Meals for Kids]
Friday afternoon, plans were announced by the school district to provide food to children in a non-congregate setting for the next three weeks.
The Michigan Department of Education received a waiver from the USDA sanctioning willing and able school districts in the county to provide free breakfast and lunch to all children under the age of 18.
Breakfast and lunch meals will be provided for each day of the week in take-home bags. Meals will be packaged to provide several days of breakfasts and lunches at a time. For example, on Monday parents may pick up meals for both Monday and Tuesday breakfast and lunch, and Wednesday breakfast.
Food pick up will be from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from March 16 – April 3 and provided curbside at Oxford High School at the front north entrance.
Mobile delivery of meals will be offered in front of the clubhouse at Lake Villa from 11:00-11:30 a.m. and the front of the parking lot of Village Manor Apartments from 12:00 – 12:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Children do not need to be present for parents to pick up meals and adults may pick up meals for children who are not their own. This free food program is available to ANY child; it is not limited to Oxford residents.
[Meals on Wheels]
The Older Persons’ Commission’s (OPC) Meals on Wheels program is still available.
Meals on Wheels provides senior citizens with five hot meals Monday through Friday, plus two frozen meals for the weekend, which are delivered on Friday.
To be eligible for home-delivered meals, seniors must be at least 60 years of age and unable to grocery shop and/or prepare nutritious meals. There are no income requirements.
To receive a meal, please call (248) 608-0264 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. A nutrition assessor will schedule a visit to the home within two weeks of the first meal to make sure the senior qualifies for the program and to determine how Meals on Wheels can best help him or her.
There is no waiting list. When a senior calls Meals on Wheels staff, a meal will be delivered to him or her within 24 hours by one of the program’s dedicated volunteers.
Each senior receives by mail a monthly invoice listing the dates a meal was delivered to his or her home. A self-addressed, postage paid envelope is included to use to mail the check. The suggested donation is $3.50 per meal. Meals on Wheels asks for a voluntary contribution from each client based on what he or she can afford to pay.
The Meals on Wheels program is for anyone who needs it at any time, whether he or she is temporarily or permanently homebound.
For more information, please visit opcseniorcenter.org/services/meals-on-wheels
The Oxford-Orion FISH food pantry, located at 1060 S. Lapeer Rd., will remain open to serve people in need from 1-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Only FISH volunteers will be allowed in the pantry. Clients will not be permitted inside the pantry until further notice.
FISH will have boxes containing non-perishable food items, based on family size, packed and ready to go. When FISH clients call to make appointments, they will be asked what they need in terms of perishable food items. When clients arrive at the pantry, FISH volunteers will bring a cart containing their non-perishable and perishable food items outside. Clients will then be able to load the items inside their vehicles.
Until further notice, FISH will not be accepting donations of food. Only monetary donations and gift cards will be accepted.
For more information, please call FISH at (248) 628-3933 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday or visit OxfordOrionFish.org.
Local government responds
The Addison Township Senior Center is closed until further notice.
As of Saturday, the Oxford Township offices at 300 Dunlap Rd. will remain open and fully-staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
However, to limit the amount of person-to-person contact as much as possible, they ask members of the public to consider transacting their business with the township via email, telephone, U.S. mail or the drop box located at the building’s entrance. Payments placed in the drop box must be checks or money orders, not cash.
“The township will not let the threat of the coronavirus stop it from conducting business and serving the public to the best of its ability,” wrote Communications and Grants Manager C.J. Carnacchio on the township Facebook page, “but we also don’t want to put anyone’s health at risk by potentially exposing them to COVID-19, so please consider using the aforementioned alternatives. We thank you in advance for your cooperation, consideration and understanding. We’re all in this together.”
If you have questions, call the office (248-628-9787) or consult the township website at OxfordTownship.org
Fire Chief Pete Scholz said the Oxford Fire Department will be disinfecting the interiors of its ambulances, its command vehicle and its classroom at Station #1 using a Clorox Total 360 System, borrowed from the Oxford school district.
Oxford Police Chief Mike Solwold said the police department is taking measures as well. They are cleaning and disinfecting uniforms and patrol cars regularly, including the backs of the cabs. Officers will wear gloves, avoid unnecessary contact and take a hands-off approach where possible. They will ask folks to hold up their IDs so they don’t have to touch them. All finger-printing has been suspended, unless it is court-ordered.
Solwold is keeping a positive attitude and assures they will continue doing their job, keeping the public safe.
Oxford Township Parks and Recreation Department closed the senior center and community room in Seymour Lake Township Park from March 13 to April 3.
As of Thursday, all outdoor park facilities will remain open and available to the public. The Parks and Recreation Administrative office in Seymour Lake Township Park (2795 Seymour Lake Rd.) will remain open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Polly Ann Trail remains open.
On Saturday, the Oxford Public Library decided to close until further notice.
“With so many of our neighboring communities having already made this very difficult decision themselves, we can no longer take the risk of potentially spreading COVID-19 from community to community as more and more people from outside our service area start using our facility. We stand with our colleagues in our neighboring communities and feel this is the responsible thing to do in light of the situation.” Library Director Bryan Cloutier wrote in a closure notice.
Any items already checked out will not incur any overdue fees during the closure. Patrons are still encouraged to return items when done enjoying them by using the outside drop box located on the front of the library. Staff will check them in and sterilize them for shelving.
In the meantime patrons can use the Digital Downloadable Library Collections, such as Overdrive, Tumble Books and Flipster, all available through the library’s website miopl.org.
At the township board meeting March 11, Cloutier noted that the library had had a significant decline in attendance the last several days.
The Oxford Chamber of Commerce has postponed all events through April 3, including the March mixer. The chamber will continue to support the local business community through social media and their weekly newsletter.
North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) will continue to provide rides for senior citizens, individuals with disabilities and low-income living in Oxford, Orion or Addison.
According to a NOTA’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Prevention memo, NOTA is sanitizing the vehicles daily with use of disinfectant sprays, wipes and cleaners. Passengers will be asked to use hand sanitizer prior to boarding. Drivers will have disinfectant wipes for passengers to wipe down seats.
NOTA is not medical transportation. If you have a fever, flu or flu-like symptoms do not use NOTA. This goes for drivers and riders alike.
Glennan Medical clinic is still seeing patients every day and taking the same steps to avoid the spread of any infection, viral or bacterial, as they always do.
“We are definitely do a little more screening when patients call,” said Physician Assistant Christy Jacob. “We ask what they need to be seen for, any recent travel, any know exposure to COVID-19, or any reason to believe that they would at risk for COVID-19. Any person who is thought to be at risk is being referred to the local ER or health department for further evaluation and testing. We do have personal protection equipment available in our office should a person be deemed a risk after they are already in our office.”
They hope to get test kits in the office as soon as possible.
“Yes, many (patients) are in a panic, but many are also taking the recommended precautions and treating any mild symptoms at home.”
Independence Village of Waterstone, a senior living community, announced March 13 it is temporarily restricting all visitor access for 14 days. Essential visitors including health care personnel and hospice services will continue to have access.
“We ask that all family and other guests do not visit our community at this time. To reach your loved one, please call our community,” the announcement said. Prior to the restriction, visitors were screened with a questionnaire to identify any flu-like symptoms.
Like much the rest of the country, images of empty shelves and long lines at grocery stores flooded social media.
Over the weekend Meijer and pharmacies like Rite Aid struggled to keep shelves stocked as crowds rushed to the store to stock up on supplies. Like elsewhere around the world, for some reason toilet paper was in the most demand. As was hand sanitizer, and perishables like meats and breads.
Folks would post on social media when new shipments arrived.
Meijer did not respond to phone inquiries, but referred to this statement by President and CEO Rick Keyes:
“We’re seeing a significant increase in demand on key products you need to keep you and your families safe. Our team members are working to address any inventory issues that arise as a result of this virus. We’re working to secure additional quantities of items that families need most at this time, and we appreciate your patience as we do our best to keep our shelves stocked for you and your families.”
Fan Zhang, a Chinese language teacher at Oxford Schools, said that none of her friends or family in China have been sick, but everyone stayed home for almost a month.
“I think people should take it more seriously,” she wrote in an email. “However, I also think it will pass, just a matter of time, as things in China right now slow down a bit and life is back to normal slowly. It will last a couple months in the U.S., and during this time, I think people should take necessary actions to prevent it from spreading.”
Michelle Rose Park moved back to Oxford, with her husband and two children, from South Korea on March 4. They had a home outside of Hwacheon, in north-central South Korea.
Fortunately they had already planned their trip back in November.
The virus started spreading in Korea in February, which is the end of the school year there. Because they were moving soon, they mostly stayed home packing while everything unfolded.
Korea has had the fourth largest outbreak so far, with over 8,000 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The week before they left, airlines began canceling flights. Luckily theirs was not canceled. They made it back to Oxford after driving a rental car home from the airport in Chicago and have stayed home as much as possible since then.
Park says that in Korea, the government is rationing mask sales. Each person can get two masks each week and they scan resident IDs. In public, almost everyone wears masks and most buildings have hand sanitizer near the entrance. Bus and train stations have thermal cameras watching for feverish people.
Schools are closed at least through early April.
Her in-laws live in the mountain countryside outside the city of Wonju, where they have stayed home most of the time. Luckily they have farmland with chickens for fresh eggs, and have rice and preserved foods enough to last a long time if needed.
“It’s quite strange watching the reaction from the beginning of the outbreak in two countries,” Park said. “Both the public and government handle it very differently. In Korea there’s a shortage of masks, but pretty much nothing else. Government is covering health care costs, and the public seems to have accepted the restrictions well for the most part.
“I just hope that everyone can take the disease seriously without panicking. Korea has a really low death rate compared to some places, and I know that American health care can take great care of people (if they can afford it). If the government can pass the funding bill, there should be little to worry about even if you get sick. As long as people follow recommendations and get help when they need it, overall we’ll be fine.”
After spending a long weekend in Rome, Gen Koss, an Oxford resident, had to cut short what was supposed to be a 10 day trip with her two college-age kids. Italy has had the largest outbreak outside of China, with 25,000 confirmed cases according to Johns Hopkins. Afterr Rome, they were supposed to continue to Florence, which is in the north of Italy, the hardest hit region.
Koss got back home on March 3.
She says Rome was completely calm. They had a ‘Rome in a Day’ tour on an ‘ecological Sunday’ when in Rome no one can drive except taxis, tours or those with a special permit, so the city was much slower than normal. The next day they had a Vatican tour and that was slower than normal too.
“I kind of feel like Italy should have started what we’re doing here much earlier. Maybe then it wouldn’t have gotten as out of hand,” she said.
She was in continuous talks with her travel agent. She had a surgery scheduled and was concerned that she wouldn’t make it if they had to stay in Italy. “It was definitely not an easy decision,” she said.
Fortunately, they didn’t have trouble getting back. The CDC was at customs but never gave specific directions or requests for quarantines. Both of her kids’ were required 14 day quarantines by their universities, however.
“It’s a little crazy watching the hysteria. I have seen the photos of the empty store shelves and lines and I am kind of amazed by the chaos. I guess I was taught to always have a little extra in the house so nothing is much different for us here.”
Koss had her surgery on March 13. In constant contact with her surgeons and the hospital, they reassured her that they were moving forward. But when she arrived Friday morning, they had to get clearance again and almost canceled.
“I guess I picked the right time to be recuperating from surgery,” she said.
Spring Break Comes Early
How will families spend their time, now that there is no school for three weeks and many things have closed or cancelled?
Respondents answered on the Oxford Leader’s Facebook page with lots of great ideas, like spring cleaning, organizing, yard work, crafts, reading, baking, playing games and playing with pets.
Lauren Kehl LoCascio reminded us that, “Coronavirus or not, March is STILL reading month!!”
Lynn Marie Vittetoe wrote that she and her husband already work from home so there will be no change for them.
Rick Norris is looking forward to time with his family, ATV riding, sitting around a fire and talking about summer plans.
“My son has Down syndrome and is in special education at the high school. This is going to absolutely tear his whole world up,” wrote Machelle Childers Spivey. “He thrives on the routine, he counts on it. He walked onto the bus this morning with a huge smile on his face, completely oblivious as to what’s happening in this crazy world, and has no idea he will not be at school for the next three weeks.
“We will do everything in our power to keep that smile on his face, we will continue to stay calm, peaceful, loving, stay as positive as possible, make memories, take lots of walks around his favorite park ‘that we always get to ourselves!’ Listen to music, have dance parties, watch his favorite movies and pop up some popcorn!”
Heidi Vandagriff is “going to live life to the fullest and not panic.”