(This feature presented in cooperation with MIRS, a Lansing-based news and information service)

Statewide COVID-19 Testing At Center Of Recovery Plan
Michigan should implement statewide COVID-19 testing system to ensure people coming back into the workforce are not spreading the coronavirus, Business Leaders for Michigan advocated June 1 as part of their economic recovery plan.

The group is suggesting repurposing existing state and federal money and streamlining the government approval process to assist employers in getting their displaced workers back on the job safely.

In laying out the business roundtable’s three-part plan, BLM President & CEO Doug Rothwell also is advocating for the Department of Transportation and county road commissions to put a priority on starting “shovel ready” projects.

They want a streamlined permitting process, money put back into the Pure Michigan tourism program, and helping Michigan Business Connect with suppliers as their global supply chains adjust.

The Business Leaders also want a review of the state’s tax structure and the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to accelerate certificate programs for in-demand positions.

At the front of all these proposals, Rothwell said, is putting a priority on protecting public health as part of its COVID-19 plan.

“The shutdown of operations across industries is unprecedented,” Rothwell said. “There was no playbook for this situation, so we worked to create one that could guide businesses of all sizes in keeping employees, suppliers, and customers safe.

“Now, we’re focused on a new playbook: a plan that stabilizes our state’s economy by helping state government and employers get people back to work safely and using our shared resources most effectively.”

Khaldun Returns To Part-Time E.R. Side Gig Over Weekend
For the first time since the beginning weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, the state’s chief medical executive spent part of the weekend at her state-approved side job working in the Emergency Room at Henry Ford Hospital.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun was approved for supplemental employment back when she started at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, where she also holds the title of chief deputy director of health, said Lynn Suftin, spokesperson for the DHHS.

Sutfin confirmed that Khaldun’s employment with the state is full-time. She said Khaldun works part-time at Henry Ford and is only paid for the specific hours she works.

Khaldun would typically take anywhere from 0 to 3 shifts per month on the weekends, and only between midnight Friday and 6 p.m. Sunday, Sutfin said.

However, Sutfin said the Saturday shift Khaldun took this past weekend was the first she had worked at Henry Ford since “early March,” which is around the time the first reported cases of COVID-19 in Michigan surfaced. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency on March 10.

Khaldun tweeted over the weekend that she was taking “a brief hiatus from the ER to make sure Michigan’s #COVID19 response was on track” and that she was “excited to go back ‘home’ today to the front lines.” She lists herself as an emergency medicine physician on her Twitter profile.

Khaldun was approved by DHHS Director Robert Gordon for the supplemental employment, and she filled out the standard supplemental employment form for state employees.

The state’s previous chief medical executive, Dr. Eden Wells, had started her 2015 appointment by splitting her time between the state and the University of Michigan. In February 2016, Wells was made a full-time employee of the state, which was in the midst of responding to the water crisis unfolding in Flint.

Wells had still been employed by the state up until March 6, Sutfin said.

Before that, Wells was working in a newly created position she was hired into from her chief medical executive position. The new position, created near the end of former Gov. Rick Snyder’s term, was classified with civil service protections.

Khaldun was named to her position at DHHS a few months after Whitmer took office.

Justice Department Gets Involved In Suit Against Whitmer COVID-19 Orders
The U.S. Department of Justice today filed a statement of interest in federal court in support of a lawsuit filed by seven businesses challenging the restrictions imposed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move is part of an initiative announced by U.S. Attorney General William Barr to look into situations where states have “crossed the line” from taking legal steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 into an “overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections.”

Matthew Schneider, the U.S. Attorney for Michigan’s Eastern District, was assigned by Barr to oversee these situations nationwide and “take action to correct them.”

“Many policies that would be unthinkable in regular times have become commonplace in recent weeks, and we do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public,” Barr wrote. “But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis. We must therefore be vigilant to ensure its protections are preserved.”

Whitmer has issued more than 100 executive orders that the Department of Justice is concerned impose “sweeping limitations on nearly all aspects of life” and is significantly impairing some to “maintain their economic livelihoods.”

The DOJ is taking an interest in Signature Sotheby’s International Realty v. Whitmer. The plaintiffs include a real estate brokerage, a lawn and property maintenance company, an automotive glass exporter, an engine and auto parts distributor, a small jewelry store, a dental office and an association of car washes.

“I have no doubt about the governor’s good intentions, but the Executive Orders arbitrarily discriminate by allowing some businesses to operate while similar businesses must close or limit their operations — and if they refuse, they face fines and possible jail time,” Schneider said.

“Under the governor’s orders, it’s OK to go into a hardware store and buy a jacket, but it’s a crime to go inside a clothing store and buy the identical jacket without making an appointment. That’s arbitrary.”

Whitmer, also an attorney by trade, issued a statement defending her authority to issue the executive orders. She said they’ve been issued based on the advice of medical experts to keep the state’s hospital system from collapsing with a flood of COVID-19 patients.

She said the state is gradually loosening its restrictions, but to open everything too quickly could cause a second wave of infections and death that would “wipe out all of the progress we’ve made.”

“It is crystal clear that this challenge is coming directly from the White House, which is ignoring the risk of a second wave of the virus and pushing too quickly to roll back public health guidelines,” Whitmer said. “We know that will only prolong the pandemic and make the economic path that much worse for Michiganders.”

Use Of Telemedicine Service Jumps 72% In 4 Weeks
The number of physicians using telehealth increased 72 percentage points in four weeks among primary care and behavioral health providers using Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurance provider announced this week.

The change comes as the governor expanded telemedicine availability though March 12 action amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also the result of a $5 million incentive offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Additionally, in March, Blue Cross expanded the scope of services that would be covered in telehealth visits and waived cost sharing through June 30 for members who used it.

Blue Cross has covered telehealth services since 2002, which has enabled patients to connect virtually their doctors. Company officials say they recognized the need to assist the provider community to rapidly transition to this method of care to support member access as in-person visits declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the outbreak, the number of primary care and behavioral health providers participating in telehealth was below 10 percent. Now it is over 82 percent.

Blue Cross expects use of telehealth services will continue to grow even after the COVID pandemic is over and says it will be especially useful providing services to rural communities.

Bizon: ‘Strip HIPAA From Telemedicine Package’
Sen. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek) is urging his colleagues to delete language that would require compliance with HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) from the House-passed telemedicine package.

Bizon raised questions at a recent Health Policy Committee meeting to Rep. Hank Vaupel (R-Fowlerville), sponsor of HB 5412, one of the bills in the package.

“I would argue that this is a much better bill allowing patients to talk to their doctors by whatever means; rather than putting in something that restricts it only to a HIPAA-compliant environment,” Bizon said.

“We could certainly look at that,” Vaupel responded. “Obviously, when you’re dealing with medical records. . . I believe you have to be HIPAA compliant. I would have to look at whether we do. I thought it had something to do with reimbursement, that Medicaid would require HIPAA compliance.”

“I have to say that all too often I’ve seen HIPAA come in the way of good medicine,” Bizon said. “To use that as an excuse (that HIPAA compliance would be necessary) is understandable, but I will be looking forward to working with you on this.”

Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) suggested the issue of requiring compliance with HIPAA could be something lawmakers might find a way of bypassing.

“There might be a solution here as regards HIPAA,” she said. “I think doctors and the medical professionals are required to follow the HIPAA rules, but I think if I [as a patient] am calling from my own phone and I’m the one choosing to break the HIPAA law, I have the right to give away that protection as long as it helps me and my health care.”

Bizon also wanted to know why the House Fiscal Agency projected that the legislation would increase health care costs.

“This is supposed to be a system that’s much more efficient?” the Battle Creek Republican pointed out.

The answer from Courtney Stevens, director of Virtual Care at Henry Ford Health Systems, was basically that many of the savings associated with the telemedicine would be difficult to tabulate. She explained:

“If you have a patient having sinus issues or difficulty breathing and has trouble getting in (to the physician) and who is used to going to emergency for help, where it’s going to be a higher copay, they’re going to use those higher costing care that ultimately go toward higher costs to Medicaid or they’ll hold off on getting any care, which could make things worse.

“By having more convenient options available they’re going to get care sooner and that’s going to be at a lower cost,” Steven concluded.

A key to the package is the allowance of “asynchronous telehealth.” Synchronous telehealth refers to real-time video conferencing between doctor and patient. Asynchronous would involve sending biometric data or even emails to the doctor for review when he or she gets time and allows data to be shared with specialists.

Senate ‘Demands’ More COVID Data
The Senate “demanded” May 28 in a resolution that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration provide by June 1 county-by-county data on available hospital beds, emergency room visits and nursing home COVID-19 numbers.

Sen. Pete Lucido’s SCR 26 calls for more than a dozen pieces of additional information, including the number of COVID-19 patients who died who had preexisting health conditions and the number of medical professionals who have been furloughed since March 10.

“Our governor continues to insist that every decision she makes in response to COVID-19 is based on facts, science and data, but when we ask time and time again for access to the data, we get nothing,” Lucido said.

Today’s comments come a day after Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon revealed that with 87 percent of facilities reporting, 23 percent of the state’s COVID-19 numbers have come from nursing homes.

In late May, DHHS launched a new reporting structure for skilled nursing facilities and while the data collection isn’t perfect, the department would be working over the “the coming weeks to fill in gaps.”

DHHS spokesperson Lynn Suftin said they are committed to working with both the Senate and the House throughout the process.

Lucido said he is looking for more information than what’s going on in the nursing homes, where COVID-19 patients are being sent to recover, but whose very presence may be putting elderly or vulnerable residents at risk of contracting the disease.

Lucido also wants daily counts on ventilators and personal protective equipment since March 10. He also wants a breakdown on the number of positive and negative COVID-19 tests given since March 10.

In short, he said he doesn’t believe there’s enough. “Where is the governor who, as a Senator, stood in the shadows of the Capitol and had a microphone in her hand, shouting that she wasn’t afraid of the people . . . Does she no longer believe in transparency?” he said.

Whitmer told reporters that the administration had to find a place for COVID-19 patients to go after they were discharged from the hospital. They’ve been working with the nursing homes to “strike a balance” in policies that allow current nursing home residents to stay safe.

“As we continue to learn, we continue to improve,” she said.

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khadun said its “incredibly disheartening” to see the number of nursing home residents who have gotten sick with COVID-19. Homes are now only allowed to accept patients if they have a dedicated unit and there’s enough personal protective equipment (PPE) on-site to prevent the coronavirus spread within a facility.

“We still have to do more work to get this right to make sure our nursing home residents have a safe place to go and we’ll continue to work on that,” Khaldun said.

In related news today, U.S. Senate candidate John James called on the Whitmer administration decision to “immediately” reverse its ” dangerous policy” that some COVID-19 patients be put in nursing homes to recover.

James, who rarely has publicly opined on much since being a candidate, sent out a statement reading, “We must use common sense and compassion to protect our senior citizens and that means this policy must change.”

MI COVID-19 Fatality Rate 10%; State Expands Testing, Launches Dashboard
The state is reporting 10 percent of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Michigan have died, as the number of deaths increased 26 May 26 to a total of 5,266, while the number of cases went up 223 to a total of 55,104.

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said that while the rate of rise in cases has decreased in both southeast and southwest Michigan, the Grand Rapids region is seeing the highest rate of new cases per million people.

According to the state’s new dashboard website, the Grand Rapids region is reporting 57.9 daily cases per million people. As a comparison, the metro Detroit region is reporting 19.5 new cases every day per million people.

In Detroit, the city reported 97 more cases and five more deaths over the previous day’s totals, although it was noted only one death was attributed to Monday. The total cases in the city number 10,847 and there were 1,329 total deaths.

“In the past seven days, we have lost 19 Detroiters to the virus, considerably less than 48 reported the previous seven days,” said Denise Fair, Detroit’s chief public health officer, in a statement.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the signing of a new order expanding the types of medical personnel who can order a COVID-19 test, and creates a new category of community testing sites that offer testing to anyone with reason to be tested without an advance order, and without charging an out-of-pocket cost to any Michigander.

Under the order, anyone who leaves their home for work, or has symptoms of COVID-19 (even mild symptoms), may receive a test at a community testing location without securing a doctor’s order in advance.

The state also has updated its coronavirus data website by separating out the results of two different types of tests: serology – also known as antibody testing — and diagnostic.

Currently, serology testing can be used to help determine whether someone has ever had COVID-19, while traditional viral diagnostic tests determine if someone has active disease.

Whitmer also said the serology and diagnostic tests she took for herself came back negative.

The change in reporting does not affect the number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. It does lower the percentage of positive tests over the past nine days – when serology testing became more common.

The overall percentage of positive tests since the beginning of the outbreak remains virtually the same – changing from 14.2 percent positive tests to 14.3 percent.

According to the state, diagnostic tests are most helpful in tracking the spread of COVID-19 since they can show the number of people who currently have the COVID-19 virus.

Serology tests are still being studied regarding their utility, and they are currently most helpful in understanding how much a community may have been exposed to the disease. However, it is unknown if the presence of an antibody truly means someone is immune to COVID-19, and if so, for how long.

The Governor’s Office also announced today a new online dashboard launched that visually illustrates COVID-19 risks and trends in Michigan.

The dashboard includes graphs, numbers, and trends to provide a snapshot of how much virus is in a community and whether it is increasing or decreasing.

Risk levels were developed by the DHHS and the University of Michigan School of Public Health using guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, national Guidelines for Opening America, and several other leading national organizations.

Henry Ford Takes Up Procedures Backlogged By COVID-19
Some 8,000 medical procedures were postponed at the Henry Ford Health System over the past couple months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which doctors there are ready to take on now, spokespersons for the hospital said this week in a tele-press conference.

Bob Riney, President of Healthcare Operations and COO for Henry Ford, and Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer, said the hospital has set up a three-tiered system for prioritizing those procedures. Cancer cases and time sensitive surgeries will be tier one. Less time sensitive procedures, like standard colonoscopies, will be tier three.

“One thing that has been concerning for us over the past couple of months has been that some individuals, because of the anxiety of COVID, have delayed time sensitive care. People who have had urgent needs and emergent needs have probably elected to stay home for fear of contracting the virus if they come to the hospital or the emergency department,” Munkarah said.

“While there are services that might be delayed or postponed, there are others that can have really significant negative impacts and outcomes if not taken care of. If somebody is having chest pains, a heart attack, and stays at home, there is a risk of having significant damage to the heart that is not reversible. if somebody has a stroke and stays at home, the ability of us to reverse the impact of that stroke and the negative outcomes of that the stroke has are really significant. This is why our message to our community at the present time, to our patients and their families, if you are having a medical problem, please call your physician. If it is urgent or emergent, do not be afraid to come to a clinic, urgent facility or the emergency room. Our facilities are safe at the present time.”

Riney said complete sanitization processes have been put in place and physical design changes have been made to assure there is appropriate social distancing.

Riney said they do ask that patients still wear a mask as they come into the facility. If a patient does not have one, one will be provided, he said.

Henry Ford will continue its no visitor policy for at least the time being, Riney said. Although that is stressful for patients and families, COVID-19 is still out there in the community and the hospital has to make sure it maintains a clean and safe environment, Riney explained.

Riney said the facility changes made to handle have COVID surge have been returned to normal.

“All of the temporary facilities or temporary hospital bed creations that we deployed inside the organization have been dismantled and we are back to running our hospital operations in our normal physical space in all of our facilities. In addition, we have been able to convert some of the units that we had created as expanded intensive care units back to their original purpose, which were medical and surgical units. So we are in a much better state compared to what you would have seen as normal operations a few months back,” Riney said.

Some staff, those who were not caring for COVID-19 patients, who had been furloughed will be called back to work as facilities are reopened, Riney said.

Henry Ford has retained some intensive care units (ICUs) specifically for COVID patients, Munkarah said.

“Luckily, the number of COVID patients in our ICUs today is significantly lower than they were a month ago,” Munkarah said. “As of a couple of days ago, only 30% of our patients at Henry Ford Hospital were COVID patients, so obviously we have much more flexibility at the present time.”

But they have maintained some COVID facilities in case there is a second surge. Riney said Henry Ford has created a “playbook” for how it will respond if there is any second surge, now or down the road.

Doctors, Dentists Next Up To Reopen
The next wave of Michigan’s economic and social reopening was announced May 21.

Gatherings of 10 or fewer people will be allowed immediately under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest executive order.

“We’ve taken significant steps forward to reengage our economy safely and responsibly over the past few weeks,” Whitmer said. “Now, we’re going to need to take some time to ensure that these new measures are working.”

Whitmer said that with the prior personal protect equipment (PPE) shortage over and hospital bed availability under control, she will allow for medical and dental procedures to take place as long as facilities have their staff wear face masks and check for COVID-19 exposure, among other precautions.

Doctor and dentist waiting room must be set up so everyone is staying six feet apart. Special hours can be set up for highly vulnerable patients including the elderly. Examination rooms must go through a “deep clean” between patients.

E.O. 2020-97 also requires an employer to allow employees who had or were suspected to have COVID-19 to return to work after they are no longer infectious.

“With today’s announcement, physicians and health care providers in Michigan are ready to resume taking care of patients,” said Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society. “It is time for patients to catch up on the care that has been deferred for the past two months. We encourage the citizens of Michigan to tend to their health and protect each other by following public health guidance to prevent spread of this virus.”

Health and Hospital Association CEO Brian Peters called the news a “positive step” for the health and wellness of residents and communities.”

“Hospitals are safe; please don’t delay care of any kind,” Peters said.

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs will issue guidance to aid those facilities in adopting appropriate safeguards, the governor said.

The small gatherings of 10 people or fewer will be allowed as long as participants participate in social distancing.

Asked by reporters if it could be a while longer before bars and restaurants reopen outside of northern Michigan, Whitmer said in part, “We are taking a lot of steps. We’ve got to take a pause and see what it means in terms of what happens with COVID-19 numbers and the potential spread of COVID-19.”

Lawsuit Secures Additional $31K For Emergency, Medical Workers
A Genesee County judge May 21 approved an additional $31,000 settlement for 263 emergency technicians, paramedics, wheelchair drivers and dispatchers in a class-action suit challenging a union’s violation of the Michigan Right to Work law.

Under the settlement, the United Auto Workers union will pay $12,500 and STAT Emergency Medical Services will pay the balance.

The settlement is in addition to an earlier National Labor Relations Board settlement granting named plaintiffs Skyler Korinek, and Donald McCarty, and 168 other emergency workers $26,000 in refunds from the UAW. That settlement occurred in April 2019 after the National Right to Work Foundation (NRWF) staff attorneys filed unfair labor practice charges for the two against the UAW and STAT for deducting union dues from the workers’ paychecks without authorization.

“In Michigan, union bosses have been repeatedly caught red-handed violating workers’ protections against requirements that they subsidize union activities,” said foundation President Mark Mix said in a statement.

STAT and UAW officials entered into a monopoly bargaining agreement on Sept. 3, 2015, that contained a “union security” agreement, which required STAT employees to join and fund the UAW or lose their jobs, according to the NRWF.

At that time the state’s Right to Work law, which protects workers from having to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, had already been in effect for more than two years.

Under the settlement, UAW officials and STAT agreed to eliminate the “union security” provision as long as the Right to Work law remains in effect.

Since the law became effective in March 2013, the NRWF has brought more than 120 cases challenging what the attorneys call “coercive union boss tactics.”

New Caro Center Now Slated For 100 Beds
A revised state construction contract approved in mid-May is calling for a new 100-bed psychiatric facility to be built at the site of the existing Caro Center.

The state’s plans to replace the psychiatric facility have changed since the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recommended in July 2019 to keep 84 beds in Caro and move 61 other beds elsewhere.

Asked what changed between July 2019 and this week, DHHS spokesperson Bob Wheaton said, “through planning and analysis of the reduced bed program,” the state “determined that the new hospital is best designed at 100 beds.”

The plan for the new Caro Center is the result of a deal struck by the Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over the current fiscal year budget, said Rep. Phil Green (R-Millington), who represents Caro and was one of the GOP lawmakers who spoke out against the administration’s decision to halt construction on a new facility back in March 2019.

Green said the deal found that a new 100-bed facility was a “fair compromise.” The agreement also called for funding to demolish some of the older buildings on the site.

A contract to perform demolition at the Caro site was approved by the State Administrative Board (SAB) at its meeting this week, along with a separate $2.2 million change to an existing construction contract for Caro, which called for a 100-bed facility.

The construction for what was supposed to be a new 200-bed replacement facility in Caro had broken ground under former Gov. Rick Snyder, but after Whitmer took office in 2019, her appointee to DHHS, Robert Gordon, announced the state would halt construction and study its options.

Republicans and locals were concerned about losing a big local job provider if the state opted to move the new facility out of Caro. The study done by the outside firm for DHHS led the agency to conclude 84 new beds should be kept in Caro while 61 beds should be moved elsewhere.

Green said the budget agreement called for retaining all the current jobs at Caro at the new facility. He also said the 100-bed facility would reflect the average number of patients each month – around 94 to 95 — who are at the facility. The hospital at one point had capacity for 150 beds.

As for moving existing beds elsewhere, Green said the deal called for some money to be put into the budget’s line item for behavioral health to pay for some public-private partnerships. He said there’s a potential that mild-to medium-level patients could be moved into a residential program.

As to whether the DHHS was planning on moving the remaining beds out of Caro, DHHS spokesperson Bob Wheaton said that while the state “remains flexible when making decisions about distribution of patient care resources, reallocation of beds is not currently part of that discussion. Instead, we are focused on providing timely and excellent care in order to reduce lengths of stay, reduce waitlists, and get people back into the community.”

COVID Field Hospitals Have Treated 50 People; Could Cost MI As Much As $3.3M

The state’s two alternative COVID-19 care facilities—which were set up to accommodate a combined 1,220 bed spaces and have treated a total of 50 patients so far—could cost the state as much as $3.3 million if both are kept through the end of September and the feds make Michigan pick up 25 percent of the costs.

It costs at least $1.1 million each month to operate the TCF Center in Detroit and another $1.1 million for Suburban Showplace in Novi, said Michelle Grinnell, the state spokesperson for the regional care centers. Both leases run from April 1 to Sept. 30, although the state could cancel them at any time.

The costs to run both facilities are incurred by the federal government and reconciled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, once FEMA determines those costs, Michigan would be billed for its cost share requirements, and at most, the state would be responsible for 25 percent of the costs, Grinnell said.

If the leases were to run through the end of September at the costs noted above, the state’s share under the 25 percent requirement would be roughly $3.3 million.

TCF Center currently has no patients and was closed on May 7 with the understanding that it could be reopened at any point to handle new cases.

Grinnell said costs are still being incurred while the TCF Center is paused, but at a “significantly reduced level” than when it was up and running.

The downtown Detroit convention center formerly known as the Cobo Center was set up to handle 970 bed spaces. Since it opened April 10, a total of 39 patients have been treated there, with 21 patients the most that were there at any one time, Grinnell said.

Suburban opened as an alternative care facility April 24 and was originally slated to accommodate 1,000 COVID-19 cases, but that was scaled back to 250. To date, Suburban is still up and running and has treated 11 patients, with six patients the most that were there at any one time.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wrote the feds back in mid-April to ask for a waiver from cost-sharing requirements from emergency work, which would include the regional care facilities.

House Appropriations Chair Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron) said he’s been monitoring the situation and has asked the Whitmer administration to send him weekly updates of how many people are in the alternative care facilities.

“I definitely think it’s something we should consider,” he said, when asked if the state should close the facilities.

Hernandez said he understands the state wants to keep them around in case there’s a second wave of COVID-19 infections, but he noted that during the first wave the facilities “barely crossed 25, 30 people,” and said at least one of the facilities should be considered for permanent closure.

He also suggested the alternative care facilities as a place for transferring COVID-19 positive patients rather than back to nursing homes.