By Jim Newell
With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issuing a stay-at-home order on Monday, Orion Township officials are continuing to find ways to help Orion residents.
Supervisor Chris Barnett started the Orion COVID-19 Response Team – comprised of area government, school, church, charitable, service and community organization leaders – for that purpose, to meet residents’ needs during the crisis.
Barnett did confirm that there are cases of the Coronavirus in Orion Township.
“It’s here. It’s in Orion. Our firefighters and police are interacting with these people every day and they probably will for the next year. It’s the new normal. It’s not meant to scare people or hide information from people.”
Barnett said all Orion residents should take Gov. Whitmer’s executive order seriously and follow it
“It’s completely essential. If you listened to the governor’s press conference the governor said here’s the numbers and it breaks down pretty easy: 10 million residents in Michigan. If we continue on the current trajectory, we’ll have a million people sick in short order, similar to Italy. There’s only 25,000 acute care beds in the entire state of Michigan. People that get real sick, that have a pre-existing health condition or lung issues, need a ventilator to live when they’re hit hard with COVID-19.
“If we don’t heed the governor’s warnings, people will die. It’s not meant to scare. It’s just the facts. And it’s played out in other parts of the world. Again, it’s not meant to scare, but we need to step in and do our part.
“And it’s amazing because we get to be home with our families, we get to catch up on Netflix. We’re not being asked to go to war, we’re being asked to hang out at our house,” he said.
Orion Township has canceled all government meeting through April 13. The next regular township board meeting would tentatively be scheduled for April 20.
Residents can still call Township Hall at 248-391-0304, or visit oriontownship.org for an email directory by department to reach township officials.
“We are very prepared. We spent the entire week last week in preparation for an order like this to come down, so this didn’t surprise us,” Barnett said. “That said, we still understand that there’s a high level of stress among our residents. We’ve never been through this, probably in any of our lifetimes.
“We’re following the governor’s order to a T. Our essential services are working and responding and will continue to,” Barnett said. “But our non-essential government functions are still working just in different roles and remotely.”
The Humanitarian Effort
“We have a huge focus on what I’m calling the humanitarian effort, which means students, seniors, anyone who needs help in our community. The one thing that we are known for, and the one reason that people don’t want to move out of here…we come together like nobody else.
“It’s already happening. The Lake Orion Cares (Facebook) group already has over 1,000 people on it – no one being negative, no one making cruel jokes. Just people sharing needs and other people, residents, meeting them. I’m not surprised, but every time I get on there it makes my heart beat fast and makes me feel so proud of our community,” Barnett said.
“What people can expect from us: if you’re a senior (citizen), you’re probably going to get a phone call from us. But don’t wait for us to call you. If you have anything you need, we have people. One of the big needs we’ve heard over and over is distilled water for people’s breathing machines: we have a way to meet that need.
Barnett said there are many people lined up who want to help others, and have the means to do so.
“The message I want people to get is, you may have never asked for help in your entire life; we want people to know it’s okay to ask for help.
“We understand that some people are very comfortable posting on Facebook page, ‘Hey, I need distilled water.’ Some people may say, ‘I don’t have food to give my kids,’ and obviously they might be embarrassed about that,” he said. “People need to be not afraid to ask for help. If they don’t want to do it through the Lake Orion Cares Facebook page, there’s the email, email@example.com.”
All communications will be answered and residents’ information is kept confidential, Barnett said.
Besides his regular Orion COVID-19 Response Team meetings, Barnett also has conference calls with 16 area township supervisors who, he says, are amazed that all of the church leaders, government officials, NOTA, school and community leaders are coordinating efforts.
“I don’t know anyone around us that’s doing what we’re doing,” Barnett said. “That’s what I’m super proud of, that everyone is willing to help with a need. The North Oakland Transportation Authority is saying, ‘Hey, please promote our free grocery delivery plan, and oh, by the way, we’ll still drive people places for free.’ And they are an essential service that the governor not only said should continue, but must continue.
“I just think that with our concerted effort, with everyone being willing to step in and help is awesome.”
“We really want our residents, the first place they should always go is our homepage, oriontownship.org. We literally add stuff every single day. There are so many links it’s probably better to look at it on your computer screen than your phone, but there are links from everything from the CDC to the National Suicide Hotline to how to get free food to how to apply for a small business loan.”
Barnett said the township also has resources it can marshal through local churches when volunteers are needed.
“We have about a solid 50 community leaders engaged that can bring masses to help. Like just a few churches – Kensington, Woodside, St. Joe’s, Christ the Redeemer – we probably have 15,000 people that can be reached quickly through those organizations. And every single one of them offline has said please let us know what the needs are because everybody wants to help.
“I think the key is, we’ve done a lot in our community to support our neighboring communities, but right now I think it’s okay to be a little bit selfish to make sure that everybody in our 36 square miles is taken care of,” Barnett said. “I’m including the village. We’ve been working with the village, obviously, as well.
“There are more state and federal resources that are going to places like Pontiac than what we’re going to get. So, probably going to have to rely more, initially, on the kinds of our churches and our organizations that we’ve assembled through the Lake Orion Cares group through the Orion COVID Response Team.”