Whitmer: Social distancing is working, but not yet time to let up

Coronavirus

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday provided an update on Michigan’s response to coronavirus, saying that while widespread social distancing has slowed the spread, it is still crucial to keep the number of severe cases manageable.

“We’ve dramatically flattened the curve,” Whitmer said, showing a graph comparing the projected number of cases without any action versus the actual number, which is much lower. “That’s people who didn’t get sick, those are lives that haven’t been lost, that’s a health care system that is still able to meet needs because we all did our part.”

But both she and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said it was too early to let up.

“A plateau in cases still means there are a lot of cases and deaths occurring and we have to be mindful of this as we move forward with our response,” Khaldun said. “Social distancing remains the single most important thing we can do to prevent this disease from spreading and to save lives.”

A graph produced by Michigan officials shows the projected cases without action versus the actual number of cases. (April 17, 2020)

>>Slides from April 17 briefing

The governor thanked people for doing their part and abiding by her stay-at-home order, in effect through April 30. Under that order, people should not leave their house unless they are an essential worker or unless they are performing an essential errand, like going to the grocery store or pharmacy.

Live on “Good Morning America” earlier Friday, Whitmer said she hopes to relax some of the strict social distancing requirements May 1, but also noted it’s too early to look that far ahead.

Her executive orders prohibiting evictions and restricting price-gouging were extended Friday to May 15.

WHEN WILL THE ECONOMY GET MOVING AGAIN?

For the first time since the shutdowns began, Whitmer started to look forward to restarting the economy, though she warned, “We’re not there yet. The rate of infection remains high, especially in certain parts of our state, and the threat of a second spike that overloads our hospitals is still very real if we don’t get this right.”

She wouldn’t give a date for when businesses will be allowed to start reopening, but said she would make that decision on the progression of the outbreak.

“I think that it’s going to be really important that we are reengaging in waves,” she said. “It is going to take a while before everyone is back to work in the way we think of it. And even then, our lives may be very different: We may be wearing face masks, we may have new precautions in the workplace that weren’t there before. But we will ramp up and we will get to a place where you can go out and have a bite to eat at a restaurant with your friends and loved ones, and do so safely.”

She said “low-risk sectors” would be back to work first, with defining factors including whether workers interact with one another, whether the work is indoors or outdoors and whether workers are in close proximity to one another.

Though she did not single them out, the criteria may provide hope to landscapers and construction workers, who have been among the loudest in demanding they be allowed to operate.

“It’s going to take a little while,” Whitmer cautioned. “I think as we meet next week, you’ll have an opportunity to see a lot of the different thought processes that’s going behind the strategy. We are moving forward in earnest. It is my fervent hope that we do this. We need to do it right and do it safely. That we never have a stay-home order again is my goal. But it’s going to take time, people are going to need to be patient and this will happen in waves.”

Asked about the three-phase plan President Donald Trump released Thursday for governors to reopen their states’ economies, Whitmer replied, “for the most part, they are commensurate with what we’re all thinking.”

“That this has got to be coming in stages, that testing has got to be really important,” she continued in the interview with GMA. “I would say one of the shortcomings of the guidelines is, though, is one of the their ‘gating’ requirements is that there’s testing for high-risk health care workers. We have to have a heck of a lot more robust testing than just high-risk health care workers. … We should be able to administer a test to anyone who has symptoms; ideally, to people that are around people who have symptoms; and, in a best-case scenario, just doing them broadly so we that we really get a handle on where COVID-19 is.”

—News 8 political reporter Rick Albin contributed to this report.

CONFIRMED CASES SURPASS 30,000 STATEWIDE

With 134 additional deaths reported, a total of 2,227 people in Michigan have died after contracting COVID-19, according to figures released by the state Friday afternoon.

The fatality rate calculated by the state is 7%. For context, seasonal influenza generally has a fatality rate of about .01%, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The total number of confirmed cases is now 30,023. The number of newly confirmed cases, 760, is the lowest one-day increase we’ve seen since Easter weekend, when the state said cases may have been have been under-reported.

The outbreak is the worst in and around Detroit. Wayne County has 13,233 confirmed cases (231 more than the day before) and 1,004 people have died there (63 more than the day prior). In Oakland County, 5,901 people have been infected and 442 of them have died. Macomb County has 4,145 confirmed cases and 373 deaths.

So far, there are enough beds and ventilators for everyone in need. And there was good news from leaders Friday: Dr. Khaldun said some hospitals are now discharging more COVID-19 patients daily than they are taking in.

The governor did note that the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is investigating reports of bodies being stored in empty rooms and sleep study labs at Sinai Grace Hospital in Detroit.

Genesee County, where Flint is, has 1,197 confirmed cases and 106 deaths.

Within the Michigan Department of Corrections, 514 inmates have tested positive for the disease and 15 have died. The state prison system has been working to parole people more quickly to decrease the population and therefore limit exposure.

Officials say different regions of the state may see peaks in the virus at different times and that how many cases each area gets will be different. West Michigan, local experts say, won’t see it until early or Mid-May.

There were three additional deaths in Kent County, bringing the total to 20. Overall, the county has 430 confirmed cases.

Ottawa County also added three deaths for a total of five. That county has 88 cases.

Kalamazoo County saw one more death for a total of nine. Calhoun County also had one more death for a total of five. Those counties have 130 confirmed cases each.

CASES WITHIN GRPD, AT POST PLANT, IN NURSING HOME

The Grand Rapids Police Department confirmed to News 8 that one officer tested positive for the virus. That officer was recovering and is expected to be OK. The department said it is working with county health officials to determine the next steps.

Six cases of coronavirus were confirmed at the Post plant in Battle Creek, which employs about 600 people. It’s not clear how those six patients are doing at this time. Post told News 8 that the cases have been concentrated in isolated locations, though it would not go into specifics, citing privacy reasons.

The company sent the following statement:

“The safety of our employees is our top priority. We recently had six positive cases at our Battle Creek plant and we took immediate steps to contact all employees that had close contact with these individuals. We have asked 23 employees to self-quarantine for 14 days and all will continue to be paid during that time – no employees will need to use sick time or PTO while they are out. We also followed our world class health and safety practices to perform a deep clean of the facility, including all common areas, as well as all sites where these employees worked. During this challenging time, we have increased our cleaning frequencies, staggered shifts, implemented social distancing and supplied all employees with face masks in an effort to reduce the likelihood of illness.”

Post Consumer Brands

In Hastings, residents of Mallard Pond Village Apartments, which houses seniors, have been quarantined after some contracted coronavirus. Residents not displaying symptoms will stay away from others to make sure that if they are sick, they’re not spreading the virus.

“The primary goal of the measure is to protect public health,” Barry-Eaton District Health Department Health Office Colette Scrimger said in a Friday statement. “During this difficult time, special considerations must be taken to protect the community’s most vulnerable members. We know that a quarantine of Mallard Pond Village Apartments will be challenging for the residents.”

Several organizations are bringing food, prescriptions and other items to the residents.

In Berrien County, several people tested positive for the virus at Pine Ridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Stevensville. Workers tho tested positive are isolated at home, and residents who tested positive are being kept away from others at the home. All group activities have been canceled.

COVID-19 often presents with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. For most who contract it, symptoms are mild. Though anyone can get it and anyone can develop a serious case, the people most at risk to develop severe complications are the elderly and those with preexisting health problems.

If you think you have coronavirus, call your health care provider. Unless you are in need of emergency help, do not go to the emergency room. Get advice from a doctor over the phone or a televisit and they will direct you on how to get tested. Under expanded state guidelines, many more people, including those with mild symptoms, can get tested.

“Anyone with symptoms should seek out testing,” Dr. Khaldun said.

On Wednesday, the most recent day for which data is available, Michigan labs ran about 4,500 samples for coronavirus. 28.6% of those came back positive. That percentage is consistent with what we’ve been seeing in recent days and weeks.

—News 8’s Joe LaFurgey and Lynsey Mukomel contributed to this report.

AID PROGRAMS

The state on Friday launched a website in partnership with Headspace that provides mental health resources for free: the Stay Home, Stay Mindful page offers science-based material to help with stress and anxiety, like guided meditations, home workouts, sleep and content for kids.

You can also call the state warmline to help Michiganders with persistent mental health issues: The line, 888.733.7753, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Also Friday, the state announced it was making about $500,000 in grants available to nonprofit arts and culture organizations forced to close due to coronavirus. Each organization can get up to $5,000.

The cash is coming from the National Endowment for the Arts through the federal CARES Act coronavirus relief package.

Applications are due by 5 p.m. May 1 and money will go out before June 1. Application information can be found online.

  

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