Whitmer says fight continues as COVID-19 cases, deaths start to decline

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Six weeks after Michigan confirmed its first cases of COVID-19, state officials pointed to positive markers showing the spread of the disease has slowed but said that they’re still focused on preventing a second spike, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said would be “devastating.”

“We’re asking people to continue making the sacrifice (of staying home). I know it’s not easy. I know that there are many prices that are being paid right now. But the price of losing your child or your father or mother or any loved one, that’s what’s really at stake here,” Whitmer said at a Monday afternoon press conference.

“To all the people that have disagreed with the actions I have taken, or feel their rights are being infringed (upon), I want to say this: We are taking a limited action for a limited amount of time to save people’s lives,” she continued. “…This action isn’t about our individual right to gather. It’s about our parents’ right to live.”

She urged everyone to come together to defeat “our common enemy, which is COVID-19.”

LOWEST NUMBER OF NEW CASES SINCE MARCH

An additional 77 people in Michigan have died of coronavirus, according to figures released Monday afternoon, bringing the total to 2,468.

The youngest victim of the virus was just 5 years old. Skylar Herbert died Sunday after developing a rare complication. Her mother is a police officer and her father a firefighter in a coronavirus hot spot in Detroit.

Most people who die after contracting serious cases of coronavirus are older. People over the age of 60 account for 42% of all confirmed cases and 85% of fatalities. The average age of the dead is about 74.

There’s also a sharp disparity in deaths along racial lines. African Americans, who make up only 14% of the state’s population, account for 40% of those killed by the virus.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist is leading a task force that will make recommendations in response to that data. He said people of color are less likely to be able to work from home, more reliant on public transportation, need to take more frequent trips to the grocery store because they can’t buy as much at one time, may be less likely to have consistent health care and may live in environmentally compromised neighborhoods — all of which increases the risk of exposure.

“When communities have been affected by racial disparities for generations, this means that it is a systemic problem, and a systemic problem requires a systemic solution,” he said.

One suggestion he put forth at Monday’s press conference was to start allowing walk-up rather than drive-up tests in underserved communities.

Gilchrist, who is African American and a Detroit native, said he personally knows 15 people who died of the virus.

Michigan has confirmed 32,000 cases of coronavirus; 576 more than the day previous. That’s the lowest one-day increase in confirmed cases since March 26.

As of Sunday, Whitmer said, 4,671 people were in the hospital being treated for COVID-19, down 15% from the high point 10 days earlier. There are enough ventilators for everyone who needs one.

“However, COVID-related hospitalizations remain high,” the governor said. “Hospitals have also done an amazing job to surge — to meet capacity needs for ICU beds. We are grateful for their work. Utilization remains high in some places, but we do see some decreases emerging in Region 2 South,” which is one of two regions covering metro Detroit.

However, she noted increases in cases in some regions, including some rural areas.

In Wayne County, where the outbreak is the worst, 1,148 people have died of the virus (29 more than the previous day) and 13,912 cases have been confirmed (220 more). Oakland County has recorded 479 deaths and 6,178 cases. Macomb County has 403 deaths and 4,425 cases.

Genesee County, where Flint is, has 1,256 confirmed cases and 123 deaths.

Within the Michigan Department of Corrections, 561 inmates have contracted the virus and 19 have died of it.

In West Michigan, two more people died in Ottawa County, bringing the total there to seven. 119 cases have been confirmed there. One more person died in Muskegon County, also a total of seven. Muskegon County has 149 confirmed cases. Kent County now has 550 confirmed cases and 24 deaths.

TESTING AND CONTACT TRACING

State officials say strict social distancing measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus are working, with the number of new cases and deaths daily starting to fall.

Whitmer also said increased capacity has allowed more testing, with more than 6,000 samples tested Friday, though the governor said certain supplies are still needed to up that even further. The state has also partnered with Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid to open eight more drive-thru sample collection sites capable of serving 1,000 people daily.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, announced that first responders, health care employees and other essential workers who aren’t showing any symptoms can now get tested.

>>Online: Find a testing center near you

Thousands of volunteers have signed up to help with contract tracing, working out where people with COVID-19 have been and calling the people they had contact with to get them to quarantine. Those volunteers will work with local health departments. You can sign up to help online.

Widespread testing availability and contact tracing will be integral in Whitmer’s decisions about loosening restrictions, though she said it’s still too soon to do that.

STAY-AT-HOME ORDER AND STATE OF EMERGENCY

Michigan is under a stay-at-home order through April 30 and Whitmer said everyone must follow it now to make sure she doesn’t need to extend it further. She said the vast majority people of people are complying with the order.

“We know that our actions are saving lives here in Michigan. We’re doing the smart thing and we’re seeing the results,” Whitmer said. “Again, we’ve got to do everything we can to avoid a second peak.”

Whitmer’s stay-at-home order is separate from the state of emergency that she originally declared and the state Legislature later extended to April 30. A state of emergency, which can be declared for all sorts of things, gives officials the ability to take unusual actions.

“We will need to extend the state of emergency,” Whitmer said. “My powers come from a couple of different parts of statue and so I believe that regardless of what the Legislature does, I still retain those powers. But I would like for them to be partners in this. We’ve worked very well together on a number of fronts. We need to continue working together because this is not a partisan issue.”

There are two statutes that give the governor relatively broad power to declare an emergency and then issue orders to deal with that emergency: the Emergency Management Act of 1976 and the Emergency Powers Act of 1945. Both orders say the governor can declare an emergency for a host of reasons and use her authority to deal with that emergency. They appear to be in disagreement about how much oversight the Legislature has.

Whitmer said she plans to release more information later this week on restarting the economy.

“Another 10 days will go by between now and when we are confronting what the next phase is that we are going through. But the one thing I can say with all certainty is we won’t just resume life like it was pre-COVID-19. It will take phases and it’s going to be slow,” Whitmer said.”But it’s going to be data-driven, mitigating risk and making sure that it’s safe for workers and costumers of businesses that do ramp up, all those protections will be in there.”

She also suggested she was looking at a regional approach to restrictions, though she said “no one’s out of the potential for risk.”

Additionally, anticipating a tight budget, the governor announced that she will take a 10% pay cut and said she had asked senior executive staff to take a 5% cut.

In a Monday call with federal officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, Whitmer said she and other governors asked for flexibility in the use of federal funds so that each state could tailor its response to its needs. Their other main topic of conversation, she said, was on robust testing — also a ‘gating’ criteria in President Donald Trump’s three-phase guidelines for reopening the economy. Whitmer also said she asked Pence to echo states’ encouragement for residents to stay home to slow the spread, which he said federal officials would do.

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

HOUSE REPUBLICANS RELEASE ‘COMEBACK ROADMAP’

On Monday morning, Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, released the Michigan House Republicans’ plan to reopen the economy.

>>Read the House Republicans’ plan

The three-step “Comeback Roadmap” includes a tiered, risk-based regional approach. The tiers in Step 1 categorize each county into a highest risk, heightened risk or standard risk category, with the hardest-hit counties of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne under Tier 1 restrictions. Those in Tiers 2 and 3 could have relaxed restrictions on things like travel, public gatherings and recreation.

The plan also includes a transition task force made up of nine members who would determine county assignment. That task force would include:

  • Chief medical officer
  • Michigan OSHA director
  • One economist
  • One epidemiologist
  • A representative from a regionally diverse hospital system
  • A labor representative
  • A small business representative
  • A manufacturing representative
  • A member of the public who became unemployed under Gov. Whitmer’s executive order for businesses to either close or limit operations.

Step 2 of the plan includes county tier reassignment where Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties are moved to the heightened risk tier and all other counties are moved to the standard risk tier.

Step 3, labeled “Returning to a new normal,” would transition the state from mandatory restrictions to “encouraging proper conduct and behavior.” However, this would still allow for temporary commercial crowd control rules.

  

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