Whitmer expects short extension of stay-home order

Coronavirus

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she will likely once again extend her stay-at-home order as part of efforts to prevent what she says would be a “devastating” second wave of coronavirus infections.

“Michiganders will still need to stay home unless they’re doing things that are explicitly permitted by the order,” she said.

She did not say how long the “short-term” extension would last. While she indicated it may look different than the current order, she did not provide specifics.

“We know that there will be a need for an extension of some sort,” she said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

She acknowledged that the spread of the virus has slowed, with daily numbers of new cases plateauing, saying that “perhaps we can start to take some small steps forward” but that getting back to normal “won’t happen all at once.”

“I think that now is an appropriate time to reassess the breadth of the current stay-at-home order, to assess the scope of what the next one might look like,” Whitmer said. “There will be some form of a stay-at-home order in effect for a long time here. And I know when I say that, everyone’s going to speculate, ‘What does that mean?’ What it simply means is that for the near future, we know that it’s not going to be safe for especially vulnerable populations to be out and about publicly. And so people who have COPD, people who are over the age of 65 are going to have to continue to stay at home. The vast majority will for a short time being, but we will start to loosen that up as days get closer and as time goes and as our testing ramps up.”

Whitmer said more information about extending the order and when social distancing restrictions will be loosened will be announced at a Friday briefing.

“When we do start to reengage, it will have to be very thoughtful and precise, mitigating risk to all and mitigating the risk of a second wave,” she said. “I’ll only loosen (restrictions) based on what the facts and data are telling us when it is safe and how it is safe to do so,” she said.

Dr. Marisa Eisenberg, an epidemiologist from the University of Michigan, explained that reengagement should be based on what the numbers show about the spread of the virus, whether the health care system is prepared to handle another surge, and the ability to test for the virus and trace its transmission.

A slide from the University of Michigan shows the factors that should be considered when reengaging from social distancing. (April 22, 2020)

NUMBER OF DEATHS SURPASSES 2,800

Data released Wednesday afternoon shows Michigan has recorded 113 more deaths linked to coronavirus, bringing the total to 2,813. An additional 999 cases were confirmed for a statewide total of 33,966.

Whitmer said while the numbers are “hard to take,” they do represent a flattening of the curve linked to people doing their part by practicing social distancing. She said there is reason for “cautious optimism.”

The outbreak is the worst in southeast Michigan. Wayne County has a total of 14,561 cases (up 306 from the day prior) and 1,319 people have died there (41 more than the day previous). Oakland County has 6,463 confirmed cases and 529 deaths. Macomb County has 4,628 confirmed cases and 473 deaths.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said hospitals that saw the biggest surge are now discharging more coronavirus patients daily than they are admitting. Fewer people are in intensive care. Overall hospitalizations are down 15% from a high of about 10 days ago.

The governor said hospitals now have weeks’ worth of personal protection equipment — like gloves and masks — whereas toward the beginning of the outbreak they were operating day-to-day. Whitmer praised Michigan companies that have stepped up and revamped operations to make those items, including Dearborn-based Carhartt, which is making gowns; automakers that are making ventilators and face shields; and breweries and distilleries making hand sanitizer.

“We are all doing the right things,” Khaldun said. “We’re seeing a slowing in cases, testing is increasing, and people are recovering from this disease. We can beat this virus.”

But Khaldun made it clear that “we are not yet out of the woods,” noting that different places will see surges at different times.

The new data for Kent County proved that. Kent County recorded another large jump in confirmed cases — 131 in a single day, which is 13% of new cases statewide. The city of Detroit alone saw 122 new cases in the same time frame. Kent County’s total number of cases is now 757 and the number of deaths stands at 25.

The case increase is partially attributed to more testing, Kent County Health Department epidemiologist Dr. Brian Hartl said. Two weeks ago, Kent County was conducting about 250 tests each day. Now, that number is between 750 and 1,000.

“We are doing more testing. Hospitals are able to do more testing right now. Their capacity has increased greatly over the course of the last week,” Hartl told News 8. “We are also testing more people in terms of meeting criteria for testing. Late last week, the criteria opened up. Anyone with symptoms can be tested locally. The other thing is we kind of did some targeted testing of some high-risk populations in the past couple of days, which inflated that number quite a bit.”

While testing has tripled, cases have increased by a factor of six.

Hartl said health officials expect to keep seeing more cases. Models still show West Michigan peaking in two or three weeks, behind the state as a whole.

Kalamazoo and Muskegon counties each recorded one more death since Tuesday morning; both now have a total of 11 deaths. Kalamazoo County has 212 total confirmed cases and Muskegon County 173.

Public Health – Muskegon County says five of the deaths have been Norton Shores senior home residents: four at Seminole Assisted Living and one at DaySpring Assisted Living. The county says it is working with those homes to protect other residents and workers.

Within the Michigan Department of Corrections, 655 prisoners have tested positive for the virus and 25 of them have died.

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, Michigan now has the seventh most confirmed cases in the country, behind New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania and Illinois. The state still has the third-highest number of deaths, behind only New York and New Jersey.

GETTING TESTED

At her press briefing, Whitmer encouraged everyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms to seek out a test. Even those with mild symptoms can now get tested. Anyone physically going to work can get tested even if they are not displaying symptoms.

“We are testing more people every single day. The number of new cases that we see is starting to go down as a percentage of that, as well,” Whitmer said.

On Monday, the most recent day for which state data is available, labs in Michigan tested about 3,800 samples for coronavirus and about 20% came back positive. A week previous on April 13, about 3,400 tests were run and 30% came back positive.

Whitmer said there is lab space to run about twice as many tests daily, but that it doesn’t have enough testing swabs or reagents (chemicals used in testing). The state is working to get those supplies.

“Testing is the only way that we will know where the virus is so that we can appropriately deploy our resources to slow the spread,” the governor said.

COVID-19 generally 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 want to get tested, call your health care provider. Do not go to the emergency room unless you need emergency help. Get advice from a doctor over the phone or a televisit and they will direct you on how to get tested.

>>Kentwood Rite Aid offers COVID-19 self testing

STATE EMPLOYEES LAID OFF

At the Wednesday press conference, Whitmer said she has approved layoffs of state employees across the board, calling it one of the hardest decisions she has had to make.

The workers will still keep their benefits and will be enrolled in unemployment. The layoffs will last 10 business days.

The Associated Press reports 2,900 employees are being affected.

The Michigan Department of State says it is laying off 900 workers — everyone who was not able to work full-time under the stay-at-home order — starting Sunday for at least two weeks. The agency promised the layoffs would not affect service to the public.

“This is an extremely challenging time for our state, our state government, and our department. This decision was not easy, but is necessary to responsibly steward taxpayer funds at this time.”

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office said it laid off about 25% of its employees, which is more than 100 people:

“The COVID-19 public health emergency has impacted everyone, including the Department of Attorney General. While certain areas of the Department’s legal work have dramatically increased as a result of this emergency, other areas have slowed. Yesterday, we issued temporary layoff notices to more than 100 people, about 25% of our workforce, which reflects the difficult reality that we all face. The staff at this Department do amazing work on behalf of the people of this State every single day. We will continue to do that, regardless of the challenges that arise in the future.”

Michigan Attorney General’s Office

Whitmer said Monday she was taking a 10% pay cut for the rest of the fiscal year and her top administrators were taking 5% cuts.

  

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