LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed a program to provide educational opportunities to health care workers, first responders, grocery store employees and other essential workers after the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor announced the “Future for Frontliners” program to pay college tuition at a Wednesday afternoon press conference, explaining it was inspired by the GI Bill created after World War II.
“Our enemy in this instance is a virus, but our front-line workers are just as heroic,” Whitmer said. “And that’s why it’s important to us to extend some gratitude and some opportunity once we are beyond this moment.”
The governor said the program will help hospital and nursing home workers, grocery store employees, child care workers, those manufacturing personal protection equipment, first responders, sanitation workers, and those delivering supplies. She said those workers could use the program to get technical certificates, associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees.
“This is the first program of its kind in the United States, and I’m hopeful that other governors across the country will follow our lead to create pathways for opportunity for the people who’ve been on the front lines, protecting our families,” Whitmer said.
The program will be primarily funded through federal dollars, she said, a large chunk of which is coming from the CARES Act coronavirus relief package.
STATE OF EMERGENCY AND ECONOMIC REENGAGEMENT
Whitmer has asked the Legislature to extend the state of emergency Michigan is under until May 28. A vote on that did not happen Wednesday even though the Legislature was in session. That state of emergency is not the same as Whitmer’s stay-at-home and other executive orders.
Republicans in control of the Legislature proposed OKing two one-week extensions to the emergency in exchange for making the next stay-at-home order, which would contain more guidance on businesses reopening, a legislative move. The Democratic governor shut down that suggestion, saying there’s no time for political debate and that she won’t negotiate on decisions she’s making based on data and expert advice.
“As we reengage, we have to do so slowly. This is not a political conversation, this is not political negotiation, this is about the public health,” she said. “That’s precisely what these emergency powers are all about. And so as I use them, we cite all the sources of that power so that people understand this is the very kind of crisis that they are used in. I don’t enjoy using all of the levers of this office, but I have to do this to save lives and that it what centers every decision we’ve made.”
She acknowledged the strain her decisions have put on workers and small business owners, but said she is making thoughtful decisions aimed at keeping people safe and getting the economy moving again.
Construction companies — both residential and commercial — will be in the next phase of businesses allowed to reopen under the governor’s MI Safe Start plan, which will reengage the economy in waves with guidance from business and health care leaders.
Whitmer said she will sign an executive order Friday allowing construction companies to reopen May 7.
“We are comfortable taking this step because it is a lower risk enterprise ask we’ve scored risk and developed and worked with industry to make sure we’ve got appropriate protocols,” she said.
CASES SURPASS 40,000
According to data released by the state Wednesday, Michigan has recorded another 103 deaths linked to coronavirus, bringing the total to 3,670. The number of confirmed cases increased by 1,137 to 40,399.
At the governor’s Wednesday press conference, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said the numbers continue to show a plateau and are evidence that social distancing measures have worked. But she said that as long as cases and deaths are high, we must remain vigilant.
The outbreak has been concentrated in and around Detroit. In Wayne County, including the city, there have been 16,494 confirmed cases (321 more than the day previous) and 1,727 deaths (45 more). Oakland County has recorded 7,159 confirmed cases and 668 deaths. Macomb County 5,430 cases and 597 deaths.
Khaldun said southeast Michigan hospitals now have enough PPE supplies for a week or two, and hospitalization there is still trending downward. The field hospital set up at the TCF Center in downtown Detroit, which has nearly 1,000 beds, received only minimal utilization, so state officials are looking into whether to shut it down and expect to release a decision within the next few days.
In Genesee County, where Flint is, there are 1,564 confirmed cases and 180 deaths.
The Michigan Department of Corrections has confirmed 1,264 cases and 41 inmates have died of the virus.
Allegan and Muskegon counties each recorded one more death, bringing totals to two and 16, respectively. Allegan County has 94 confirmed cases and Muskegon County 262.
Kent County added 90 cases for a total of 1,395. The number of deaths stands at 33. Health officials have attributed large daily increases in the number cases in recent days to increased targeted testing at high-risk places.
Dr. Khaldun noted the increases in West Michigan and said she was working to make sure testing was happening and the right protocols were in place.
At least 72 coronavirus cases in four counties have been traced back to Herbruck’s Poultry Farm near Ionia. Of those, 37 patients are Ionia County Residents, 28 are from Ingham County, six Eaton County and one Montcalm County. Some are employees and some are people who have had contact with employees.
Previously, Herbruck’s said all workers who tested positive are isolated at home. It also said employees are using gloves and masks and that it has “rigorous sanitation practices.”
Khaldun reminded people that “we’re still in the early months of fighting this virus” and reminded people to continue following social distancing practices, including wearing a mask.
“We can beat this disease, but it will really be a long-term effort that will likely go well into next year,” she said, “until we have a vaccine or hopefully an antiviral treatment that works.”
The state has activated the Michigan Mortuary Response Team, which will help hospitals and funeral homes handle the increase in work because of coronavirus deaths. MI-MORT is made up of about 40 volunteers from around the state and helps provide transfer, identification and storage of remains until funeral arrangements are made. MI-MORT was created 10 years ago. This is the first time it has been activated. Professionals can volunteer at mivolunteerregistry.org.
COVID-19 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 older people and those with preexisting health problems.
Everyone who has coronavirus symptoms and essential workers who are not showing symptoms can now get tested. You can find a testing location near you on the state’s website and get information on how to set up an appointment.
Khaldun said the state has increased testing capacity and is averaging about 50% more this week over last week, and is working to expand further.
State data on testing from Monday, the most recent day available, shows labs ran 6,505 samples for coronavirus and about 12% came back positive. Those percentages are improving. One week prior, on April 20, about 4,200 tests were run and about 20% were positive. The week before that, on April 13, about 3,500 tests were run and about 30% came back positive.
In the state health care region that includes Kent County, about 830 tests were run Monday and 13% came back positive. On April 20, About 500 tests were run and about 11% came back positive. On April 13, 180 tests were run and about 6% came back positive.