GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan is rolling out a program to distribute some 4 million masks for free to those who may need them most, including low-income students and minorities.
“To make it easier for those who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and who need help securing masks, today we’re announcing the MI Mask Aid project,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a Friday morning press conference.
She reminded Michigan residents that masks are a simple and effective way to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“When we (wear a mask), we create an opportunity for us to stay safe and keep our economy moving forward. And that’s, I hope, important to every single one of us,” she said. “Mask up.”
The governor was joined at her briefing by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon and Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Hackett. Ford is backing the mask program, as is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, headed up by Gilchrist, helped design the project.
A total of 1.5 million masks from FEMA have already been sent to programs that serve low-income Michiganders, MDHHS offices, agencies on aging, homeless shelters and Native American tribes.
Another 1 million masks from FEMA and 1.5 million donated by Ford will go to low-income schools, the city of Detroit, federally qualified health centers, COVID-19 testing sites and organizations that serve low-income and minority residents.
Whitmer thanked Ford for its donation, saying it “is going to save lives.” Hackett said he was proud Ford could contribute. He said the company has a history of aiding in crisis, including building iron lungs to treat polio patients, and noted it has been producing personal protective equipment for the pandemic for months.
You can find a mask distribution site by calling the state COVID-19 hotline at 888.535.6136 or find your Community Action Agency online.
“Masks work and they prevent the spread of the disease,” Dr. Khaldun said, encouraging parents to teach even young children about wearing a mask in public and school superintendents to require their use when in-person classes resume.
Gordon, the MDHHS director, said that across the world, states and countries where masks are worn regularly are seeing a better situation than those where they are not. He noted most people in Michigan have been wearing masks and that a survey showed Michiganders were among the most likely in the nation to wear them.
Gordon went on to say that masks help you protect others by preventing you from unwittingly spreading the virus and that there is growing evidence they can provide some protection for the wearer.
“That’s because it can you prevent you from getting the disease in its most severe form. Even if the mask doesn’t stop all (respiratory) droplets (that carry the virus) from getting to you, it can block some of them,” he explained. “That can make the difference between getting getting COVID asymptomatically and getting COVID and ending up in the ICU.”
In addition to wearing masks, state officials also encouraged everyone to practice 6-foot social distancing and get tested if they are showing coronavirus symptoms or know they have been exposed to someone who has it.
THE STATE OF THE OUTBREAK IN MICHIGAN
Michigan on Thursday confirmed 748 more cases of the virus and recorded 11 additional related deaths, according to state data released Friday afternoon. Those figures brought the total number of deaths to 6,300 and the total number of confirmed cases to 91,140.
During the morning press conference, Dr. Khaldun said she is “cautiously optimistic” about positive trends in the outbreak, saying the state was seeing a plateau in cases after a recent increase.
Michigan’s rates of cases per million people per day and positive daily tests have been improving in recent weeks. Deaths and hospitalizations remain low. The state has also been testing more people for the virus. On Wednesday, labs tested more than 40,000 samples, a new one-day record.
On Thursday, labs tested 39,275 samples and 1,393 came back positive. The number of new cases does not match the total number of positive tests because people may be tested more than once, though the state system allows a person to be counted as only one case regardless of the number of tests. The percentage of positive tests was 3.55%.
Wayne County confirmed 146 cases, bringing its total to 27,301 since the outbreak began. It added two more deaths for a total of 2,703. Neighboring Oakland County has had 12,853 cases (140 more than the day previous) and 1,093 deaths (no change). Macomb County has had 10,686 cases (116 more) and 912 deaths (one more).
Khaldun said the Detroit region was seeing the highest number of cases per million people per day and the highest percentage of positive tests daily. She said Macomb County was seeing the highest rates in the region, with 82 cases per million people per day and positivity percentage of 7.4%.
Kent County confirmed an additional 32 cases for a total of 7,019 since the outbreak began. The number of deaths remained unchanged at 154.
Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties each saw one more death for totals of 42 and 82, respectively. Calhoun County has had 727 confirmed cases and Kalamazoo County 1,576.
The Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo regions, as well as the Upper Peninsula, were all seeing between 30 and 40 cases per million people per day and the figures were declining. All three regions were seeing a positivity rate below 3%, the threshold the health experts point to to show that community spread is under control.
Saying Michigan is in much better than many other states — which data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows is true — Whitmer displayed graphs showing Michigan is seeing fewer cases per million people per day than its neighbors, seeing a lower seven-day average of daily positive tests and testing a larger percentage of the population weekly than every neighbor except Illinois.
Asked about the legitimacy of Michigan’s data, Whitmer said the state has been transparent about its numbers — including when corrections are made — and that the results in comparison to other states are proof the moves she has ordered have worked.
Khaldun also noted that decisions have been made based on trends over time, not just a single day’s figures.
But “even if the trend is stabilizing,” she warned, “it only takes a few people to create an outbreak and have the disease spread rapidly in the community.”
Khaldun said there have been outbreaks all over the state linked to nursing homes, social gatherings, farms and food processing facilities, child care, manufacturing, health care, restaurants and schools and colleges. She again urged people to remain vigilant and pick up the phone for contact tracers working to identify and contain outbreaks.
Separately, she also reminded parents who might have put off routine vaccinations at the height of to get their kids immunized for diseases like measles and whooping cough.
More than 2,400 of those killed in Michigan have been Black, Lt. Gov. Gilchrist said. Though they account for more than a third of total fatalities, Black people account for only about 14% of the state’s population.
“More often than not, it is people of color who don’t have the financial luxury of working from home who take public transportation to get groceries and other services, who don’t have access to quality health care in a consistent way and whose neighbors may be environmentally jeopardized due to other factors,” Gilchrist explained the list of reasons his task force has identified to explain the disparate impact of the virus.
In addition to helping with the mask distribution plan, the task force also requested federal fund to expand mobile testing, expanded drive-thru and walk-up testing, encouraged local racial disparity task forces, ensure civil rights protections, connected people with long-term care, and told the state to roll out implicit bias training.
RETURN TO SCHOOL
As she has done before, Whitmer also used the promise of a return to school to encourage people to wear masks. School districts should have their plans for the fall semester submitted to the state Friday.
Whitmer said she recognized a “one-size-fits-all” mandate wasn’t going to be able to account for every school district’s different challenges and opportunities.
“…I am the governor of one and a half million Michigan kids who need an education. That’s what we wanted to promulgate strict protocols depending on which phase (of reopening) that a particular area is in, but these are decisions that are going to be made at the local level. Michigan is in stride with other states that are navigating this very same thing,” the governor said. “…Parents have to be a part of the conversation that is happening at that school board level and with the superintendents.”
To make school safe, she added, it was the responsibility of parents to teach their children about wearing masks.
“If you look around the world, other countries are doing this. Kids of all ages are adapting,” she said. “The most important thing that we as adults can do is show our kids through our own actions that this is the expectation and that it’s doable. To show maybe other kids around the world who are doing it, who’ve resumed in-person instruction and done so safely because they’re universally masked up.”
She also called on the federal government to provide more federal aid, both specifically for schools and to help the state deal with a massive revenue shortfall.