LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday created a bipartisan commission to teach people in Michigan about the new coronavirus vaccines and encouraging people to get the shot.
“This commission will help raise awareness of the safety and effectiveness of approved COVID-19 vaccines, they’ll educate the people of our state and they’ll help protect the health and safety of all Michigan residents,” Whitmer said.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist will chair the Protect Michigan Commission alongside former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, a Republican; Michigan’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Detroit Pistons player Blake Griffin; Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha; SER Metro CEO Eva Dewaelsche; Soumit Pendharkar the health administrator for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians; Spectrum Health President & CEO Tina Freese Decker; and Jamie Brown, registered nurse and president of the Michigan Nurses Association.
“One of the important messages that has to be delivered is that even though the timeframe itself was condensed, none of the steps for the approval of a vaccine were skipped,” Calley said.
Hanna-Attisha, who’s research has been used to fight the water crisis in Flint, tweeted about her new role.
“Together, embracing each other and science, we will defeat this virus,” Hanna-Attisha’s tweet read.
At least 50 other members will work with the co-chairs to not only advise Whitmer and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, but design outreach for communities that may be hesitant to get the vaccines.
“By being a part of this commission, it will create a direct pipeline of information in terms of process and efficiency directly through to the backbone of our economy, which is small businesses,” said Calley, who says he will get a vaccine when one becomes available to him.
As the nation waits for the Food and Drug Administration to greenlight the relief the country needs, commission co-chairs like Calley implore their neighbors to listen to science.
“The way out of this is to get to a point where people are immune to the virus,” Calley said.
If you want to be a member, you can apply online at Michigan.gov/appointments by Dec. 28.
The commission will submit a report on its work to the governor by Dec. 31.
STATE COULD GET 84,000 VACCINE DOSES NEXT WEEK
As the commission was announced at a press conference in Lansing, Dr. Khaldun renewed her call for all adults to start planning how they will get the vaccine, the Pfizer version of which could be approved soon.
Khaldun said vaccines will only be approved if they undergo rigorous trials and if top scientists and doctors determine they are safe.
“It is very important that you know what to expect. These vaccines work by preparing your body to fight the real virus if it comes into contact with it. That means many people will get mild symptoms after getting the vaccine, like a sore arm, a low-grade fever or general malaise,” she explained. “That is something to expect and it means that the vaccine is working.”
After approval, Michigan expects its first shipment of Pfizer vaccines to include about 84,000 doses. Assuming Moderna’s vaccine will also be approved later this month, Michigan will get 173,000 doses right away. The Pfizer vaccine requires two shots three weeks apart and the Moderna vaccine two shots four weeks apart.
The first doses doled out will go to health care workers and those living and working in long-term care facilities. As more shots are available, they will go to the next level of those most at risk, including essential workers, people with underlying health conditions and those older than 65. It will be some time — perhaps as late as April — before it’s available to the lowest-risk tiers of the general public.
Khaldun urged people to talk to their family members about getting the vaccines, and to go only to trusted sources like the state, hospitals and local health departments for information about the shot.
NEARLY 6,000 MORE CASES CONFIRMED
MDHHS on Thursday announced 5,937 more cases of the virus had been confirmed in Michigan and 182 more related deaths recorded. Of those, 132 were discovered as state health workers reviewed death certificates to find any that had not previously been reported.
On Wednesday, labs in Michigan tested 58,861 samples for the virus and 6,297 were positive, a rate of 10.7%.
In all, the virus has now infected 421,137 people in Michigan since March and been linked to 10,395 deaths.
“I can tell you that these cases and deaths are not just numbers. These are people’s family members, their friends, their colleagues, and every life lost was an important one,” Khaldun said. “I can tell you that people are not just automatically recovering from this virus. This is not a cold that you just get over. Many people are still presenting to the emergency department weeks after they have been diagnosed with complications and we are still learning more and more about the long-term health consequences of having this virus, so we just have to remain vigilant.”
Kent County added 544 confirmed cases in Thursday’s update for a total of 36,432 since March. It recorded 12 more deaths for a total of 427.
Several other West Michigan counties also recorded additional deaths:
- Allegan County: One more death for 34 total; 4,461 total confirmed cases since the start of the outbreak.
- Barry County: Two more deaths for 19 total; 2,422 total cases.
- Berrien County: One more death for 127 total; 7,528 total cases.
- Branch County: One more death for 45 total; 2,439 total cases.
- Calhoun County: Three more deaths for 138 total; 6,142 total cases.
- Cass County: Three more deaths for 34 total; 2,439 total cases.
- Ionia County: Two more deaths for 33 total; 2,867 total cases.
- Kalamazoo County: Eight more deaths for 180 total; 9,386 total cases.
- Montcalm County: Three more deaths for 29 total; 2,344 total cases.
- Muskegon County: Four more deaths for 207 total; 8,263 total cases.
- Newaygo County: One more death for 23 total; 1,890 total cases.
- St. Joseph County: Two more deaths for 39 total; 2,741 total cases.
- Van Buren County: Two more deaths for 56 total; 3,312 total cases.
The number of deaths in Mecosta County was revised down by one to 11. This has not been unusual as cases are double-checked and sometimes moved between jurisdictions. In all, Mecosta County has had 1,396 total cases.
Wayne County, which has seen more deaths than any other county, recorded 15 more for a total of 3,196. It also confirmed 1,003 more cases for a total of 69,584 since the start of the outbreak. Neighboring Oakland County has had 47,307 confirmed cases (611 more than the previous day) and 1,401 deaths (21 more). Macomb County has had 41,979 cases (517 more) and 1,329 deaths (25 more).
In Kalamazoo County, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Vernon Coakley announced Thursday he had contracted the virus. He said he had mild symptoms and was resting and recovering at home, and that he was in isolation.
IMPROVEMENTS IN METRICS CONTINUES
Michigan is currently seeing a surge in cases, with five times more cases and deaths than in early October and a positive test rate nearly five times higher than the 3% threshold that officials say shows community spread is controlled.
However, some recent metrics have been encouraging, with case rates declining slightly, the positivity rate on what a state epidemiologist called an “undulating plateau,” and hospitalizations plateauing or decreasing in much of the state.
Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health has seen a decline in COVID-19 inpatients over the past two weeks; as of Thursday, it had 292. Statewide, there were 3,875 adult inpatients suspected or confirmed to have the virus, 24 fewer than the day previous.
As of Saturday, Michigan ranked seventh in the nation in highest number of cases, fourth in highest number of deaths, 25th in case rates and eighth in death rates over the week, MDHHS said Wednesday, citing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control COVID Data Tracker. Each of those rankings were improvements over the previous week, with Michigan notably moving down five spots in case rates and two spots in death rates.
There concern there could be a spike in cases after Christmas. Public health officials have urged people not to travel or gather for the December holidays and instead choose virtual options to see their loved ones.
“2020 has been hard, but vaccines will be available soon,” Khaldun said. “We are cautiously optimistic about the data we are seeing. I ask all of you to continue to doing the right thing.”
Also at the Thursday press conference, Whitmer announced restaurants and other entertainment venues can postpone paying their sales, use and withholding taxes to the state until Jan. 20. The payments had been due Dec. 20.
The governor offered the grace period to businesses that are shut down or rely on dining in for the bulk of their revenue. Restaurant dining rooms, movie theaters and bowling alleys have been shut down for more than three weeks under an epidemic order aimed at curbing the spread of the virus and will remain closed at least through Dec. 20.
— News 8’s Donovan Long contributed to this report.