GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says that while Michigan is in much better shape than some Southern and Southwestern states when it comes to coronavirus, she urged everyone to keep their guard up amid a slight uptick in cases.
“Our numbers are not as strong today as they were a couple of weeks ago,” Whitmer said at a Tuesday afternoon press briefing. “We’ve got to be smart, we’ve got to keep our wits about us and we’ve got to continue to do what we know prevents the spread of COVID-19.”
She said she was not immediately making any changes to the restrictions currently in place — though as always, she didn’t rule out strengthening restrictions in the event of a “sustained spike.”
“We want to get a little bit more data. We want to have another modeling call this evening and I’ll be making some decisions in the next day or two as we go into the holiday weekend,” Whitmer told reporters. “We’re going to stay nimble. This is a dial. If we’re safe, we’ll dial it up. If we see risk, we’re going to dial it back, and that’s just how it’s going to be.”
She had hoped to move the entire state into the next phase of reopening by the Fourth of July but that’s not going to happen because of the case increases. She asked people to celebrate the holiday responsibly, saying they should continue to practice social distancing and keep any gatherings small.
“The virus has not changed. What has changed is our knowledge and our ability to make decisions that prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “But it’s on every single one of us to do our part to protect one another, to protect the gains that we have made as a state and to strengthen our ability to get our economy back on track.”
She urged everyone to wear a mask in public, stressing that it’s not a political statement. She acknowledged that it’s a change in culture but described masks as “absolutely essential.”
“COVID-19 is still a part of our reality. Let’s do what we know to be the right thing,” Whitmer said.
She reminded everyone that keeping the virus under control will be key in allowing schools to reopen for in-person learning in the fall, one of main focal points of the briefing.
MORE CASES AMONG YOUNGER PEOPLE
Michigan on Monday confirmed 373 more cases of the virus, bringing the total to 63,870 since the outbreak began in March. An additional 32 deaths linked to the virus were recorded for a total of 5,947, state data released Tuesday afternoon shows. Twenty-seven of the new deaths were discovered during a routine check of death certificates to find any that weren’t previously reported.
Labs in Michigan on Monday tested 15,568 samples for coronavirus and 2.54% came back positive. That total positive percentage is in line with the figures the state has been seeing much of the month. However, we are seeing higher numbers of cases.
“After several weeks of declining cases and plateau, we’re now seeing an increase in cases in every region of the state,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said at the Tuesday briefing with the governor. “These increases look different depending on the region.”
Khaldun said she was concerned about the positive test rate in West Michigan, which she said is now 3.4%. The region has had increased numbers of cases for the past two weeks and is now seeing more than 20 new cases per million people per day — one of the metrics by which the state tracks spread.
Kent County confirmed 33 more cases Monday for a total of 4,495 since the outbreak began and recorded two additional deaths, bringing the total to 131.
In Grand Rapids, The Green Well on Cherry Street announced one of its employees tested positive for the virus Monday night. Owners say they’re working with the county health department to trace who may have been in contact with the employee.
Allegan County recorded an additional death for a total of 7. It has had 273 cases. In addition, Muskegon County has recorded one more death, bringing the total to 51. It has had 800 cases, six more than the day previous. Van Buren County also confirmed an additional death for a total of seven. It has had 199 cases.
In Wayne County, where the outbreak has been the worst, there were nine additional deaths over the previous day for a total of 2,601. Sixty-five more cases were confirmed for a total of 21,872 since March. Oakland County has had 8,898 cases and 1,048 deaths. Macomb County has had 7,168 cases and 879 deaths.
The Lansing region is now seeing more than 40 cases per million people per day, but the percentage of positive tests is still only 2.8%. That region is dealing with an outbreak of more than 100 cases tied to an East Lansing bar, with the governor noting that at least one person who visited Harper’s Pub went back to the southeast side of the state and spread the virus there.
HopCat in Kalamazoo is closed for the time being after it learned one of its employees visited Harper’s during the window for potential exposures. It has not said whether anyone has tested positive or may have been exposed to the virus at its restaurant. In a Facebook post, HopCat Kalamazoo says it will reopen when it is “safe to do so.”
Notably, the demographics of cases are shifting. Now, people under the age of 50 are getting the virus at higher rates than the upper age range — the opposite of what we were seeing during the start of the spread.
“In the past two weeks, the rate of new cases is highest in people ages 20 to 29,” Khaldun said. “23% of cases in the month of June were in this age group.”
She reminded younger people that in addition to spreading the virus to older and more vulnerable people, they too can get very sick and even die after contracting it.
“I implore everyone, please take this seriously. … Take responsibility for your own health and the health of your community,” Khaldun said. “We still have time to avoid a surge in cases.”
Just about everyone can now get tested for the virus, and the state has launched a new online tool to make it easier to find a place to get tested. It has filters to help people find testing options to meet their needs. In addition, anyone who calls the Michigan COVID-19 hotline at 888.535.6136 and presses 1 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m Monday through Friday will be transferred automatically to a 211 operator who can help them find a testing site.
While some case increases around the sate have been linked to workplaces, Khaldun said there is evidence of community spread in some places. She reminded everyone to keep an eye out for phone calls from local or state contact tracers to help keep outbreaks contained.
Khaldun said that statewide, hospitalization rates remain steady.
MI SAFE SCHOOLS ROADMAP
A main focus of Tuesday’s briefing was the state’s plan for safe schooling while the virus remains a threat. The MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap lays out how schools should respond based on how serious the state’s outbreak is and what types of safety protocols should be in place.
While in phase 4 of the six-phase reopening spectrum — which the lower part of state is currently in — schools could hold in-person classes but would have to follow safety procedures. In this phase, all students must wear masks while on the bus and in hallways. Students sixth grade and up must wear them all day.
In phase 5, which the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula are in, schools could be open with minimal safety procedures. Masks will be recommended rather than required in this phase.
>>Online: MI Safe Schools Roadmap
The plan lists information on how schools should use personal protection equipment, maintain hygiene, clean, implement social distancing and screen for the illness.
While it includes safety procedures for school athletics like requiring hand-washing and equipment disinfection, Whitmer is asking the Michigan High School Athletic Association to consider pushing back close-contact fall sports to the spring and moving up no-contact sports like track or golf. She said she expects a decision on that late next month.
The roadmap was created with help from the Return to Learn Advisory Council that Whitmer’s office put together. That council includes health care and education experts, community leaders, parents and students.
The governor also signed an executive order requiring districts to create a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan explaining the safety protocols they’ll use during in-person schooling. The roadmap has guidelines to get administrators started, but each district may implement more advanced measures than what the state asks for. The state will distribute $256 million to help districts put those measures in place.
The money came out of the deal that the Democratic governor and Republicans in charge of the state Legislature announced Monday to manage the budget for the current fiscal year. The deal lays out how the state will cope with a $2.2 billion revenue shortfall and how it will spend $3 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid, much of which is going to public health and education.
At the briefing, Whitmer said the federal government must pass additional financial support and called on Congress to work in a bipartisan manner.