LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday marked 12 months since Michigan confirmed its first cases of coronavirus, calling it a year filled with more than its “fair share of horrors and heroism.”
“It’s a somber day,” Whitmer said during an afternoon address in Lansing. “It’s hard to overstate just how much we have been through together since March 2020.”
The state confirmed its first two coronavirus cases on March 10, 2020 — a Tuesday.
“We were voting in the presidential primary that day,” Whitmer recalled. “The next day, on the 11th, the (World Health Organization) declared it a global pandemic. By the 13th, it was declared a national American emergency.”
On the one-year mark since the first two cases, Michigan surpassed 600,000 total infections. That’s about about 1 in 17 of the state’s residents. More than 15,700 people have died after contracting the virus.
“The virus has ravaged our communities, exposed the atrocities of health inequities and completely disrupted just about every aspect of our daily lives. And it has taken far too many people from us,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical examiner, said at the governor’s address.
“But fighting this virus is not about graphs and numbers and percentages,” Khaldun continued. “Fighting this virus has been about real people’s lives: people’s parents, sons, daughters and friends.”
She praised her “world-class” colleagues in hospitals, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and local health departments for working hard to combat the virus. She also applauded the people of Michigan for working hard to keep the state’s case rates down.
“Essential health care workers and front-line workers continued to do their work heroically, helping the rest of us keep our lights on, fridges full and families healthy,” Whitmer said. “Communities stepped up and there were acts of heroic selflessness on every street. Even as a deadly virus was keeping us apart, we pulled together in remarkable ways.”
The governor featured stories of people and organizations that have gone above and beyond to help others during the pandemic, including the owners of Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, Chris and Jason Spaulding, who she said served on a state workgroup to represent small businesses amid the economic shutdown and took advantage of state programs to improve the safety of their pub during the pandemic.
She praised nurses and teachers who continued working through the pandemic to care for the elderly and try to keep students learning via the internet, as well as those students who stayed focused on their studies despite the adverse circumstances.
She also remembered the dead and offered sympathy to those they left behind.
Whitmer ordered flags lowered to half-staff Wednesday to mark the one-year anniversary and memorialize those who have died. Flags should remain at half-staff through Saturday as the state also remembers late former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley.
People were also asked to turn on their outside lights from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. to honor the dead.
“We in Michigan have been tested and we are tough,” Whitmer said. ” Together, I know we’ll beat this damn virus, and rebuild our economy and our communities back stronger than ever before.”
TOTAL CASES SURPASS 600,000
On Tuesday, labs tested 35,264 samples for the virus and 1,699, or 4.69%, were positive. The number of positive tests is not the same as the number of new cases because people may be tested more than once. Additionally, testing numbers are from a single calendar date, while the number of new cases lists the increase since the last time the state compiled the data; these two time frames do not match up precisely.
Kent County reported one more death for a total of 663 and 119 more cases for a total of 49,574 cases.
Mecosta and St. Joseph counties reported one more death each for totals of 21 and 82, respectively. Mecosta County has had 1,954 cases and St. Joseph has had 4,304 cases.
Wayne County, where Detroit is, added three more deaths for a total of 3,963 — the most of any county in the state. It confirmed 401 cases, bringing its total to 96,957. Neighboring Oakland County has had 65,938 cases (248 more than the previous day) and 1,910 deaths (no change). Macomb County has had 56,585 cases (289 more) and 1,880 deaths (one more).
The state’s virus case and testing positivity rates have increased slightly over the last three weeks, and there has been a small increase in the number of people hospitalized with the virus. Khaldun said a little more than 4% of all hospital beds in the state are now serving COVID-19 patients. The rate of deaths, the metric that changes last, is still trending down.
The state this week confirmed its first case of the highly contagious variant labeled B.1.351, which was first identified in South Africa, in Jackson County. It has also confirmed around 500 cases of the variant B.1.1.7, which originated in the United Kingdom. The majority of those cases are at a state prison in Ionia.
“If these new variants become more prevalent, we risk having a a rapid rise in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” Khaldun said.
“We are starting to see a slight reversal in some of the progress that we’ve made of the past couple of months,” she continued. “But that just means we have to double down on what we know works and what we’ve been doing for the past year.”
On addition to mitigation protocols like social distancing and mask wearing, she and Whitmer are urging people to get vaccinated when it is their turn.
As of Tuesday, Michigan had received about 3.4 million vaccine doses from the federal government and nearly 2.7 million of those had been administered. The goal is aiming to vaccinate about 70% of its population ages 16 and up; so far about 21% of that population has gotten at least one dose. The state has been getting and administering more doses each week.
“The more people that get vaccinated and the quicker we do it, the safer we will all be,” Khaldun said. “As Michiganders, we have shown what we are made of and we have shown how much we care about each other. Michiganders have by and large followed public health recommendations… And because of the work we have done together, we have fared much better than a lot of other states, bringing down our curve last spring and again this past fall. People in Michigan know what to do to fight this virus back, and while our battle is not yet over, we have the tools we need to bring this pandemic to an end as quickly as possible — so let’s keep fighting this virus together.”