LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan officials on Monday outlined efforts to increase testing for coronavirus, which they have said will be vital in allowing the economy to reopen.
“Until there is a vaccine, social distancing is really the best and only tool that we have to prevent spread, but we know that that can’t be tolerated in perpetuity. Accordingly, widespread testing is critical; tracing and safety protocols are essential,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at an afternoon press briefing. “Right now, Michigan is increasing our testing capacity, our tracing capacity and our support for people who are infected by the virus. In just two weeks, Michigan has gone from 4,000 tests a day to 14,000.”
She said that while decreasing infection and death rates are cause for “cautious optimism,” Michigan must still move forward slowly and with care. She and Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun reminded people to maintain social distancing measures, wear masks and wash their hands frequently.
CASES AND DEATHS
Michigan has recorded 33 more deaths linked to coronavirus, bringing the total to 4,584. Additionally, data released Monday afternoon shows 414 more cases were confirmed, bringing the total to 47,552.
Michigan has the third highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in the country, though it has only the seventh highest number of cases behind New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Pennsylvania. Dr. Khaldun attributed the high death rate in part to more thorough reviews from the state of death certificates and also to racial and socioeconomic disparities, though she said more study was needed to provide a definitive explanation.
Wayne County, where the outbreak has been the worst, recorded eight more deaths for a total of 2,105 and 119 more confirmed cases for a total of 18,194. Also in the metro Detroit area, Oakland County has had 7,752 cases and 849 deaths and Macomb County has had 6,064 cases and 699 deaths.
Genesee County, where Flint is located, has had 1,765 confirmed cases and 224 deaths.
Within the Michigan Department of Corrections, 2,139 inmates have contracted the virus and 54 have died after getting it.
Whitmer said Michigan has tested more than 12,200 prisoners — more than any other state in the country — for the virus. That’s happening, in part, with help from the National Guard, which assisted with testing every prisoner in the Upper Peninsula.
The state is also working to parole nonviolent offenders more quickly to limit the prison population and therefore slow the spread of the virus. Last week, Whitmer said, 225 people were paroled. Two hundred seventy-three will be paroled this week, 252 next week and a likely high of 303 the following week.
There was one more death in Kent County for a total of 42. The county has 2,332 confirmed cases, 51 more than the day prior.
Kalamazoo County saw three more cases for a total of 32. It has 622 confirmed cases. Ionia County had one more death for a total of three. It has 110 confirmed cases.
On Saturday, the most recent day for which state data is available, about 30 labs in Michigan tested 12,657 samples and 7% came back positive for coronavirus. On Friday, 13,242 samples were tested and 6.8% were positive. On Thursday, the state ran a record 14,257 tests in one day and 7.9% were positive.
The percentages of positive tests are improving. A week prior to Saturday, on May 2, about 10,500 samples were run and nearly 9% were positive. Four weeks prior to Saturday, on April 11, about 3,200 samples were tested and nearly 30% were positive.
“We are at the lowest percentage since the beginning of this crisis, and that’s because people are going their part,” Whitmer said Monday afternoon.
The state has capacity to run 15,000 tests daily and a promised federal match will allow that to increase to 30,000 daily over the next month, state Chief Operating Officer Trisha Foster said Monday. That will have Michigan testing the recommended 1% to 2% of the state’s population weekly.
“You have to have a plan in order to succeed,” Foster said. “We can’t do this without our friends in the private sector, we can’t do this without our partnership with the feds.”
So far, in all, Khaldun said, about 290,000 people in a state of around 10 million have been tested. Whitmer said the state hopes to test about 450,000 people in May.
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 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 also said the state is working to build a robust contact tracing system made up of both paid workers and volunteers. Already, local health departments have more than 300 people doing it and the state has 100 workers on it. There are plans to hire as many as 1,000 contact tracers and that number may climb.
“Aggressive testing, contact tracing and isolation will be the only way that we will get ahead of this disease,” she said.
At the Monday afternoon press conference, Whitmer answered some questions she said her office has received from residents. She said the most frequent questions have been about the state’s unemployment system, which has been inundated with 1.3 million new claims from people laid off because of closures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
“We have provided more than 1.1 million Michiganders — unemployment Michigan workers — with more than $4 billion of benefits,” she said. “Michigan remains near the top of states that have been impacted in terms of claims filed and percent our workforce affected. Most of the remaining workers who have not received benefits will be eligible in the coming weeks once they complete the federal requirement to certify their claim.”
She recognized the frustrations from those who haven’t been able to get though to the Unemployment Insurance Agency and those who haven’t yet received benefits, and promised that everyone who files a claim will get paid — and that benefits will be backdated to when the employee was laid off.
She said the state’s unemployment trust fund is in good shape with $4.6 billion before the pandemic. She added that the state would borrow more money from the federal government if it becomes necessary — which she said it’s currently not.
The state remains under a stay-at-home order through May 28, though more businesses have been allowed to return to work, including manufacturing on Monday. Asked about enforcement of that and other executive orders made in response to the pandemic, Whitmer reminded everyone that they are enforceable by law and said she expected people to follow them.
Addressing why she isn’t allowing some regions where there have been fewer cases of the virus to reopen sooner, she said that may be a possibility at some point. However, she said, officials have to track the effects of the statewide reopening they have allowed so far before moving regionally.
She also indicated that steps forward in reopening the economy would probably be made about every two weeks, though she warned that would be based no the status of the virus.
>>Michigan.gov: Coronavirus FAQ