LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan’s chief medical executive said that while data shows declines in the spread of coronavirus in Michigan, the process to reopen must remain slow and cautious to prevent a second wave.
“If we drop our guard now, all of our sacrifice will have been in vain and we’ll be right where we were,” she said at a Wednesday afternoon briefing.
Citing data that shows more movement within the state, Whitmer urged residents to keep staying at home unless they must leave, reminding them that’s where they are safer. She said if there is a spike in cases in the next couple of weeks, she may have to continue her stay-at-home order for longer. The current order is in effect through May 28.
Challenged about the indefinite shape of her six-phase plan to reopen the economy, Whitmer said there are too many factors in play, including having the correct resources for adequate testing, to lay out a timeline by specific dates or by case and death data.
“There’s no special formula that will tell us how and when to reopen,” added Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, saying context of where and how outbreaks are happening was vital in determining forward movement.
However, Whitmer also added that it could be easier to assess thresholds to move forward within the next few days.
She says Michigan is currently in phase 3 of that six-phase plan: flattening, when case growth is declining but social distancing is still necessary. Movement to phase 4, when some small gatherings, more but limited retail and some office work would be allowed to resume, will depend on:
- A more sharp decline in the number of cases and deaths;
- A continued decline in the percentage of daily positive cases;
- Continued strengthening of health care system capacity;
- Robust testing, contact tracing and containment protocols.
“I will make sure that we remain nimble, monitoring the data so that if we have to pull back when we see a spike in cases, we’re able to, because we cannot afford to overwhelm our hospitals or let community spread go without action,” Whitmer said, citing warnings from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top doctor on infectious diseases, that reopening too quickly would result in an uncontrollable second wave of infections.
Whitmer was joined at her Wednesday briefing by realtor Maureen Frances and business owner Rachel Lutz, who discussed how they are weathering the pandemic and the process of reengaging.
Frances said that as realtors were allowed to go back to work last week, they instituted a slew of health safety practices, including some above and beyond state requirements. She said the good news was that realtors had seen a “vibrant” market.
Lutz, who owns clothing boutiques in Detroit, encouraged “a measured and thoughtful approach” in allowing retail to reopen, saying the overhead could crush her business if the majority of customers still don’t feel it’s safe to visit. When she does reopen, she said she will require her staff and customers to wear masks and practice social distancing.
CASES, DEATHS, TESTING
According to data released by the state Wednesday afternoon, Michigan has recorded 40 more deaths linked to coronavirus, bringing the total to 4,714. An additional 370 cases were confirmed for a total of 48,391.
“The number of cases per day per million people — which is how we measure it — continues to decline at the state level. However, not all regions are experiencing the same decline,” Dr. Khaldun said. “While we are seeing cases decline significantly in southeastern Michigan, this area if the state still has the highest daily numbers of deaths per million people compared to other regions of the state. We’re also seeing new case counts in western Michigan similar to those in southeast Michigan.”
She also said health departments are tracking clusters around the state and working to limit them.
In Wayne County, where the outbreak has been the worst, there have been 18,389 cases (115 more than the day prior) and 2,156 deaths (16 more). Oakland County has had 7,830 cases and 874 deaths. Macomb County has had 6,137 cases and 717 deaths.
In Genesee County, where Flint is, there have been 1,784 cases and 227 deaths.
Within the Michigan Department of Corrections, 2,145 inmates have tested positive for the virus and 56 have died after contracting it.
There were two more deaths in Kent County for a total of 47. It has 2,446 cases, 30 more than the day prior.
Ottawa County recorded one more death for a total of 21. It has 444 cases.
Whitmer on Wednesday extended a prior order that temporarily lifts regulations on hospitals and care facilities to help make sure they care for patients during the pandemic. State data shows that across the state, hospitals have plenty of beds and ventilators to treat all their COVID-19 patients. In the metro Detroit area, hospitals are treating only about 1,000 coronavirus inpatients. In southwest and West Michigan, hospitals are treating only 180 coronavirus inpatients.
COVID-19 presents with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. For most who contract it, symptoms are mild. Everyone who has coronavirus symptoms and essential workers who are not showing symptoms can now 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.
On Monday, the most recent day for which state data is available, labs in Michigan tested 12,008 samples for coronavirus and 6.5% came back positive. The percentages of positive tests are improving. One week prior, on May 4, nearly 7,300 samples were tested and 8% were positive. Four weeks prior, on April 13, About 3,500 samples were tested and nearly 30% were positive.
Right now, Michigan ranks 14th in the nation in the number of daily tests run per million residents. The current goal is 15,000 tests per day, though that will soon rise to 30,000 once aid from the federal government arrives. The state wants to test 450,000 people in May.
In all, more than 317,000 tests have been run in Michigan since the outbreak began, Khaldun said. The overall positive test rate since March has been about 18%. The lowest one-day rate was on Sunday, when it was 6.3%.
“This means that our efforts are working,” Khaldun said. “People who have adhered to the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order and social distancing measures have saved lives. Without these measures … we estimate that Michigan would have seen over 32,000 additional cases of COVID-19 and over 3,400 deaths. This shows how critical prevention will be as we move forward.”
She said everyone should continue to practice social distancing, wear masks in public and wash their hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
UNEMPLOYMENT PAYS OUT MORE THAN $5B
Mandates shutting down businesses, the goal of which was to cripple the spread of the virus, have also crushed Michigan’s economy. The same thing is happening all across the country, with unemployment rates at Great Depression-era levels.
The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency said Wednesday that since March 15, more than $5.6 billion in unemployment benefits have gone to 1,374,751 Michiganders.
Roughly 92% of eligible claimants have received benefits or have approved to do so, according to the UIA.
MICHIGAN UNEMPLOYMENT RESOURCES
State officials also announced that some 31,000 state employees would take temporary layoffs through late July under the federal work share program. Others will take periodic layoff days. The efforts should save the state some $80 million.
Whitmer previously announced she and top administrators were also taking pay cuts.