GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday created a COVID-19 Office of Accountability to keep an eye on all state spending linked to the coronavirus outbreak.
“The dollars we’ve used to keep people safe during this pandemic have come not only from the state treasury, but also from philanthropic sources and the federal government,” Whitmer listed at an afternoon press conference at the State Emergency Operations Center near Lansing. “Michiganders have the right to expect, no less so in a time of crisis, that state government will be responsible stewards of their resources.”
The office, which was created by executive order and which will exist within the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, will report to the state budget director and to Whitmer.
Its chief will be designated by DTMB, but Whitmer has appointed Michelle Ling to the post on an interim basis.
STATE: DAILY REPORT AFFECTED BY TECH PROBLEM
Infection and death figures from the state are generally released at 3 p.m. each day, but were delayed Monday until the evening because of a software malfunction, the state says, explaining that the program that processes test results stopped doing so. The state said the system didn’t lose any information, but that because it was still running the backlogged data, the daily report was incomplete.
The information that was processed showed an additional 86 deaths in Michigan linked to coronavirus, bringing the total to 4,135. At least 196 more infections were confirmed, bringing the total number of cases statewide to 43,950.
There are now 17,314 confirmed cases in Wayne County, which has been hit hardest by the outbreak. That county has recorded 1,924 deaths. Also in metro Detroit, Oakland County has had 7,499 cases and 762 deaths and Macomb County 5,736 cases and 643 deaths. Genesee County, where Flint is, has 1,647 confirmed cases and 199 deaths.
Kent County has recorded 1,854 cases, 68 more than the day prior. The number of deaths stands at 39.
There were four more deaths in Kalamazoo County, bringing the total to 22. It has 480 confirmed cases.
Berrien County recorded two more deaths for a total of 20. The county has 304 confirmed cases. Calhoun and Mecosta counties each recorded one more death for totals of 16 and two, respectively. Calhoun County has 244 confirmed cases and Mecosta has 14.
Within the Michigan Department of Corrections, 1,870 cases have been confirmed and 45 inmates have died after contracting the virus.
Also Monday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules that gives hospitals and funeral directors 24 hours to notify next of kin about a death. Loved ones then have 48 hours to make funeral arrangements.
The state ran its most coronavirus tests in a single day — 11,403 — on Friday. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said the state is working to increase that daily figure.
The percentages of positive tests are trending down and stabilizing, Khaldun said. On Friday, 9.9% of tests were positive. One week prior to Friday, on April 24, nearly 8,000 samples were tested and about 13% were positive. Four weeks prior, on April 3, about 5,500 samples were tested and nearly 40% were positive.
“As we aggressively identify disease and contain it, we expect (positive percentages) to go down even more,” Khaldun said.
On Saturday, the most recent day for which state data is listed, 10,577 samples were tested for coronavirus in Michigan labs and 8.8% came back positive.
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 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.
WHITMER REMAINS CAUTIOUS ON REOPENING
While officials have said there is reason for “cautious optimism” about the spread of the virus, they warn that it’s too soon to abandon social distancing measures. Whitmer and Khaldun noted more rapid increases in the rate of new infections in West Michigan and in some rural northern areas.
“If we reengage too soon or too quickly, we run the risk of a second wave of COVID-19,” Whitmer said, going to on say she expects “we are unanimous in that none of us wants that to happen and none of us wants to be in another stay-home order later this year.”
The governor reminded everyone that as the weather improves and more people get out of the house, people should remember to stay 6 feet away from everyone outside their immediate household and keep a mask on or on hand in case they come in contact with someone. Dr. Khaldun also reminded everyone to wash their hands frequently, which you should do with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
“We are certainly making progress, but we really must remain diligent as we continue to battle this virus,” Khaldun said.
In reference to large crowds at a few state parks, including in Grand Haven, while the weather was nice over the weekend, Whitmer said she was looking into whether they should remain open and would have more to say about the situation Wednesday.
Whitmer announced last week that construction and some other businesses can go back to work Thursday with safety protocols in place. She said Monday she expects to provide more information later this week about which industries will reopen in the next phase of economic reengagement. She did not specify which types of businesses would be next or whether they would open statewide or regionally.
While she hinted there may be an average two-week gap between waves, she also said that time could be shorter based on region and industry sector.
Citizens in about 50 communities across Michigan will vote Tuesday. About another 50 communities canceled their May 5 election when given the option, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said. Some that moved forward said they had to hold a vote because schools’ funding hinged on a May millage vote.
The state has amped up efforts to get out absentee ballots and decrease the number of people voting in person.
“We mailed all registered voters living in a jurisdiction with a local election — just over 740,000 voters — applications to request their ballot to be mailed to them directly,” Benson said at the Monday press conference.
“Voter turnout in this election is at 20% right now and will ultimately be more than twice the average turnout for our May local elections, which is typically around 12%,” Benson continued. “More than 140,000 citizens have returned their ballots by mail, demonstrating that even in times of great uncertainty, people want to vote and they want to weigh in on important local issues.”
Clerks are still required to have at least one polling place open for those who wish to or must vote in person. For those locations, the Secretary of State’s Office issued social distancing guidance and provided personal protection equipment.
Benson also reminded in-person voters to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands after voting.
Once the public health crisis is under control, one of the next big issues Whitmer and the Legislature will face is the state budget.
The revenues that the state has missed out on over the last two months are significant, particularly for the general fund.
Whitmer and her fellow governors across the country want more help from the feds.
”Governors from both sides of the aisle have been relentlessly trying to encourage the White House and Congress to ensure that that fourth supplemental (aid package) happens with the kind of flexibility that states need,” Whitmer said. “We anticipate that we will have a major budget issue if we don’t get that flexibility. We are doing the hard work of assessing how we might go about starting to mitigate some of the harshness of those decisions. We’re going to have to stay close to our treasurer, to our congressional delegation, to our budget director to ensure that as we’ve got to make some decisions and we get closer to the May 15 revenue estimating conference that we’ve got the best information so we can make decisions that are informed as we’re moving forward.”
The governor said she may know more about what cuts to this year’s budget will look like by the end of the month.
—News 8 political reporter Rick Albin contributed.