GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday extended Michigan’s stay-at-home order through April 30, saying Michiganders must stay committed to social distancing measures to slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.
“When we all take this seriously, we will save lives in Michigan,” Whitmer said. “We will save the front-line health care providers that are struggling to keep up with the need. And we will come out of this in a more robust way where we can get our economy reengaged.”
She also warned that things won’t go back to normal as soon as the stay-at-home order lifts.
“The extension almost certainly won’t be the last we have to say about how we protect the safety of the people of our state,” she said. “It’s going to take us some time to get through this crisis. And while we hope to reengage parts of our economy, we must always do so based on what the best sciences and best practices for our health dictate. It will take some time to safely and responsibly reopen the economy.”
Under the extended “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, you must continue to stay home unless you are an essential worker or unless you must leave to perform an essential errand, like getting groceries or going to the pharmacy. Preferably, only one person from a household should go out for essential errands. Older people, who are more at risk to develop a severe case of COVID-19, are advised not to go out at all and instead rely on delivery services whenever possible.
In a change from the initial version of the order, the extension requires large stores to limit the number of people inside to four for every 1,000 square feet for floor space. Small stores must limit the number of people inside, including employees, to 25% of regular occupancy limits. Stores must set up lines for people to wait to get in and those lines must have markings for shoppers to stand 6 feet apart. Big box stores must also close their carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden center, plant nursery and paint departments. Additionally, auto dealerships may be open for remote services, but showrooms must stay closed.
“If you’re not buying food or medicine or other essential items, you should not be going to the store,” Whitmer said.
You can go out to exercise or for outdoor recreational activities, but you should not travel for vacations, including to vacation rentals and second homes. All gatherings outside a single household are banned.
WORKING TO FLATTEN THE CURVE
The goal of all the social distancing measures is to keep people from interacting and slow the spread of coronavirus, keeping the number of severe cases low enough that hospitals can keep up.
The latest data from the state shows that as of Wednesday, Michigan has recorded 21,504 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,076 people have died after contracting it. That’s 1,158 more cases and 117 more deaths than the day prior.
“We are seeing some very early data that suggests the growth rate for positive cases may be slowing, but there’s still not enough testing happening across our state,” Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said, sitting next to the governor during a Thursday afternoon news conference.
Khaldun said there would be updates in the coming days on expanding testing capacity. The state ran about 3,600 tests Tuesday (the most recent day for which data is available) and about third of those came back positive. So far, the most tests labs have run in a single day is about 7,300.
“We already know that there are some parts of the state where there is community spread. This means now, more than ever, we have to double down and do everything we can to fight this disease. Too many people are getting sick and too many people are dying,” Khaldun continued. “All model projections are clear that without sustained social distancing measures — meaning if we loosen up too soon — more people will die and hospitals will become overwhelmed.”
She explained that slowing the spread of the disease will give hospitals the time they need to build surge capacity so they can treat everyone who needs their care.
“The upcoming weeks are going to continue to be incredibly difficult, but I am confident we are doing the right things and we really must not let up if we are going to successfully fight COVID-19 in Michigan,” Khaldun said.
The worst of the outbreak is in and around Detroit. Wayne County, including the city, has a total of 10,093 confirmed cases and 504 people have died there; Oakland County has 4,247 cases and 246 deaths; and Macomb County has 2,783 cases and 165 deaths. Genesee County, which includes Flint, has 755 confirmed cases and 48 deaths.
The Michigan Department of Corrections has 290 confirmed cases and four prisoners have died.
Kent County is reporting 240 cases and 10 deaths; one of those is not yet included in the state total and will be reflected in Friday’s update. Six have been at the Metron of Cedar Springs nursing home, where 31 residents and five employees contracted the disease.
The death Ottawa County announced Wednesday (its first) is now included in the state tally. It has 59 confirmed cases.
Khaldun said the field hospital set up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the TCF Center in downtown Detroit, staffed by area hospitals, would start taking stable COVID-19 patients Friday.
“We’re going to start with 25 patients. We’ll start ramping up as we need to, and again, pivoting as we see the data on hospitalizations moving forward,” Khaldun said.
A second field hospital with 1,000 beds is still being set up at an expo center in Novi. That should be up and running in a couple of weeks. Khaldun said the state still needs doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists to volunteer to staff the field hospitals. Volunteers can go to Michigan.gov/fightCOVID19 to sign up.
Coronavirus is disproportionately affecting minorities. Even though only 14% of Michigan residents are African American, some 40% of the people who have died of COVID-19 in the state have been African American, authorities say.
“This virus is holding up a mirror to our society and reminding us of the deep inequities in our country,” Whitmer said. “From basic lack of access to care, to access to transportation, to lack of protections in the workplace … that hit people of color in vulnerable communities the hardest.”
She announced the creation of a task force consisting of government and health care leaders dedicated to addressing the disparity. It will be chaired by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and will start meeting this week.
“We know that generations of racial disparities and inequality has a detrimental impact on the lives of people across the state,” Gilchrist said in a statement. “The coronavirus pandemic has shown this inequity to be particularly true, especially in the Black community, where the health of our friends and family has been disproportionately impacted. That’s why we are taking immediate action to assemble some of the greatest minds to tackle this racial injustice now and in the future.”
Michigan has the third-highest numbers of both COVID-19 cases and and deaths in the nation, behind New York and New Jersey.
“The number of deaths has increased and will continue to increase, and that’s why we’ve got to continue to taking this so seriously,” Whitmer said. “We are in control of our fate here and it depends on everyone doing their part.”
A model of the coronavirus outbreak from the University of Washington — which the White House has been using — has Michigan’s cases peaking this week, but Whitmer said that model assumes extreme sheltering in place that’s not happening anywhere in the country and isn’t taking into account the actual number of cases in Michigan. Her administration is relying on models from the University of Michigan that show social distancing through April 30 will push the peak back and also lower it so there are fewer cases.
“These actions make a big difference,” the governor said. “By observing social distancing, by adhering to the stay-at-home order, we’re going to protect more families, we’re going to save more lives, and we’re going to help ourselves get back on our feet sooner, which will be better for our economy in the long run.”
COVID-19 generally 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 the elderly and those with preexisting health problems.
If you think you have coronavirus, call your health care provider. Unless you are in need of emergency help, do not go to the emergency room. Get advice from a doctor over the phone or a televisit and they will direct you on how to get tested.
‘TWO CRISES: HEALTH AND ECONOMIC’
The “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order went into effect March 24 and was originally scheduled to run out April 13, though there was always the chance it could end up be longer. Earlier this week, the Republican-led state Legislature extended the state of emergency to the end of the month, paving the way for Whitmer to extend the stay-at-home order.
But House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, said in a series of tweets Thursday that extending the stay-at-home order was “bad for families,” citing the economic impact of the closures and widespread unemployment.
During the Thursday afternoon press conference, Whitmer, a Democrat, made is clear she’s not going to make any exceptions to what is deemed essential under the order.
“It’s important to be clear that while we can come up with all sorts of scenarios where we can make an argument that someone’s safe in whatever activity they want to do, every single exception to a Stay Home, Stay Safe order makes this more porous and makes it less likely to work,” she said. “It means more people are going to get sick, more people are going to die, and our economy is going to suffer for longer. Golf, landscaping — these seem to be ones that we hear the most from the Legislature, some of the Republican legislators — it’s not critical infrastructure. It’s just not.”
She noted that every interaction between people, no matter how brief, can increase risk.
“We’ve got two crises that we’re confronting right now: one’s a health crisis and one’s an economic crisis. If we don’t get the health crisis under control, the economic crisis will go on and on and on,” she said.
The governor said she’s going to keep taking action to prevent a second wave of severe cases.
Michigan’s unemployment system has been overwhelmed by a massive increase in people seeking claims.
“This is an unprecedented number of people that are looking for help,” Whitmer said.
The state has more people working the phones to try to process all of those, but people are urged to go online to apply. Still, Whitmer has said it’s still going to take time to get to everyone.
“We’re making progress. If people are listening or reading and they’re still frustrated, I hope that they’ll give us a little more grace as we get to them — but we will get to them and everyone will get the unemployment benefits that they’re eligible for,” Whitmer said.