LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is ordering Michigan residents to stay home for at least three weeks to slow the spread of coronavirus, saying the move will help keep the number of cases manageable for our health care system.
“Now is the most crucial time for us to come together to protect ourselves and our families. We must work together to ‘bend the curve.’ We must do more to curtail community spread so our health system has a fighting chance,” Whitmer said at a Monday morning press conference. “The goal here is simple: Stay home. Stay safe. Save lives.”
“We have to make sure that our hospitals can continue to do this very important work and that they are not overwhelmed with patients who are severely sicked from this disease,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical officer, added. “These proactive public health measures are aggressive, but they are temporary. And if we all come together to implement them now, I’m confident we will slow the spread of COVID-19 here in Michigan.”
WHAT THE ORDER MEANS FOR YOU
The order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
Under it, people can leave their homes only for certain reasons: if they’re part of the critical infrastructure workforce, engaged in an outdoor activity or performing necessary tasks, like going to the grocery store. All public and private gatherings of any number outside a household are banned.
Whitmer stressed that grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and gas stations will all stay open. Restaurants can still offer takeout or delivery. She told people not to worry about the food supply, not to panic and not to hoard anything. She urged people to take advantage of delivery services when possible.
Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said those trips out to the grocery store should be limited to a single family member once per week, getting items needed only for that week.
You can still go out to exercise, but you should follow social distancing practices: Stay at least 6 feet away from other people. And you should still keep up common-sense health practices, primarily washing your hands frequently for 20 seconds with soap and warm water, coughing into your arm or a tissue rather than your hands and avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands.
Whitmer told people to check in with family members via phone, go outside for a walk when possible or even put up their holiday lights to maintain their mental health. She also reminded them to help their children understand what’s going on to help ease their stress.
Sheriff Fuller added that he won’t be taking anyone to jail who has a warrant out for a nonviolent crime, child support or minor ordinance infractions, saying he was doing his part to decrease the jail population and further prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
WHAT THE ORDER MEANS FOR BUSINESSES
Businesses have been told to suspend in-person operations “that are not necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations.”
The order spells out which workers are considered essential. They include but are not limited to health care workers, law enforcement and grocery store workers.
Businesses that don’t abide by the order will face fines, Whitmer said.
“Don’t play fast and loose with what is essential and what’s not. Don’t try to skirt the rules,” she warned. “If you’re not an essential business, you need to close and you need to protect your employees.”
The Michigan Secretary of State announced it was closing all offices effective 5 p.m. Monday to comply with the order. It urged people online to its website to complete business when possible and make future appointments.
Whitmer said she knows the economic hit is going to be hard. But, she said, it will be worse if we do nothing. She promised the state would do what it can to help mitigate the economic suffering.
MORE THAN 1,300 CASES, 15 DEATHS
Less than two weeks ago, no cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in Michigan. Tests run Sunday brought the state’s tally of confirmed cases to 1,328 (the fifth highest figure in the nation) and there have been 15 deaths (seventh highest nationally).
The highest numbers for both cases and deaths are concentrated in southeast Michigan: Wayne County, including the city of Detroit, has 638 cases and eight deaths; Oakland County has 329 cases and four deaths; Macomb County 175 cases and two deaths; and Washtenaw County 42 cases.
Kent County has 28 confirmed cases and one person has died. Ottawa County officials said Monday afternoon their cases were up to 13; not all of those are yet included in the official state count.
Dr. Khaldun added that dozens of people were in intensive care, though she did not have a precise figure available.
“We know that there is community spread in several areas of the state,” she said. “If we do nothing, very rough models estimate that the number of cases in Michigan count increase fivefold in the next week. We are acting right now to decrease that number.”
Kalamazoo County on Monday announced its first three confirmed cases of coronavirus. All three patients are adults and the cases are unrelated. Two have been traveling within Michigan and one has not. One is in the hospital. All three are medically stable.
One of the patients is a Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office deputy who is getting treatment and recovering. Health officials did not identify where the deputy may have contracted COVID-19, but assured the public that anyone who may have come into contact with the deputy is in quarantine. Those people were family and close friends, not members of the general public.
Muskegon and Newaygo counties also announced their first confirmed cases of the virus. Muskegon County’s patients are both women, one of whom had been traveling recently.
Berrien County, which saw its first cases over the weekend, on Monday announced three more, bringing the total in that county to five. The three new patients are all over the age of 60. One who is married to a woman who also tested positive for coronavirus; she was exposed at a concert for singer Sandi Patty, who tested positive. Two of the new patients are quarantining at home; the third is being treated at a St. Joseph hospital.
Health officials in all four counties they were looking into anyone who may have had close contact with the patients and were telling those people to self-isolate.
The Michigan Department of Corrections said a prisoner from Kinross Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, in the Upper Peninsula, tested positive for coronavirus. He has been in a hospital in the northern Lower Peninsula since March 11.
Khaldun said the state can test 1,000 people daily and capacity is growing. It’s now working to improve its reporting infrastructure for hospitals and commercial labs to get an accurate picture of what’s happening.
But she acknowledged it’s still very hard for people to get tested because there are so few test kits available.
“As a country, we did not make tests available quickly enough to be able to fully understand the scope of the problem,” she said.
She said health officials are looking at where additional hospital capacity is going to be needed and is trying to get a better handle on the real-time need for ventilators.
BENDING THE CURVE SO HOSPITALS CAN COPE
Whitmer said she knows the order is aggressive, but that it must be done.
“Right now, too many people are out and about unnecessarily,” Whitmer said, “so we must do more.”
The goal is to buy time for our health care system, Whitmer explained. In China and Italy, serious cases of COVID-19 spiked so quickly that hospitals could not keep up. Whitmer warned we’re on the same trajectory as Italy.
She said without action, one model indicates 7 million could contract the illness and up to 1 million could require hospitalization. The state has only 25,000 acute care beds.
The stay-at-home order is meant to keep the number of severe cases low enough long enough that hospitals can build “surge capacity,” ramp up testing and develop drugs to combat the virus.
“Stopping the spread of this virus is really the most important tool we have right now to keep our communities safe,” Whitmer said. “Without aggressive additional measures, more people will get sick, more people will die and our economy will suffer longer. Without additional aggressive measures, soon our hospitals will be overwhelmed — and we currently don’t even have enough beds, masks, gowns and ventilators. But if we all do our part and simply stay home, we have a shot at helping our health care system meet our needs.”
The governor had already banned gatherings of more than 50 people, shut down K-12 schools, bars, restaurant dining rooms, gyms, libraries, entertainment venues, and nail and hair salons, among other things. The stay-at-home order means schools will remain closed at least until April 13.
Whitmer said the decision to lift the stay-at-home order will be based on the number of cases and rate of spread, the ability to test for the disease and isolate those who are sick, and the status at hospitals.
COVID-19 presents with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. For most who contract it, symptoms are mild and they recover. 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. Talk to a doctor over the phone or a televisit and they will direct you on whether you should get tested and, if so, how.
WHITMER BLAMES SLOW ACTION FROM FEDS
Whitmer said the federal government did not do enough to prepare for the coronavirus and still isn’t doing enough to get hospitals the resources they need. She said one hospital’s recent shipment from the national stockpile of emergency supplies contained only enough for a single shift.
“Not even a full day’s worth of shifts. One shift,” she said. “While I can’t do enough overnight what the federal government should have done over months in planning, my team and I are working 24/7 to secure the things we need.”
She said she’s been frustrated by the lack of national planning and strategy.
She said that state government had managed to get its hands on millions of gloves and masks and thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer, citing aid from Michigan businesses and residents.
“While that’s a source of pride and that’s good, it is nowhere near enough,” she said.
Michigan’s neighbors Ohio and Illinois, as well as larger states California and New York, among others, have issued similar stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders within the last week. Whitmer anticipated more would follow suit.
“Without a comprehensive national strategy, we, the states, must take action,” Whitmer said.
The National Guard is being activated to help with humanitarian efforts like food distribution and preparing temporary medical facilities, but Whitmer said they are not involved in enforcement of her order.