Mar 30, 2020
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Michigan Coronavirus Briefing Transcript March 30
Governor Whitmer: (00:01)
He had a big heart and a moral compass that drove all the work that he did on the behalf of the people he represented, and his passing is a day of sadness that I think everyone around the Capitol and certainly in his district are feeling. Since the last press conference on Thursday, president Trump approved my request for a major disaster declaration. The declaration means that Michigan is now eligible for participation in the Federal Emergency Management Agency programming, that’s FEMA, to provide relief for Michiganders impacted by COVID-19 and measures to slow the spread of the virus. This is helpful. This is a good thing for our state. I’m hopeful that next the president will review my request for individual assistance programs that provide meals to families who need them and the rental assistance and temporary housing for families.
Governor Whitmer: (01:02)
I look forward to the federal government’s continued partnership, and we are grateful for the things that have happened over the course of the last few days to help us fight this virus. Truly grateful. I sent a letter to the United States secretary of defense, Mark Esper, requesting that the department of defense direct FEMA to support Michigan’s request to use the Michigan National Guard for humanitarian purposes and to use the US Army Corps of engineers to help construct temporary hospitals. Over the weekend, we received a shipment of 112,095 masks from the strategic national stockpile with another 8,000 on the way. Again, this is good news, but we still need more. We know that one hospital in the Detroit area will go through 10,000 of these masks in a day, and so this is helpful now in this moment, but we have a much greater need that we all need to be a part of making sure we meet.
Governor Whitmer: (02:03)
I want to acknowledge a few more businesses that have stepped up, and a number have, but Steelcase in particular, production of masks and face shields for our nurses and doctors, and the dedicated employees that they have that are manufacturing hand sanitizer. I signed a number of executive orders in the past couple of days including orders that push all April, 2020 state and city income tax filing deadlines to July of 2020. We’ve also expanded absentee voting in the May 5th elections. We’ve established a $2 million water restart grant program to restore service and access to clean water for Michiganders. We are protecting vulnerable populations in Michigan’s county jails and local lock-ups in juvenile detention centers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Governor Whitmer: (03:00)
And we’ve relaxed the scope of practice laws to give hospitals and other healthcare facilities the flexibility that they need to successfully deploy qualified physician assistants, nurses, and other healthcare providers to combat COVID-19. I signed two executive directives temporarily restricting discretionary spending by our state departments and agencies and temporarily suspending hiring, the creating of new positions, filling vacant positions, transfers and promotions within the executive branch of state government. We are doing our part. I signed an agreement between Michigan and the US Department of Labor to implement pandemic unemployment assistance and compensation programs to grant benefits to workers who do not already qualify for unemployment benefits.
Governor Whitmer: (03:54)
Include the self-employed, 1099 independent contractors and low wage workers who can no longer work because of this pandemic. The agreement also includes weekly benefits for all unemployed workers by $600 and extends benefit payments from 26 to 39 weeks. And I accepted the recommendation of the US Army Corps of engineers, the Detroit district, for an alternative care facility conversion at the TCF Center in the city of Detroit. FEMA will fund the construction and supply the state, and this space will have 900 bed spaces approximately. So we have a few more updated numbers. As of three o’clock yesterday, we had 5,486 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 132 deaths. We know that this number is going to continue to go up. Despite our aggressive efforts, this is to be expected. We will not see the benefit of these aggressive efforts for a little while, and that’s why it’s so important everyone continues to do your part.
Governor Whitmer: (05:05)
I think it’s important to pause for a minute and remember that each of these 132 Michiganders who’ve lost their lives had stories and families and friends and loved ones, people that we need to think about the real loss as we are combating a pandemic that is hurting our state and our people. Can’t lose sight of that. Over the weekend, MDHHS launched a new volunteer website, www.michigan.gov/fightCOVID19, where trained medical professionals can register to serve their fellow Michiganders by assisting hospitals in fighting COVID-19. We expect a great need for additional medical support in the coming days, and so we ask, please sign up now.
Governor Whitmer: (05:58)
State residents can also use the site to find out how they can help in their local communities, how they can connect to give blood or donate money or needed medical supplies. We’ve seen an incredible amount of strength and courage of Michiganders during this hard time of uncertainty, whether it’s from communities donating food, money and resources to those that need it or from businesses using their technology to manufacture personal protective equipment. To bend the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state, we must all work together as Michiganders.
Governor Whitmer: (06:38)
Whether you’re a medical professional looking to volunteer or someone who can give blood or donate to your local food bank, everyone can help out. We will get through this together. And when you see those numbers rise, don’t think that it doesn’t mean your participation, your staying at home, isn’t having an impact because it is and it will. Today, I also signed two supplemental budgets that reprioritize fundings to slow the spread of COVID-19. The supplemental was negotiated in good faith with my administration and the legislative leaders. Key priorities from both sides were included in the bill. But the world has changed since those negotiations, and we must react and change along with it. I’ll commend our state budget director, Chris Kolbe, and the legislative leaders who engaged and agreed that due to the incredible toll that COVID-19 has taken on our health and our families and our economies, that it was important that I veto a number of line items to save tax dollars. It’s too early to determine the exact impact on state revenues, and knowing there is the potential for a significant loss in revenue now-
Governor Whitmer: (07:55)
A bill for supplemental funding for anything other than dollars that can be utilized to help our COVID-19 response. I want to thank the legislative leaders, the Senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey, the Senate democratic leader, Jim Ananich, the house speaker, Lee Chatfield and the house democratic leader, Chris Greig. I’m grateful for their partnership during this tough time. With this action, today, we will be committing $150 million to combat COVID-19. To date, the state has already expended more than $80 million to begin securing the more than 20 million masks, 2,000 ventilators, nearly 9,000 ounces, I’m sorry, 9 million ounces of hand sanitizer, more than 255,000 boxes of gloves, 2.4 million gowns, more than 2,000 beds, 210,000 testing kits, 3,000 thermometers, 185,000 face shields, 22,000 cartons of disinfecting wipes, as well as other needed supplies.
Governor Whitmer: (09:03)
We have contracted for these things and it is our hope that they all will get to Michigan as our contracts reflect and require. Getting through this crisis requires all hands on deck. We’re working together in an unprecedented way to fight this unprecedented enemy, COVID-19. I’m proud of the leadership of our team, and that is inclusive of everyone here at the Capitol. People across our state are stepping up and doing their part during this time of crisis. Amy, who is using her time to clean up local rivers and waterways, all while social distancing. Lisa, who is taking care of her 90 year old mother and sewing masks for her neighbors who are healthcare workers. Paul, who is working from home wherever possible and maintaining our phone and internet services. Marie, who is working with her church to deliver food to families in need. Courtney, who’s a teacher who’s using Zoom to stay connected to her students.
Governor Whitmer: (10:04)
The coming days will be unlike any challenge we’ve ever had before. They will require fortitude, strength, and grace. Our frontline care workers, they need more support. Our sick will need more beds and care. Our unemployed will need help. Our businesses will need information. But Michiganders are strong, smart, and determined people. We’ve always looked to one another. No matter who you are, where you come from, how you identify, no matter your age, your risk factors, your race or socioeconomic status, your health and safety matters and I will keep fighting for you. We will get through this together so long as everyone does their part. And with that, I’m going to turn it over to our chief medical executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (10:58)
Thank you, governor Whitmer. I was saddened to hear of the passing of representative Isaac Robinson yesterday, and my deepest condolences go out to his family. As the governor mentioned, COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly in Michigan. As of yesterday, Michigan had 5,486 cases. We saw an increase of over 1,800 cases in just two days. We also know of 132 deaths. We are still in the early stages of spread in Michigan, and cases have not yet peaked. We, like other states in the country, are working hard to develop the best predictive models that will tell us how this disease will spread in our state. Current models suggest we are likely several weeks away from a peak in the number of cases here in Michigan. The goal of our response has been to slow the spread of the disease as much as possible, particularly so we protect our most vulnerable and so that we do not overwhelm our hospitals.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (12:07)
Unfortunately, we know that several of our hospitals in the state, particularly in Southeast Michigan, are at capacity. Last week, we started implementing our hospital load balancing plan, and we are pleased that many hospital leaders have stepped up to be relief hospitals in support of our public health response. Based on the trajectory of the spread of this disease and the number of people that are requiring hospitalization, we need to utilize alternative, nontraditional sites of care. As the governor mentioned, we’ve already identified the TCF Center in Detroit as a site, and plans are already underway to implement the build out at that facility to be able to take care of COVID-19 patients. We will need additional medical professionals, doctors, nurses, physician assistants, respiratory therapists and others, to respond to this crisis.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (13:08)
Yesterday, governor Whitmer also signed an executive order relaxing scope of practice laws in the state. This important order will allow qualified professionals to work in medical facilities to help take care of this increased patient load. This past weekend we also announced a new volunteer website, www.Michigan.gov/fightCOVID19. We encourage medical professionals who are willing and able to sign up. We are truly going to need everyone to chip in and donate their skills and expertise to fight this pandemic. We also continue to rapidly expand our testing capacity in the state. We’ve completed at least 15,000 tests between our state lab, hospitals and private laboratories. This broader testing will help us to get a better understanding of where the disease is in the state. While we are expanding our hospital capacity, getting more medical professionals to help and expanding our testing, the most important thing we can all do right now is heed the governor’s executive order to stay home and stay safe.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (14:22)
No one is immune to this disease. People, young people in their 20s, in their 30s, in their 40s are getting sick. People are unexpectedly dying. Everyone needs to stay home unless they absolutely must leave their house for food, medicine or to perform a critical function. Kids should not be outside playing with their neighbors. People should not be playing with each other in parks. People should not be leaving their homes to buy things that are not essential. This is not the time to have extended family gatherings. People must stay home. If we do the right thing and we do it now, we will be able to keep people from getting sick and save lives. With that, I’ll turn it back over to governor Whitmer.
Governor Whitmer: (15:12)
All right, thanks Dr. Khaldun. With that, I’m happy to open up for some questions from the press.
Speaker 4: (15:20)
Governor, [inaudible 00:15:24].
Governor Whitmer: (15:25)
I think that the president’s actions are warranted by the science, and I was pleased to see that we are continually evaluating data and information as we know it. I would anticipate that we will have a need to have an expansion. I’m not prepared to announce one in this moment. But we are looking very seriously about what our plan is going to be to meet the educational needs of our students, and I would anticipate probably another press conference to get this week on that subject.
Governor Whitmer: (16:10)
So I’m going to hand that to Dr. Khaldun. I’ll just observe real quick that without real robust testing, it makes models very hard to drive evidentiary conclusions. It’s a challenge, but we’re getting more information every day. And our testing, as Dr. Khaldun observed, is ramping up. New York, who’s been ahead of us in terms of confronting COVID-19, has reported some successes with regard to where the numbers were headed and what they’re seeing as a result of stricter guidelines and orders from the executive office in terms of social distancing. So that’s positive, but that’s anecdotal. It’s not evidence based. I guess I will make sure that Dr. Khaldun has an opportunity to answer as she’s studying this in real time.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (17:02)
All right, so thank you governor. So yes, we are looking at many models from various experts in the state. And so right now, again, if anyone says there’s one particular date where we know this is going to peak or we know how many people are going to get it, are going to die, it’s just not true right now. So we think it’s going to be several weeks. We know we’re on the up slope right now of cases. We know our hospitals are going to need more beds. We’re going to need thousands more ventilators, and a lot of people are going to get sick. So again, we’re trying to expand our testing as much as possible and continue to improve our models.
Speaker 6: (17:34)
You had mentioned that there’s been a number of PPE and ventilators from the national stockpile. Do you have numbers on how much PPE and ventilators the state has and how much it needs in the coming weeks and months?
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (17:53)
All right, so we have about 1,700 ventilators right now. We think we’ll need many more than that, I mean by thousands. So there’s no question we’re going to need an additional five to 10,000 ventilators, and the supplies to intubate people, whether it’s endotracheal tubes and other medical supplies. So again, we have one estimate that says that for every inpatient that has COVOD-19, we’ll need 10 N-95 masks, just that day for that one patient. So that gives you an example of how many N-95 masks we’ll need as this continues.
Speaker 7: (18:28)
[inaudible 00:18:28] Is that true and if so, why?
Governor Whitmer: (18:36)
I think people should familiarize themselves with the guidance from LARA, our department and licensing and regulation. There have been some I think better information out there than what is being talked about in the public. We want to ensure that doctors have the ability to prescribe these medicines. We also want to make sure that people who have prescriptions that predated COVID-19 have access to the medication that they need. And so all of the work that we’ve done is trying to strike that balance so that people who have a requirement for those medications prior to COVID-19 are still able to get the access to the drugs that they need.
Speaker 7: (19:24)
[inaudible 00:19:24] Is there a specific example of what that is? And how do you respond [inaudible 00:19:34]?
Governor Whitmer: (19:36)
I think they should look at the most recent guidance from LARA and familiarize themselves with that. I would encourage them to do that. We obviously want to be nimble in this crisis, and I think we have a duty to make sure that we’re making educated policies that reflect the needs of the people of our state. And so we are continually updating and adjusting as we need to. No one could predict that we would be in this position a week ago, and we can’t predict precisely where we will be in a week from now. But we know the trajectory that it’s on and we’re working incredibly hard to flatten the curve. But each of these decisions has ramifications. And that’s why we wanted to make sure that it was very clear what we were doing and why. So I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people from the medical society to individual doctors with regard to our current policy on that front.
Speaker 7: (20:31)
They agree you shouldn’t use [inaudible 00:20:34]?
Governor Whitmer: (20:35)
No, they agree that we’ve given the proper guidance so that educated decisions can be made that are supported by the science and also protective of patients who require those drugs and have required them pre-COVID-19.
Governor Whitmer: (21:05)
We know that that’s going to be a pressure point, and that’s precisely why we’ve called out to people who are perhaps retired in the medical field to consider coming back and helping out. That’s why we’ve made it easier for people to join the front lines. All of these are pieces of the problem that we know is going to exist in terms of making sure that we’ve got first responders and frontline medical professionals to do the work. So I don’t know if Dr. J have to add.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (21:35)
There’s no question that we don’t have enough right now. We don’t have enough medical professionals today to staff a 1,000 bed facility. But we are aggressively loosening the scope of practice laws, calling for volunteers and also are going to be looking across the state for medical professionals working in areas where they might not be as hard hit right now to perhaps volunteer in the area as well.
Speaker 8: (21:55)
Question for Dr. Khaldun. What types of patients are being transported to out-of-state hospitals and what types of patients will be in those field hospitals once they’re set up?
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (22:09)
So it depends. Right now, some hospitals are accepting patients, relief hospitals are accepting patients with COVID-19 and others are not. So it depends on what hospital and what patient at this time. For the TCF Center, we currently are planning to have COVID-19 positive patients who are not critically ill to be served in that facility. But as we start developing these alternative sites, it will depend on where we are and the medical staffing available as far as what patients are treated there.
Speaker 8: (22:39)
[inaudible 00:22:39] Is there a shortage among the particular [inaudible 00:22:48]?
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (22:52)
Right. So there is a shortage of acute care physicians, but I’d say it’s certainly nurses. We are definitely having a significant shortage of nurses to be able to take care of COVID-19 patients right now. And that’s where the need is.
Governor Whitmer: (23:17)
So the system’s overwhelmed, be sure, but our system’s been up and running where other states have gone down. And so while it is cumbersome, we’re asking for people to be patient. We are working incredibly hard to make sure that we’re able to meet the need. I’ll just ass this, we have, by executive order, loosened up some of the rules around how to go about filing unemployment, what the timing looks like, what you need from your employer, so that we make it easier for people to actually file. So we’re recognizing the hurdles that are there and trying to level them so that it’s easier for folks to get the support that they’re going to need.
Speaker 10: (23:53)
Do you expect the number of cases [inaudible 00:24:03]?
Governor Whitmer: (24:08)
So we’re working with director Washington. I signed an EO today with regard to policies of transport and encouraging local jails and facilities to consider doing exactly what you just described. And we’re looking at our population as well with an eye toward the possibility of that and working with director Washington to make sure that we’ve got a thoughtful process that doesn’t compromise public safety and recognizes the challenges we have because of COVID-19.
Speaker 11: (24:39)
Regarding the May elections, are you [inaudible 00:24:44]?
Governor Whitmer: (24:51)
What we’re trying to do is to encourage voting by mail, voting from home. We know that the safest place for people to be right now is at home. We know that for the foreseeable future, that is going to be a fact that we have to grapple with, and we can’t sacrifice core democratic principles. So we need to figure out how to make sure that people can exercise their right to vote and to do it in a safe manner. And so each decision that we’ve made has been motivated by those two goals, and I would anticipate that where there are additional improvements to be made, we’ll make them. It also depends on kind of where we are at in the scope of COVID-19 and the increase that is continuing to grow right now here in Michigan.
Governor Whitmer: (25:48)
Yeah, I’ve talked to everybody. I am on the phone constantly with the administrator of FEMA, also people from the Army Corps of engineers. I talked to vice president Pence a couple of times in the last few days. We’re grateful for their work that they’re doing. They’re working 24/7 as are we. And I think that my experience is not unlike that of governors and mayors across the country who are also trying to procure as much personal protection equipment as we can. And so we’re hopeful that all of these contracts that I cited with all these expected PPE to come into Michigan come to fruition. But our experience has been that other contracts we’ve entered into have been delayed or have been diverted to the federal government, as has been the case in Massachusetts and Illinois and Kentucky. You’ve heard all their governors say the same thing that I have.
Governor Whitmer: (26:44)
So we’re just going to continue to scrap as much as we can. We’re going to try to bid, we’re going to try to mobilize Michiganders who might have N-95 masks in warehouses to donate them. We need all the help we can get from the federal government, from the work that we’re doing to procure on our own, to Michiganders who are stepping up and helping out. We all have to be a part of this.
Speaker 12: (27:09)
Governor Whitmer: (27:19)
So at this point, I’ve issued executive directives for hiring freezes and to shore up spending in our departments. We’ve got a lot of essential services. We’ve got to continue to meet the needs of our people, but where there are unplanned expenditures or potential addition to operations, we’re going to stop all of that because we know we’ve got to be really conservative right now. We know that the toll that COVID-19 is going to take on our state economy and on our ability to meet the needs of people is going to be real and it’s going to be felt in the budget. We’ve had great productive conversations with the legislative leadership, both sides of the aisle. We all have a healthy respect for the challenges that lie ahead and we’re going to continue to work together to meet those challenges.
Speaker 13: (28:10)
[inaudible 00:28:10] Non-emergency road work, non-essential. Do you have any plans?
Governor Whitmer: (28:16)
We’re having that conversation right now. Internally, I’ve not made a decision yet. I do know this. The fewer people that are out and about, the better. As we see our COVID-19 challenge continuing to climb every single day, that is always kind of the core of how I’m looking at all of these issues. I’m always driven by the best medical advice. But I have not made a decision. I’m not going to announce one right now. All right, thanks.
Speaker 1: (28:42)
That was governor Gretchen Whitmer…