Apr 2, 2020
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Briefing Transcript April 2: Orders K-12 Schools Close for Rest of Year
Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan held a press conference on April 2 on coronavirus. She ordered K-12 schools close for the rest of the year, sets guidelines for remote learning. Read the full transcript of her press briefing here.
Governor Whitmer: (00:01)
Good morning. I’m here at the Michigan State Capitol in my office, and I’m joined by our Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. I want to begin by thanking the amazing Michiganders who have stepped up to help others who are suffering in the COVID-19 crisis. During these difficult times, I have seen the best in people. I’ve seen what makes Michigan so special, and I’ve been reminded by why I’m so proud to be a Michigander.
Governor Whitmer: (00:29)
Since I took office, my administration and I have been committed to lead with transparency and honesty. Obviously when I took office 15 months ago, neither I nor anyone could have anticipated we would be confronting a global pandemic. So today we have to have a very candid and open important conversation with you. In just 13 days, we’ve gone from zero to 1,232 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus, COVID-19. It has doubled over the weekend.
Governor Whitmer: (01:06)
This virus is spreading exponentially. And in the ordinary situation, if you get sick, you can go to the hospital. We know that the medical team would have the appropriate personal protection equipment like masks, and face shields, and gowns. They’d prescribed some medicine and you’d be okay. But COVID-19 is a global pandemic, it’s a novel virus. There is no cure, there is no vaccine. The only tool that we have to fight it at the moment and to support our healthcare system to respond is to give them the opportunity by buying some time.
Governor Whitmer: (01:50)
And let me tell you why that’s so important. We have roughly 10 million people in our state. There is a model that anticipates that if we stay on our current trajectory, just like Italy, over 70% of our people could get infected with COVID-19. Of that 7 million people projected, about a million of them would need to be hospitalized.
Governor Whitmer: (02:21)
Let me give you a little perspective here. We have about 25,000 acute care beds in Michigan. Think about that. That’s where we are headed currently. So stopping the spread of this virus is really the most important tool that we have right now to keep our communities safe. That means 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 be overwhelmed. And we currently don’t even have enough beds, masks, gowns, and ventilators.
Governor Whitmer: (03:07)
But if we all do our part and simply stay home, we have a shot at helping our healthcare system meet our needs. Because this disease can’t spread person to person if we’re not out there. So we work together and we take this seriously. We can slow the spread of COVID-19. But right now too many people are still out and about unnecessarily. So we must do more.
Governor Whitmer: (03:39)
Our problem has been exacerbated because we’re still not getting what we need from the federal government. Last week, the President’s message to our nation’s governors was essentially that we’re on our own to handle getting supplies. Let me just put a finer point on that. We just received our allotment from the federal government’s national strategic stockpile. The allotment of personal protection equipment for one of our hospitals was 747 and 95 masks, 204 gowns, 4,467 gloves, and 64 face shields. Now with the exception of the gloves, that allotment is barely enough to cover one shift at that hospital, not even a full days worth of shifts, one shift. So while I can’t do overnight what the federal government should have done over the course of months in planning, my team and I are working 24/7 to secure the things we need. So far we have secured more than 4 million gloves, 4,000,095 masks, and thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer, thanks to Michigan businesses, Michigan companies, Michigan distilleries and Michiganders who are pitching it. And while that’s a source of pride and that is good, it is nowhere near enough.
Governor Whitmer: (05:17)
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 spreads so our health system has a fighting chance. Today I’m issuing a Stay Home, Stay Safe Executive Order for all Michiganders, and it goes into effect just after midnight tonight for at least the next three weeks.
Governor Whitmer: (05:43)
Without a comprehensive national strategy, we the States must take action. We are joining a number of other States that have started and I anticipate many will follow, States like Ohio and Illinois, New Jersey, California, and many others including New York. We are doing this because it is absolutely necessary to protect the health of our people.
Governor Whitmer: (06:08)
The goal here is simple, stay home, stay safe, save lives. This will be temporary. This intervention is important to buy time so we can create surge capacity in our hospitals, so we can ramp up testing, and develop therapeutic drugs that may lower hospitalization and fatality rates. Please know that even with today’s action, the number of cases will go up yet today, tomorrow in the days ahead. It will take some time for us to impact this. We will be continually evaluating the data, the science, the impact on our health. It is going to take greater testing. We’ve made strides, but we must do more so we can understand what the challenge is that we are confronting, so we can draw conclusions based on data. It’s been observed, if it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days, six feet away from one another, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.
Governor Whitmer: (07:22)
It’s on all of us to do our part. Our ability to safely lift this order will depend on factors like data on COVID-19 infections and the diseases rate of spread, depend on whether sufficient medical personnel, hospital beds, and equipment exists to meet anticipated medical need, and the state’s capacity to test for COVID-19 cases and isolate infected people.
Governor Whitmer: (07:53)
I want you to know I didn’t make this decision lightly. I’ve consulted with medical experts from across the country and right here at home from University of Michigan to Penn, to Johns Hopkins, to Harvard. Dr Khaldun and all of these experts recommended today’s action, and it is clear this is what we can and must do to protect ourselves.
Governor Whitmer: (08:19)
We will all have to make significant sacrifices. By taking this action we protect our public health and ultimately the hardship on our economy. This is the time we must come together as Michiganders. If we stay home, except for essential work and essential needs, we can each be a part of making the difference here. During this time, critical services will remain open. Businesses and operations that do work that sustains or protects life can continue to perform that work in person. But in doing that critical work, they must take aggressive steps to minimize the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.
Governor Whitmer: (09:03)
… To minimize the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible. Your grocery stores will be open. I have checked on our whole supply chain for food and it will be accessible. Do not panic. Do not hoard. These services will remain open. Your pharmacy will, too, so you can get your prescriptions. Your banks and credit unions. You can fill your car with gas. You can find the full list of critical services that will remain open at michigan.gov/coronavirus.
Governor Whitmer: (09:36)
Remember, you can go outside, get some fresh air, walk your dog. Just be smart about it and maintain that six foot difference between you and anyone else. And one more thing on the topic of school closures. This order means that our schools will remain closed at least through April 13th. I will have more to say on this subject soon.
Governor Whitmer: (10:02)
Now I know this is hard. I know this is going to be disruptive and it’s certainly going to be hard on our economy as well. But our action will save lives. In the long run, doing this now shortens the time our economy suffers. When we look back at this, we’ve got to be able to say, we did everything we could.
Governor Whitmer: (10:24)
On a personal note, I know that the lack of control can be disorienting, so I urge you to focus on what you can control. This crisis can take a toll on our mental health. Check in with family. Call your loved ones, go for a walk, read those books on your list or even go outside and put your holiday lights back up. We must keep our wits about us. That means all of us. Be sensitive to how our kids are feeling. They are not immune from the stress that is going on in this environment. Check in with them and help them understand and give them the reassurance they need.
Governor Whitmer: (11:03)
Young people, I’m talking to you now. You’re not immune from this. You can get this virus and, in fact, 40% of the hospitalizations and positive cases are among people 20 to 49. You can carry this without even knowing it and be unknowingly exposing others to it. If you don’t take this order seriously, we will have to observe these situations longer than we need to.
Governor Whitmer: (11:36)
So to everyone, please be smart. Follow the order. Think about the daughter who has asthma or the grandpa that has COPD or the sister who has MS. For the countless healthcare workers who are putting their health at risk to keep all of us cared for. And do it for yourself.
Governor Whitmer: (11:59)
We’re working to prepare for the long-term economic challenges of this crisis. They will be immense, from unemployment to helping our businesses get back up on their feet. Coming back will take time and it won’t be easy. We’re working with the business community to help Michigan businesses and employers weather this unprecedented crisis and we will keep working around the clock to keep Michiganders safe.
Governor Whitmer: (12:26)
Please continue to do your part. Stay home, wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your face. Cover your mouth with your elbow or your arm. Stand six feet apart from one another. And if you think you should be tested for coronavirus, call on the phone. Call your healthcare provider. Our aggressive action today will help mitigate how many people get sick and how long our economy suffers.
Governor Whitmer: (12:54)
I’ve seen some remarkable things in this time of crisis. This is a test unlike any we’ve seen before. We are up to it. We will get through this, but be smart. Take every precaution and do your part. Take this seriously because it is serious. With that, I’ll hand it over to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (13:19)
Thank you Governor Whitmer. We continue to see significant increases in the number of cases of COVID-19 in Michigan every day. As of this morning, as the Governor mentioned, Michigan has 1,232 confirmed cases. As of this morning, we also know of 15 deaths. The cases are spread out across dozens of counties across the state including the upper peninsula. It is affecting people across all ages from the very young children to those over the age of 80.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (13:56)
We’ve been preparing and responding for more than two months in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and with our dedicated leaders across all of state government. We were ready to provide testing in our state lab the day the CDC said we were able to. We have more than tripled the number of tests we can run in our state lab. And we have worked to build a system across the state where other hospitals and private labs can send us their data so we can share it with the public and accurately track cases.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (14:32)
Now we can test at least 1,000 people a day and that number continues to grow. We are also working diligently to make sure we can improve our reporting infrastructure so that everyone can get an accurate picture of the number of negative tests that are being completed in the state.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (14:55)
However, we know there are many people who are still unable to get a test. As a country, we did not make tests available quickly enough to be able to fully understand the scope of the problem. We know that there is community spread in several areas of the state.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (15:18)
Michiganders have come together to implement the important social distancing measures under governor Whitmer’s direction. Decreasing large assemblages and not dining-in at restaurants or going to bars. Now’s the time, however, where we must do more and we knew this day would potentially come.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (15:40)
If we do nothing, very rough models estimate that the number of cases in Michigan could increase five-fold in the next week. We are acting right now to decrease that number. If everyone stays at home, if they only leave their home for essential reasons and practice the appropriate social distancing, we will slow the spread of the disease.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (16:07)
I’m also a practicing emergency medicine physician and I’ve had some very heartfelt conversations with my colleagues across the country over the past couple of weeks. There are ICUs across the country and here in the state of Michigan that are full of dozens of people with COVID-19. All of them on ventilators. Emergency departments are needing to pick and choose who gets to go on a ventilator and who does not. People who were previously young and healthy are now fighting for their lives.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (16:45)
Our frontline staff in the hospitals and clinicians are working tirelessly around the clock taking care of patients with COVID-19 while keeping up with the usual demands of a busy emergency department and a busy intensive care unit. 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 sickened from this disease.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (17:15)
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. With that, I will turn it back over to Governor Whitmer.
Governor Whitmer: (17:31)
Thank you, Dr. Khaldun. I’d be happy to open it up for some questions from the press.
Speaker 1: (17:37)
Can you speak to how this [inaudible 00:17:39] order will be enforced. Will the National Guard be called in at all? Or how will it be enforced here in Michigan?
Governor Whitmer: (17:46)
So, a couple of points. First and foremost, this is not a recommendation, this is an order. And we take it very seriously. This is about the public health of our people. We’ve ensured that essential services are still available, that if someone needs to go out and get food, that they can do that. And that-
Governor Whitmer: (18:03)
If someone needs to go out and get food that they can do that and the food supply chain is robust and prepared to meet the needs of people across the state. We’ve also ensured that if you need to do banking or gas up your car, you can do some of those fundamental things that are necessary for life. Go and get your prescription. But for any businesses that don’t heed this order and they’re not essential services, I would anticipate that there will be fines associated with not doing that and they will be shut. We have a moment to stem the crisis that we see unfolding before us and it’s going to take all of us to take those actions seriously. And that’s precisely why this order’s so important right now.
Governor Whitmer: (18:43)
With regard to questions about the National Guard, they are helping with humanitarian efforts, not on any sort of a law enforcement front because we’ve got to ensure that food gets where it needs to be, that we are setting up temporary hospitals, temporary hospital beds, medical abilities to meet the need. And so they are helping in states across the nation. And it’s in that capacity.
Speaker 2: (19:09)
But there won’t be any checkpoints or anything like that on the roadways on the highways, that kind of thing?
Governor Whitmer: (19:16)
No. At this point in time, what we are asking is that people recognize this is an order that they must comply for their own health, for the safety of others and for the longterm health of our economy. Any businesses that don’t comply, there will be ramifications for it to be sure. We have confidence that when Michiganers understand how serious this is, if you really have been paying attention or if you’re now suddenly starting to pay attention, you know that we all have to do our part and for some of us it’ll look simply … Doing your part will just look like staying at home. For others and we’ll be staying at home and going online and making a donation to the food bank. For others perhaps they can call 211 and see if there’s something they can do, checking in on elderly friends and neighbors over the phone or FaceTime.
Governor Whitmer: (20:07)
There are ways of coping with this. I’m not suggesting it will be easy, but if we all do our part and that means business owners too, don’t play fast and loose with what is essential and what’s not. Don’t try to skirt the rules. If you’re not an essential business, you need to close and you need to protect your employees. We’re confident that the vast majority of people are going to do the right thing. We’re imploring those who are maybe still uneducated in how serious this is, that perhaps now they will understand because this is an order. And this is going to be something that everyone’s got to be a part of following.
Speaker 3: (20:52)
What about restaurants and carry out delivery services, things like that? Are those still okay?
Governor Whitmer: (20:53)
Restaurants, the carry out, dine out option is still something that is available to people. This is an essential service, which is the feeding of the people of our states. Grocery stores, convenience stores, the pharmacy, the restaurant where you can get your takeout, those will all still continue to serve the public. But we ask the public to, where you can make use of a delivery service, do that, where you don’t have to physically be the one to go out and get it. And there are others who are doing that, make use of it if it’s available to you.
Speaker 4: (21:29)
Governor, what [inaudible 00:21:31] is there for people to use to decide whether or not they’re covered by this order?
Governor Whitmer: (21:38)
I think that as you read the order, and I know you haven’t had a chance to scrutinize all the language in the order, but I think it’s pretty clear about what services are considered essential and whether or not you fall into those parameters are not. I do think that the business community has had an opportunity to give some input over the course of our research and development of this order. And I think that we’ve made it pretty clear in the terms of the order.
Speaker 5: (22:07)
This question is for both of you. You’ve mentioned in your statement, Dr., about thinking of the healthcare workers that are trying to battle this and there seems to be some inconsistency with the guidelines for those healthcare workers between state recommendations and the CDC recommendations as to whether they exposed to a potential case, maybe have been asked by the state to keep working but not to quarantine. My question is, is this the safest move for those workers, but also for patients and families tied to them?
Governor Whitmer: (22:39)
I’ll have to ask Dr. Khaldoon to weigh in on that one.
Dr. Khaldoon: (22:42)
We have used, for all of our guidance in the state, we have to look first to the CDC guidelines and we consult with them when we implement our own guidelines. We have to make very difficult choices and make sure that, especially healthcare workers who are symptomatic, are not at work period and that they get the appropriate test if it is warranted and if they test positive that they stay at home. We are actually in alignment with CDC guidelines and we just had to get a little more granular because our clinicians were asking for that guidance.
Speaker 6: (23:14)
[inaudible 00:23:14] cut production at their plants. Are they subject to this as well and how do you account for the ones who are trying to make essential equipment, PPE stuff?
Governor Whitmer: (23:27)
Yeah. If you’re making essential equipment, you are covered in this order in terms of an essential activity that will continue on. Yes, they are covered by this order. If they are retrofitting to meet critical needs of our nation right now and then the health of our people, then that is an essential service that absolutely would be contemplated and encouraged and permitted under this order.
Speaker 6: (23:52)
What are the companies associated with the business whose perhaps violating…
Governor Whitmer: (23:56)
Yeah. I mean, Kathy, the fines, we will have to give you some more information on exactly what that looks like. I can tell you that the Director of the Health and Human Services Department is the primary when it comes to assessing and writing those. So I think we’ll have to give you a little more information when we have a moment.
Speaker 7: (24:20)
Governor, you touched on this, but what changed or occurred or didn’t occur to make you ramp up the earlier basically advice as opposed to and order with consequences?
Governor Whitmer: (24:34)
Well, a couple of things. First of all, exponential growth. We know that we are not capable of testing everyone who needs to be tested because we don’t have enough tests from the federal government. Despite that, we’ve seen exponential growth in the number of presumptively positives. We know the trajectory that we’re on and I’ve talked to Dr. Khaldoon and experts across the country and it became very clear that our healthcare system is quickly going to get overwhelmed and without the support of the PPEs and all of the other essential pieces of protection that we need and the resources and the bandwidth for our hospitals. We have to be aggressive in curtailing the community spread. And it’s by people and keep away from each other. What we know is that there still are gatherings happening that there still are people that are out and about conducting their lives as though we are not living in the midst of a global epidemic.
Governor Whitmer: (25:32)
We don’t have beaches that are open right now, but we all saw the footage and I can’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would want to congregate in this era. But the fact of the matter is, we still have people that are doing it and that’s why we’ve got to be really clear about the seriousness of this and put the full weight of an executive order behind it. These are all different pieces of it, but I’ll tell you the current trajectory we’re on, looks a lot like Italy. And if you’ve seen any of the coverage about what’s happening in Italy, what it means for their economy, but most importantly, what it means for the lives of the Italian people, you know that we’ve got to do everything in our power to keep that from happening here in Michigan. And I shared with you one anecdote about younger people being as susceptible as older people.
Governor Whitmer: (26:25)
There’s been this misperception that if you’re young you’re not susceptible to COVID 19. The fact of the matter is, in America, we are seeing severe consequences in our younger people, in ways that they haven’t seen in other parts of the world. And I’ve talked to more than one physician who has observed and perhaps there’s too little science to know precisely if this is what’s going on, but vaping is a lot more popular in the United States than it is elsewhere. And that compromises your respiratory system and makes you more susceptible to respiratory illness. And so this is a crisis…
Governor Whitmer: (27:03)
The respiratory illness and so this is a crisis that we are feeling in ways that other parts of the world hasn’t even experienced.
Speaker 8: (27:11)
Regarding elections, this order goes into April, but we’re wondering if May elections may be impacted by this, if you think they should be postponed?
Governor Whitmer: (27:20)
So we are working with the secretary of state as well as the legislative leaders to assess if there are ways that we can improve the ability for people to cast their votes at home. That’s a conversation that’s been started. I would anticipate that it will take on additional energy this weekend. We may have something to share with you later. We want to make sure people are able to vote and to vote safely.
Speaker 9: (27:52)
Are temporary hospital structures going up? Are you looking at dorms, things like that to deal with this? And a question on ventilators, I think over the weekend, you said that there were 1,000 across the state. I’m wondering how those are being used and what kind of shortage we’re facing at the moment?
Speaker 10: (28:10)
We have teams that are actively looking at just this question of where are we going to need this hospital capacity. Not just in some of the areas where we’re seeing the most cases, but we have to come together as a state, understand where our hospital beds are, and where we may have more need. So that plan is being developed as we speak. As far as the ventilators, we do need to get a stronger handle on more real time what the situation is on the ground in these intensive care units. But I can tell you at least from anecdotal conversations across the state, we are getting very, very sick people and our intensive care units are getting filled up.
Speaker 9: (28:43)
Do you have any figures as to how many people are hospitalized with this now? Is that a number that you’re tracking? [inaudible 00:28:54] at some point.
Speaker 10: (28:55)
We are actively trying to track that. Here in the state of Michigan, we have a decentralized public health system, so a lot the local health departments actually are able to track that in more real time than we can at the state. But we are actively working to strengthen and centralize data sharing from the hospitals to local health departments and to the state of Michigan health department.
Speaker 11: (29:17)
But we don’t know what that number is or is close to right now?
Speaker 10: (29:22)
I don’t have the specific number right now.
Speaker 11: (29:25)
Speaker 10: (29:26)
There are dozens of people who are… At least dozens of people who are in intensive care units as we speak. I don’t want to misspeak and give you a wrong number, but I know that there are several individuals, dozens who are hospitalized at this point
Speaker 12: (29:43)
Over the weekend, a federal task force was giving briefings and letting you guys know where they stand on things and what their responsibilities are versus state. So I’m wondering what your response is to some of those comments that were made over the weekends about the responsibilities that state’s have to find those resources such as the ventilators and PPE versus the federal government’s responsibility.
Governor Whitmer: (30:07)
Well, we can litigate what contributed to us all being behind the eight ball in the United States of America right now. After we get past the initial crisis that we’re confronting, I will just say this, our national stockpile allotment covered one shift at a hospital. So where you would ordinarily in a crisis like this, expect a national strategy that covers all of the states and all Americans and makes available the necessary equipment to treat people who are sick, we got enough for one shift. It’s a source of frustration that I’ve been clear about and that my frankly colleagues from across the country have as well. We should be able to rely on a national strategy and planning.
Governor Whitmer: (30:56)
This is not something that wasn’t known at the federal government level many months ago. But re-litigating that and spending energy on it right now doesn’t solve the problem and that’s what I’m going to stay focused on and that’s why my team and the state emergency operation center is working so hard with Michigan businesses, with businesses outside of Michigan to procure the masks and the face shields and the gowns and all of the different pieces of equipment that are necessary so that we can treat people.
Governor Whitmer: (31:29)
That’s why the healthcare situation is so dire and that’s why taking an aggressive action like stay at home so crucial to our ability to meet the needs of our people and so we’re going to continue doing that as people who are listening, who are paying attention, have been reaching in. We’re grateful for that. We’ve been able to do a lot because people have offered to help and where there is additional opportunities like that we are going to avail ourselves of it because at this point in time, I think the governor from Illinois said it, it is governor versus governor trying to get as much as they can for our states. It shouldn’t have to be that way. If the federal government had done some planning on the front end, we would be in a lot better shape. But here we are and we’ve all got a job to do for the people that we serve.
Governor Whitmer: (32:14)
I’ll just conclude with this, tough times don’t last but tough people do. Michigan and this country has been in crises before and we’ve called on our country men and country women to step up to the challenge to meet the need. And Michigan played a huge part in winning World War Two as the arsenal of democracy. Right now we are calling on everyone to do your part. We need to get through this crisis together and we need everyone to do their part. So we’re asking, stay home, stay safe, save lives. That’s the most important thing that we can all do right now. Observe these orders, take care of yourself, and stay home.