Mar 23, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Coronavirus Briefing Transcript March 23
Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan, held a news briefing on COVID-19 for March 23, 2020. Read the transcript here.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (00:00)
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. 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. 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 prescribe some medicine and you’d be okay.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (01:19)
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. 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.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (02:11)
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 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 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.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (03:29)
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 N-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 day’s 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 four million gloves, four million N-95 masks, and thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer thanks to Michigan businesses, Michigan companies, Michigan distilleries, and Michiganders who are pitching in.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (05:02)
And while that’s a source of pride and that is good, it is nowhere near enough. 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. 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. 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. The goal here is simple, stay home, stay safe, save lives.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (06:06)
This will be temporary. This intervention is it 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.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (07:12)
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 disease’s rate of spread, depend on whether sufficient medical personnel, hospital beds, and equipment exist to meet anticipated medical need, and the state’s capacity to test for COVID-19 cases and isolate infected people. 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.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (08:09)
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. Your grocery stores will be open. I have checked on our whole supply chain for food and it will be accessible. Do-
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (09:03)
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. 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 of soon.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (09:53)
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. I’m sorry, 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. 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.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (10:36)
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. 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.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (11:26)
So to everyone, please be smart. Follow the order. Think about the daughter who has asthma or the grandpa that has CLPD 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. We’re working to prepare for the longterm economic challenges of this crisis. They will be immense from unemployment to helping our businesses 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, whether this unprecedented crisis. And we will keep working around the clock to keep Michiganders safe.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (12:17)
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. 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: (13:09)
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. Is affecting people across all ages from the very young children to those over the age of 80. 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.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (13:58)
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. 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: (14:45)
However, we know there are many people who are still unable to get a test. As a country, we do 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. Michiganders have come together to implement the important social distancing measures under governor Witmer’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. If we do nothing, very rough models estimate that the number of cases in Michigan could increase five fold in the next week.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (15:41)
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. 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.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (16:20)
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. 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. 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.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (17:21)
Thank you Dr. Khaldun. Be happy to open it up for some questions from the press.
Can you speak to how this [inaudible 00:17:29] will be enforced? Will it be National Guard [inaudible 00:08:32]?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (17:36)
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 the essential services are still available, that if someone needs to go out and get food, that they can do that and that 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 of your car, you can do some of those fundamental…
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (18:03)
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 are not essential services, I would anticipate that there will be fines associated with not doing that and they will be shut.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (18:19)
We have a moment to stem the crisis that we see unfolding before us. It is going to take all of us to take this action seriously and that’s precisely why this order is so important right now. 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.
But there won’t be any checkpoints or anything like that on roadways, highways?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (19:05)
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 long term health of our economy. Any businesses that don’t comply, there will be ramifications for it, to be short, and we have confidence that when Michiganders 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. For some of us doing your part will just look like staying at home. For others it’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 is something they can do, checking in on elderly friends and neighbors over the phone, or FaceTime.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (19:57)
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, and we’re confident that the vast majority of people are going to do the right thing and 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.
What about restaurant and carry out, delivery services, things like that? Are those still-
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (20:43)
Restaurant, 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 state, so grocery stores, convenience stores, the pharmacy, the restaurant where you can get your take out, those will all still continue to serve the public.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (21:05)
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.
Governor, what white line is there for people to use to decide whether or not they’re covered by this order?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (21:28)
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 or not, so 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.
This question is for both of you, you mentioned, Governor about thinking of the healthcare workers who are trying to battle this and there seems to be some inconsistency with the guidelines for those healthcare workers between the state recommendations and CDC recommendations as to whether they’ve been exposed to a potential case. They’ve been [inaudible 00:22:19] by the state to keep working, but not to quarantine, so my question is; is this the safest move for those workers, but also for patients and families having them?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (22:29)
I’ll have to ask Dr. Khaldun to weigh in on that one.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (22:32)
We have used for all of our guidance in the state, we have looked 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, we just had to get a little more granular because our clinicians were asking for that guidance.
But the auto makers have voluntarily 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 [inaudible 00:23:17]-
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (23:17)
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.
What are [inaudible 00:23:43] associated with the businesses perhaps violating-
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (23:47)
[Kathy 00:23:47], we’ll 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.
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 an order with consequences?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (24:24)
Well a couple 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. Khaldun 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 PPE’s 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 keeping people away from each other.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (25:12)
What we know, is that there still are gatherings happening. 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. 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 have got to be really clear about the seriousness of this, and pull the full weight of an executive order behind it. These are all different pieces of it.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (25:47)
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 we’ve got to do everything in our power to keep that from happening here in Michigan.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (26:07)
And I shared with you one anecdote about younger people being as susceptible as older people. 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 that we are feeling in ways that other parts of the world hasn’t even experienced.
Regarding elections, this order goes into a-
Speaker 1: (27:03)
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?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (27:10)
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. Yeah. We want to make sure people are able to vote and to vote safely.
Speaker 2: (27:40)
Are temporary hospital structures going up? Are you looking at dorms, things like that to deal with this? The question on ventilators, over the weekend you said there was 1,000 across the state. I’m wonder if all of those are being used and what kind of shortage were facing at the moment.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (27:51)
All right. 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 needs. That plan is being developed as we speak.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (28:16)
As far as the ventilators, we do need to get I think 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 3: (28:34)
Do you have any figures as to how many people are hospitalized with us now? Is that a number that you’re tracking? Is it a number you’re going to be putting online at some point?
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (28:45)
We are actively trying to track that. Here in the state of Michigan, we have a decentralized public health system, so a lot of 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 centralized data sharing from the hospitals to local health departments and to the State of Michigan Health Department.
Speaker 4: (29:07)
But we don’t know what that number is or is close to right now?
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (29:12)
I don’t have the specific number right now.
Speaker 4: (29:15)
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (29:17)
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.
[inaudible 00:29:29] question. Over the weekend, the task force, the federal task was giving briefings and letting the American people know where they stand on things and what their responsibilities are versus the state. I’m wondering what your response is just on those comments that were made over the weekend about the responsibilities that states have to find those resources such as the ventilators, the PPE, versus the federal governments responsibility?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (29:57)
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. 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. This is not something that wasn’t known at the federal government level many months ago. But re-litigating that, spending energy on it right now doesn’t solve the problem and that’s what I want to stay focused on.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (31:01)
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. That’s why the healthcare situation is so dire and that’s why taking an aggressive action like stay home is crucial to our ability to meet the needs of our people. 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. Where there is additional opportunities like that we are going to avail ourselves of it.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (31:47)
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 all got a job to do for the people that we serve.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (32:05)
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 countrymen and countrywomen to step up to the challenge, to meet the need. Michigan played a huge part in winning World War II 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. 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.
Speaker 5: (32:52)
All right. That was Governor Gretchen Whitmer as she announced her new executive order, which is stay home, stay safe, which is essentially if you’re a non-essential business, for the next three weeks the governor asking people to stay home. Really not asking. She pointed out that this is not an ask. This is an order for folks that are in non-essential roles. Some places that will stay open, places like grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants can still do those take-out orders that they have been doing.
Speaker 5: (33:20)
But, again, the governor pointed out that we have seen a sharp increase in the number of a COVID-19 cases that we have seen here in the state of Michigan. The new number that the governor went over today’s day ends at 1,232; that’s a nearly 200 case increase since yesterday. She also said that our deaths jumped from 9 up to 15. The governor urging everyone to take this very seriously, talking about the number of people that are in the hospitals, number of people that are in the ICU right now, and talked a lot about the supplies or lack thereof that a lot of the hospitals across Michigan are seeing. She says she and her team had been hard at work trying to secure extra materials, things like masks and gloves and aprons as well for those folks that are working in the hospital. Still a lot of work to do.
Speaker 5: (34:11)
This was a lot of information from our governor, so we are putting all of this online for you at woodtv.com. You can go there to find all the latest information with this new executive order.