Mar 18, 2020

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Coronavirus News Briefing Transcript

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Coronavirus Briefing
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsMichigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Coronavirus News Briefing Transcript

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer held a COVID-19 press conference to update Michigan on the spread of the coronavirus in the state. Read the full transcript of her remarks here.

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Governor Whitmer: (00:00)
Insurance strengthens food security and increases federal Medicaid funding to States. This will now be headed to the president’s desk and I am hopeful that you will sign it quickly so that we can provide some much needed assistance to families, workers, and to small businesses here in Michigan. I want to thank our congressional delegation for all their hard work to date and in the future because there is much more work to do. There are people right now who are out of a paycheck. They’re terrified of losing their home in the coming weeks.

Governor Whitmer: (00:38)
I will not sit back and let them live in fear. So today I signed an executive order banning tax foreclosures while we work to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Starting today, no one will lose their home due to tax for closure until this epidemic has abated. We all have a role to play just to mitigate spreading the virus and to mitigate the impact on our economy.

Governor Whitmer: (01:05)
Please encourage your families, your neighbors, and your coworkers to make smart choices. Even if you feel healthy and are asymptomatic, you can be carrying COVID-19 and spreading it. So you need to play your part as well. Assume that you are and take this seriously. Wash your hands, social distancing, stay six feet away from people when you are in public and when you don’t have to be, stay home, especially if you’re not well or you are a medically vulnerable person. There are easy things that every one of us can do every day to lower our personal risk as well as help protect others in our community.

Governor Whitmer: (01:49)
Washing hands, touching your face less often, practicing covering your mouth with your shoulder, your upper arm when you cough or sneeze and staying six feet away from others. As you can see, we are emulating here. I want to close by thanking the thousands of state employees who have worked tirelessly around the clock to ensure that state government continues to run smoothly during this crisis. We have taken swift action in the last week to protect Michigan families from the spread of coronavirus and we could not have done it without the hard work of the state workforce.

Governor Whitmer: (02:28)
Right now, our state agencies are working to maximize teleworking options and taken unprecedented steps to increase the number of their employees working from home while maintaining service to Michiganders. So to our state workforce, thank you. Thank you so very much. To our public basing employees who cannot work from home but have to remain on the job interfacing with the public daily, thank you. We are going to support your work so that you can do it in a safest possible manner. Thank you. Michiganders are resilient.

Governor Whitmer: (03:06)
We are tough. We will get through this together. This is a chapter in a much larger story. How long this lasts depends on all of us and that’s why every one of us must take the actions that we can to mitigate community spread. Thank you for doing your part and with that I will let Dr. Joneigh Khaldun address you.

Joneigh Khaldun: (03:33)
Thank you, Governor Whitmer. Today we received news of the first death from COVID-19 here in the state of Michigan and we send our condolences to the family at this very difficult time. This is a very serious situation. As the situation continues to develop, we expect more cases and unfortunately we expect more fatalities. As of last night, Michigan had 80 confirmed cases of COVID-19. We know that so far today there are at least 30 additional cases of COVID-19 here in the state of Michigan and we have many more tests that are running right now.

Joneigh Khaldun: (04:16)
These cases span at least 15 counties in our state with age ranges from children to over 80-years-old. Now the cases that have been tested and have been positive, the majority have been in individuals over age 60. Many of them are hospitalized and some of them are in intensive care in the hospital. Some of these cases have had a history of travel or have been in close contact with someone who has confirmed COVID-19. However, we are still seeing some individuals who have no history of travel and we do not know how they got the disease.

Joneigh Khaldun: (04:58)
This means that there is likely spread in the community and we must do everything we can to prevent further spread. We know there is currently no approved vaccine and there is no antiviral treatment for this disease. And because of that with Governor Whitmer’s leadership, we are implementing these proactive community mitigation measures. We have to protect our most vulnerable, the elderly and those with chronic underlying medical conditions and we have to make sure that our hospitals and our healthcare workforce is prepared to handle the sickest patients and that we protect them.

Joneigh Khaldun: (05:40)
We continue to work with our state lab and our medical providers across the state to provide testing. We currently have limited capacity to provide testing across the state. Something that we knew about when we first started testing here at our state lab. Currently, if a test is sent to the state lab, it is going to be between 48 to 72 hours before that result comes back. Our goal is to be able to do within our state lab over 200 samples a day and we do expect to be able to do that by the end of this week.

Joneigh Khaldun: (06:16)
Importantly, we are also working with our hospitals and medical providers to prioritize testing to those at highest risk of disease or those at highest risk of getting severely ill from the disease. And we are working through other channels for opportunities for expanded testing with this prioritized approach. We also set up a hotline for people to have their questions answered about the coronavirus and as of yesterday we had over 15,000 calls to that hotline. The social distancing measures that the governor has moved forward are the only way we’re going to be able to slow the spread of this disease.

Joneigh Khaldun: (06:56)
It is difficult, but it’s really the only and most important things that we can do as a society to protect ourselves. I’m confident that if we implement these strategies collectively, we will be able to do the right thing and prevent the spread of this disease. And with that I would turn it back over to the governor.

Governor Whitmer: (07:19)
So we are in unprecedented times and we’ve got serious challenges ahead, but I am more confident than ever that when we all pull together and do our part, we will get through this. With that, I’d be happy to open it up for questions from the press.

Susan: (07:37)
Governor, do you have any more information on the man who passed away, his name, his hometown, or can you confirm he was a worker at Ford?

Governor Whitmer: (07:50)
I can’t confirm that, Susan. I know that Beaumont Health did a press conference and we are working with them to confirm as many details as we can. I’ve read the same things that you have in the news reports and I can’t add anything to it at this point.

Susan: (08:07)
Okay.

Speaker 4: (08:10)
The San Francisco area has shelter in place. Is that on the table for Michigan and what would the possible time table be?

Governor Whitmer: (08:19)
So clearly things are moving rapidly and we are making decisions on the best science and facts as we have them. There could be a time that we might take that step, but at this juncture there’s nothing that I’m announcing on that front today or in the works. I think that it’s important that we are mindful of what a challenge that will be if and when we get to that point. And that’s part of the reason that I’m working so closely with the head of the state police, our medical experts as well as the adjutant general, and our national guard.

Speaker 5: (08:58)
When will we start to see the results from private labs reported and included with the numbers from the state? Do you have any information at this point about how many are out there, how many are negative, how many are positive?

Governor Whitmer: (09:13)
I’m going to say a few things and then I’m going to hand that question over to Dr. Khaldun, but here’s what I will say. We don’t have enough tests. We don’t have enough resources to process the tests just in terms of the ability to run them quick enough. We set up our own state lab, which I am so grateful we did that and grateful that Dr. Khaldun pushed early to do that so that when we had our first cases we were able to run them in our own lab. But at this point we are concerned about the system being over taxed and we’re also concerned about not having enough tests to do all of the tests that we believe are necessary.

Governor Whitmer: (09:51)
And I want to just expand on that for a minute because it’s very important that with the test that we have, because we’re still waiting on the federal government to give us more, that we prioritize who those tests are being given to. Yesterday, someone from the press asked me if I had been tested and I said, no, I am healthy. I’m exhibiting no signs. I have had no known exposure with anyone who has COVID-19 and if I somehow became aware that I had, I would do what I’ve been telling the public to do, which is stay at home and self quarantine.

Governor Whitmer: (10:26)
I don’t want to add a burden onto a healthcare system that I don’t need to. If I was a person with a medical vulnerability or I was someone in the older age range that we know where this can be incredibly dangerous, I would want to get a test if I had known some sort of exposure, and so I thought that that was a good question to highlight how a person should be analyzing this. Without the abundance of tests that we think we need and we should be able to rely on the federal government to provide, we really have to prioritize.

Governor Whitmer: (11:01)
Now with regard to the reporting of numbers and the private labs that have come online, I’ll hand that part of the question to Dr. Khaldun.

Joneigh Khaldun: (11:10)
Thank you, Governor. And I will emphasize that the governor is absolutely right. The country overall was behind when it started testing and we are not going to be able to understand comprehensively how many people actually have the disease. That said, my state lab has been leading a collaboration with other labs across the state to prioritize but also to develop a system so that we at the state lab actually get that information quickly and included in our website numbers, so we are actively working on that.

Joneigh Khaldun: (11:41)
I spoke to my team this morning. We’re moving towards that, but we have to work with all of those labs to make sure they are on board and giving us accurate information.

Speaker 6: (11:50)
How many tests do we have right now and how many do we need?

Joneigh Khaldun: (11:54)
I do not have that specific number. I can say that there are several hospitals that are now doing tests. There are people being swapped right now. There’s no way for me to in real time understand who that is. I do know that we sent out 500 test kits over the past week to medical providers across the state. Some of them already had their own swabs, if you will, because it’s the same swab you would use for like a flu test. So I don’t have a comprehensive understanding. We are working with our medical providers as we speak to get comprehensive data regarding beds, gowns, gloves, masks and testing supplies.

Joneigh Khaldun: (12:33)
So we are working on that.

Speaker 6: (12:35)
And ventilators as well?

Joneigh Khaldun: (12:37)
And ventilators as well.

Speaker 6: (12:38)
But at this point, you don’t have the numbers on what we have and what we need for any of those items?

Joneigh Khaldun: (12:45)
We have some of that information from the hospitals that have reported to us.

Speaker 6: (12:50)
Thank you.

Speaker 7: (12:57)
Okay. Do you feel that the auto companies ended up shutting down their plants soon enough and what kind of economic impact are you bracing for?

Governor Whitmer: (13:11)
Well, I mean clearly this is going to have an impact on our economy. I’ve been in close contact with the head of the UAW, Rory Gamble, as well as the head of each of the big three. We know that they are grappling with a lot of the same challenges and questions that we all are. Everyone who is responsible for a big workforce and a factory setting is a unique setting and that’s why I trust that this was the right judgment for each of the big three. And I know that it was for the UAW. These are people who work hard and they’re the backbone of the Michigan and the American economy.

Governor Whitmer: (13:49)
I know that this was not an easy decision for them and that’s why it’s so critical that every one of us does our part so that we can get our economy back up and running at the quickest, safest possible moment. And the worst thing that we can do is not to follow the CDC recommendations and obey the orders that I’ve had to issue and have people out there continuing to congregate and flout what we know to be the best science. People need to take this seriously. We had someone die today because of COVID-19.

Governor Whitmer: (14:23)
There are other people that have been diagnosed that are fighting for their lives. Everyone needs to be a part of solving this so that the UAW and the big three can get up and running again, so that we can get our kids back in school, so that we can get our small businesses open again. But the fact of the matter is in this moment, the science and the best practices and the health of our people dictates that we take these aggressive actions and I’m grateful that they were able to come together on that, but I am concerned of course about the longterm impact on the Michigan economy.

Governor Whitmer: (14:55)
But we got to do the right thing because it would have much more severe economic consequences if we didn’t.

Rick: (15:03)
Governor, what about the impact on the unemployment trust fund? Do you think that it’s situated to be able to handle whatever is going to get diverted from there?

Governor Whitmer: (15:14)
Well, that’s why I’m glad that at the federal level they moved the family’s first legislation, the second supplemental. I extended unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks so that when this kind of action happens on the federal level that we’re able to draw down the maximum support for people who are unemployed in this circumstance. It was an incredibly important thing to do for the people of our state and I am determined to continue to execute executive order so long as it is something that is supported by what is in the best interest of our state.

Governor Whitmer: (15:52)
So with regard to the unemployment insurance, the fund, I’m closely working with the state budget office, the treasurer’s office and the department of labor economic opportunity and the MADC so that we are making thoughtful decisions that can help the most people in this time.

Rick: (16:12)
Do you know if it’s equipped to handle it at this juncture or is that just an unknown?

Governor Whitmer: (16:17)
Well, I think at this point so many things are changing at such a rapid pace. It is a fluid situation at this juncture. Our assessment would be yes, but a week ago we were standing here with two cases and now we are well above 100 cases and so we’ve been working incredibly hard to marshal all the resources that we can to support people in this tough time.

Rick: (16:43)
I don’t know if this is for you or for Dr. Khaldun, but when do we expect that we’ll be able to keep a complete list of tests that the state’s aware of from private labs and any other sources that are out there?

Joneigh Khaldun: (17:02)
Thank you. So, yes, we are actively working on that. I’m hoping to in the next week or so have that capability, but a lot of this is outside of … Some of it is outside of our state lab control and it’s about technology and communication but we are actively working on that and within a week I expect to have that data available.

Rick: (17:21)
Kind of an open ended question for the governor.

Governor Whitmer: (17:23)
I just want to add to that real quick. I think that it is very possible you’ll see an order mandating the sharing of information so that we can have a better handle on this. We are working through what that would look like and what it would need to include, but that is something that I think is really important.

Rick: (17:38)
Timing.

Governor Whitmer: (17:41)
Rick, we’ve got a lot of different pieces that we are working on. My legal team has literally been working 24 hours a day since the first two cases were acknowledged here in Michigan. And so that is the next very important piece. Bringing down assemblages of people, doing everything we can on the front end to mitigate community spread. But this is an important piece of it as well and we are working on it.

Rick: (18:06)
I just have one more open ended question. I think Susan had one. Just are you looking at any of these big actions that are being taken by either you unilaterally or in conjunction with the legislature and seeing something that’s going to become a permanent part of how we do things either formally or informally?

Governor Whitmer: (18:29)
Rick, hold on to the mic, Rick, because you’re going to have to clarify that. Here’s what I can say. I think every one of the executive orders that we’ve taken is big action. We have been aggressive. We have been on the front edge of the work that has been done across this nation by governors everywhere. I have been in close communication with my colleagues across the nation on both sides of the aisle so that we are learning from one another. We are challenging one another. We are helping inform one another as we develop our policies.

Governor Whitmer: (18:59)
And so additional big actions you’re going to have to define for me a little bit more.

Rick: (19:03)
Sure. I think put simply is what have you signed and looked at and said, oh this is the new normal? It was different before, but now this is the new permanent state of affairs?

Governor Whitmer: (19:15)
Well you know, Rick, if I went through all the lists of the executive orders that I have signed, I had declared a state of emergency quite awhile ago at this point in time. I’ve brought down the number of assemblages. We have made restrictions on entering into healthcare facilities and residential facilities. I have restricted price gouging and working with the attorney general on that, the closure of bars and change in accommodation at restaurants, expanding unemployment and cost sharing, suspending restrictions on trucking so we can get supplies into communities, setting up emergency temporary healthcare facilities and now foreclosure relief.

Governor Whitmer: (20:00)
And I can tell you there’s more to come. With regard to some of the actions that we’re seeing in San Francisco for that instance, I know that was something that Susan asked earlier. There are a lot of different pieces that we think we can do that will continue to help mitigate community spread and those are actions we’ll be taking. I am hopeful that every one of these is a chapter in time and I know that it is. This is not change forever, but we have got to be serious about how we act in this moment so that we can look back on this one day as a chapter and that was a challenge for our state.

Speaker 9: (20:41)
Why is the state no longer reporting negative tests?

Governor Whitmer: (20:46)
So I think that we’re having an internal debate on that because the reporting of negative tests can communicate inadvertently a message that there’s more negative than positive and people might take something away from that. Sometimes tests that are negative had to be run more than once, then that would be two negative tests on one person. And so the takeaway is complicated. That being said, I do think that there is some discussion about bringing back that number because so many people in the press have asked for it, but I wanted to raise those two points as challenges with regard to the number meaning a particular thing that people take away from it.

Governor Whitmer: (21:27)
Did you want to add anything doctor?

Joneigh Khaldun: (21:29)
If I may. So absolutely, we can bring back the negative tests but what’s most important is what does that negative test number mean. If we’ve tested negative people who weren’t at high risk any way of getting the disease, that’s actually giving us a false sense of security. We need to focus on prioritizing who is getting tested in the first place, which is what my team is doing and then focusing in on those positives and doing the appropriate public health response so we’re preventing other people from coming in contact with those individuals.

Speaker 9: (21:59)
Who did you reach out to at the World Health Organization about getting more tests?

Governor Whitmer: (22:07)
So that was something that I said that we are exploring reaching out. I don’t know how it was received, but that was the intent. We are looking at every possibility for ensuring that we’ve got the tests that we need. When it was communicated to the governors from the White House that we should be pulling out all the stops and going it on our own if we find the federal government too slow. And that’s where we’ve really started to get thoughtful in terms of where can we reach. So the World Health Organization was one place that tests were being created and I’ve asked the team to reach out.

Governor Whitmer: (22:46)
Another is Michigan manufacturers and even our department of corrections is looking to see are there ways that we can help produce the personal protection equipment that we need or the hand sanitizer. And so there are a number of conversations that are happening. I don’t have any announcements to make tonight. But when the White House communicated to us that we should go around the federal government, that’s when I said it was kind of mind boggling because that was kind of a strange message to get from the head of the federal government.

Governor Whitmer: (23:16)
But I’m not going to parse that. I’m just going to go to work and try to find the kind of materials and equipment that we need. All right. Well thank you everybody. Thank you to the state of Michigan. Thank you everyone for doing your part and taking this as seriously as you need to. Thank you.