Dec 10, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript December 10
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s December 10 coronavirus press conference. She discussed vaccine distribution plans. Read the full transcript of her COVID-19 news briefing speech here.
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Gretchen Whitmer: (00:41)
Good afternoon, today is Thursday, December 10th, and I’m enjoined by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, our chief medical executive. On Tuesday, the State of Michigan recorded a grim milestone in that 10,000 COVID related deaths since the virus first arrived here in March. Those were 10,000 people whose lives were taken too soon. These are people who had families, they had friends, they had children and parents and grandchildren. They had hopes and dreams for themselves and for their loved ones. They wanted to help their kids learn to drive a car or see their grandkids graduate from college. And every day, I know it’s easy to get numb to the incredible numbers that are happening across the country, but every day, I think about the people that we have lost.
Gretchen Whitmer: (01:36)
One of the stories that struck me in the last couple of weeks was that of Patricia and Leslie McWaters. This was a couple who lived in Jackson and they were married for more than 50 years or for nearly 50 years. And they passed just moments of hark from COVID-19. Their daughter, Joanna, told The Detroit News that they were in good health until they caught the virus. And they passed away so close in time that neither of them knew that the other had passed. The daughter said that they’re in heaven together now. Patricia and Leslie had two daughters, they had three grandchildren and six great grandchildren, and they had siblings and friends who cared deeply about them. They had lot more life to live.
Gretchen Whitmer: (02:25)
Too many of us know a story like this. Too many of us have lived a story like this. Too many Michiganders know what it’s like to say goodbye to someone over Zoom. And so it is important to remember, it is important to understand what this virus still means and could mean, and it’s important that every one of us take it seriously and do our part to hopefully relieve more Michiganders from feeling that same pain. We need to join forces so that we can eliminate COVID-19 in our communities and in order to save lives. And that means doubling down on mask wearing and social distancing and hand washing.
Gretchen Whitmer: (03:08)
And the good news of course, is that there is hope on the horizon. It’s great news actually. We’re on the brink of incredible medical breakthroughs when it comes to distributing a safe and effective vaccine. Both Pfizer, who is producing some of that vaccine here in Michigan, and Moderna, have submitted requests for emergency use authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine to the US Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Khaldun and her team at the Department of Health and Human Services are developing a plan to distribute the vaccine in Michigan. And we’ll begin focusing on our most vulnerable populations. The initial groups who will be vaccinated will be critical workers in our healthcare systems, including people working in hospitals, people who are first responders and more. Now, it’s going to take time so that we can get this vaccine distributed to the general public. And no vaccine can end a pandemic immediately, but the good news is we know what it takes to stay safe.
Gretchen Whitmer: (04:18)
So while it’s going to take time and require all of us working together, there’s great optimism. And I think it’s important to remember that the science here is subtle. We know that wearing a mask and practicing social distancing and avoiding indoor gatherings where the virus spreads easily from person to person, if we can do these things in the coming months, we’ll be that much stronger when vaccines are more available. A study has shown that just taking these simple actions could save as many as 100,000 American lives in the coming months. So we just need to work together to keep getting it done. While the state carries out our plan to distribute safe and effective vaccines, we’ll also work day and night to ensure that all Michiganders have the information they need to make your plan to get vaccinated.
Gretchen Whitmer: (05:14)
Today, I signed Executive Order 2020-193, creating a bipartisan Protect Michigan Commission within the Department of Health and Human Services. This commission will help raise awareness of the safety and effectiveness of approved COVID-19 vaccines, will educate the people of our state, and will help protect the health and safety of all Michigan residents. The commission will be shared by our Lieutenant Governor, Garlin Gilchrist, former Lieutenant Governor, Brian Calley, Dr. Khaldun, Detroit Pistons player, Blake Griffin, and others. It will consist of at least 50 members that represent the great diversity of our state. And this group, it is representative of our state. Politically representative, geographically representative, socioeconomically and racially representative, because we all are in this together. They’ll be uniquely equipped to help reinforce the importance that we all get vaccinated.
Gretchen Whitmer: (06:19)
I’m talking about some leaders in our state, people like Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, one of our co-chairs, who’s been a leader in the Flint community for years, and whose research uncovered the Flint water crisis. Blake Griffin, who I mentioned a moment ago, who’s played for the Pistons since 2018 and pledged earlier to give $100,000 to the staff at Little Caesars Arena who were unable to work because of the virus. These are just two of the many leaders on this commission who cared deeply about Michiganders’ health and safety. They’ll help people across our state make our plans to get that safe and effective vaccine. To apply to serve on the commission, please visit michigan.gov/appointments, and apply by December 28th if you want to be a part of this effort.
Gretchen Whitmer: (07:10)
I also want to note that today is national Get Covered Day. And I want to urge all Michiganders who need health coverage to sign up before the ACA enrollment deadline on December 15th. There are still thousands of people who are uninsured who may be eligible for low or no cost coverage. Expanding access to quality, affordable healthcare for all Michiganders has always been one of our top priorities. When I was in the Senate, I worked across the aisle to expand the Healthy Michigan Plan. One of the key architects of the legislation was the Senate Majority Leader, Mike Shirkey. He was in the House back then. This year for the first time, enrollment in Healthy Michigan surpassed 840,000 Michiganders. As of this week, we’ve added nearly-
Gretchen Whitmer: (08:03)
… [inaudible 00:08:00] Michiganders. As of this week, we’ve added nearly 180,000 enrollees since the pandemic began, but there are still thousands more who need coverage, and many who’ve lost coverage this year. If you haven’t signed up yet and think you might be eligible, don’t waste a minute. Visit healthcare.gov and get signed up ahead of the December 15 deadline. It’s crucial that everyone who needs care can get it, whether we’re in a pandemic or not.
Gretchen Whitmer: (08:32)
Before Thanksgiving, I sent a letter to the legislature urging them to pass a $100 million relief bill to provide support to families and small businesses in Michigan that have been hit hard by the pandemic. With the record numbers of people who are unemployed this year, we truly need the federal government to work together and pass a bipartisan relief bill that gives support to the people who need to put food on the table and can’t. They can’t afford to wait, and neither can we, and that’s why I look forward to working with our legislature here at the state level to send $50 million in relief to unemployed Michiganders who need it most. While it won’t be enough, it will be a bridge to help until additional federal relief comes.
Gretchen Whitmer: (09:21)
And I also asked the legislature to work with me on a $50 million program to provide relief to hardest hit small businesses, businesses like restaurants, and bowling centers, and entertainment venues. I’m hopeful the legislature will work collaboratively with my administration to provide this much needed relief, but that won’t stop me from doing everything we can to help. So effective immediately, most entertainment and recreational venues and restaurants that depend on indoor dining can postpone their monthly sales, use, and withholding tax breaks payments that are due December 20. They can postpone them until January 20 of 2021. The State Treasury will waive all penalties and interest for 31 days. This is a crucial step in helping our businesses that are struggling, but we see still need the legislature and the federal government to act.
Gretchen Whitmer: (10:17)
There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we will not get there unless we all do our part. On this, the first day of the Hanukkah season, it is important to acknowledge the light, to strive for the light. I will continue to do my part to keep all of you informed. We will continue to follow a fact-based approach to eradicating this virus. The leaders on the Protect Michigan Commission will do their part to ensure that everyone in Michigan has a plan to get vaccinated and feels comfortable doing so, and we need everyone to acknowledge personal responsibility that we all have in fighting this virus, and to please do your part by wearing your mask, avoiding gatherings, practicing social distancing, and washing your hands frequently.
Gretchen Whitmer: (11:04)
With that, I’d be happy to hand it over to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (11:14)
Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon. So we are now at 415,200 cases, and as the governor mentioned, over 10,000 deaths, 10,213 confirmed as of yesterday, I can tell you that these cases and deaths are not just numbers. These are people’s family members, their friends, their colleagues, and every life lost was an important one. I’m an ER doctor, and I just worked a shift in the emergency department this past weekend. I can tell you that people are not just automatically recovering from this virus. This is not a cold that you just get over. Many people are still presenting to the emergency department weeks after they have been diagnosed, with complications. And we are still learning more and more about the long-term health consequences of having this virus. So we just have to remain vigilant.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (12:14)
So here’s where we are on the three key metrics that we are tracking. Cases are at 514 cases per million people per day overall as a state, and have been declining for the past 19 days. All areas of the state have seen a decline in the case rate. The percent of tests that are positive is at 14%. This number has been fluctuating up and down for the past few weeks, but has not changed significantly, and is still quite high. Hospitalizations are trending down overall for the past week, and decreased in all but two regions in the state. Currently 19% of inpatient beds have COVID-19 patients in them. We’ve seen a slight decrease in testing as well. The state averaged a little over 56,500 tests a day last week, compared to over 59,000 tests per day the previous week. It is so important that people seek a test if they feel sick or think they may have been exposed. That is the only way we’ll be able to know exactly where this virus is so that we can slow its spread. There are hundreds of testing sites across the state, and many of them are free. You can go to our website, michigan.gov/coronavirustest, to find the one that is nearest to you.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (13:41)
We also continue to focus on contact tracing. We are still seeing far more cases every day than our state and local health department staff are able to keep up with every day. This means that there are people with the virus who may have a delay in getting in touch with a public health professional, to talk to them about their close contacts. These close contacts risk having the virus themselves and spreading it to others. One way we can all help solve this problem is to download the My COVID Alert app. This is a free app that protects your privacy and lets you know if someone you have been in close contact with has the disease. You can download it in the App Store, or you can go to our website, michigan.gov/ coronavirus.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (14:32)
So as the Governor mentioned, our team at MD HHS is actively preparing to be able to distribute a COVID vaccine when one is approved. This could happen as early as next week. A vaccine will only be approved when it has gone through three phases of clinical trials, including tens of thousands of people, and the top scientists and doctors in the country have reviewed the data and determined that the vaccine is actually safe.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (15:01)
There are two vaccines right now that are in the final approval processes. Once they are approved, we expect to receive a limited allocation of these vaccines and expect to receive shipments every week that will go to our hospitals, our local health departments, our pharmacies, and other partners. Based on recent estimates from the federal government, Michigan will receive about 84,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine if it becomes available next week, in that first allocation. The Moderna vaccine is a different vaccine that is just behind the Pfizer vaccine in the approval process. If it is approved. And that may be later on this month as well, recent federal estimates suggest we will receive about 173,000 doses of this Moderna vaccine in our first shipment. These are both estimates, and depend on the federal government and the manufacturing process. The amount and the timing of these shipments could still change.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (16:03)
The amount, and the timing of these shipments could still change, but we are still making plans to send vaccines to hospitals and local health departments across the state that have the ability to administer and store them.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (16:15)
As the governor mentioned, the first priority for vaccination will be frontline healthcare workers, as well as people living and working in long-term care facilities. As we get more vaccine, we’ll be able to offer the vaccine to more and more people, including other essential workers, people who have underlying medical conditions, and people who are over the age of 65.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (16:38)
We hope that by late spring, we will be able to offer the vaccine to the general public. It is important that every adult in the state starts making plans for getting the vaccine. Talk to your doctor now about your risk factors, and when the vaccine may become available to you. Know that you will need to get two doses of the vaccine spread three weeks apart, if you get the Pfizer vaccine, or four weeks apart, if you get the Moderna vaccine.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (17:09)
And it is very important that you know what to expect. These vaccines work by preparing your body to fight the real virus if it comes into contact with it. That means that many people will get mild symptoms after getting the vaccine, like a sore arm, a low grade fever, or general malaise. That is something to expect, and it means that the vaccine is working.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (17:34)
These are the types of things that you should be planning for and talking to your friends and family about. Also please go to trusted sources for information on the vaccines. The state already has a website, michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine, you can go there and find out information about the vaccine approval process and what to expect if you receive a vaccine.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (17:59)
I’m thrilled about the announcement today of the bipartisan Protect Michigan Commission, and I’m honored to co-chair it with the Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, and several other leaders across the state who have been champions for the lives and livelihoods of all Michiganders.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (18:16)
Public health should not be political. We are all in this fight to eradicate the virus from Michigan together. I’m excited to work with this group of leaders to make sure Michiganders have the information they need and access to these life saving vaccines.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (18:34)
2020 has been hard, but vaccines will be available soon. We are cautiously optimistic about the data that we are seeing. I ask all of you to continue to do the right thing, wear masks to protect yourself and others from the virus, wash your hands frequently. It’s still not too late to get a flu shot, and you can start planning for when you will be able to get the COVID vaccine. Also, it will be challenging, but we all have to think about creative ways to celebrate the winter holidays this year. There is simply too much virus in our community for us to be able to gather in groups like we normally would during the holiday season. So let’s all double down and focus on what we can individually do to end this pandemic here in Michigan. And with that, I’ll turn it back over to Governor Whitmer.
Gretchen Whitmer: (19:33)
Thank you Dr. Khaldun. With that, happy to open it up for a few questions.
Speaker 2: (19:36)
Thank you, governor. Our first question will come from Rachel with WWMT.
Hi governor, I was just wondering if you can tell me how the Michigan National Guard is helping out with the distribution of the vaccine?
Gretchen Whitmer: (19:53)
So I think I’m going to actually bring Dr. J back up here to chat with you a little bit about that, about the Guard.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (20:02)
Yes, the National Guard, and General Rogers has been a great partner in our vaccine distribution process. We have already reached out to hospitals and others who believe they may need assistance with actually having people administer the vaccine. So the National Guard, at least initially, will be having teams that are helping some of the hospitals that reached out for support in administering the vaccine.
Speaker 2: (20:30)
Our second question will come from Jacob with [Merz 00:04:32].
Hey governor, how realistic do you see the legislature passing a COVID package given the House just lost a week of session? And secondly, do you believe the video that representative Cynthia Johnson posted on Facebook was appropriate?
Gretchen Whitmer: (20:58)
Let me start of course, with the first question. I know that the legislature has had a lot of COVID apparently through the ranks of legislators and staff. Unfortunately, that’s the case, and that’s cutting into their meeting time this week. I’m hopeful that they can safely come in and do a few things before they adjourn for the year. There are a lot of people that are struggling right now that are counting on our legislature to help them get through this tough moment.
Gretchen Whitmer: (21:33)
And so it is my genuine hope that they can do that, but that they do it safely, and that all members wear masks, and that they give one another a little bit of grace and show each other the respect and compassion to keep one another safe as they do that. But there are a lot of restaurants. There are a lot of small businesses, and there are a lot of individuals who aren’t going to make it if they don’t come in and help us give them a little bit of help right now, as we’re waiting on the federal government to get their act together.
Gretchen Whitmer: (22:05)
So that is my hope. I believe they can do it. There is enough time, but I am cognizant of the fact that they need to stay safe when they do.
Gretchen Whitmer: (22:15)
Second, with regard to representative Johnson. I think that this is a woman who has been through a lot, and I think it’s important that every single one of us give one another a little bit of compassion and grace. She’s had a loved one in the hospital, she’s lost a number to COVID. And the simple requirement that she show up to do her job last week at a hearing with Rudy Giuliani, where she was exposed to COVID frankly, and everyone who was there was, has now made her the target of a lot of racist attacks and threats on her life. None of this is acceptable. None of it is acceptable.
Gretchen Whitmer: (23:02)
And I believe that it is crucial that we show one another some grace right now, and some empathy and some compassion. I think that removing her from her committees is too far, truly. And I’ve reached out and asked the incoming House leadership to reconsider that. We all need to put our focus on our common enemy, which is COVID-19. Any action that happens in the legislature in the coming days or weeks should be focused on that and that alone, and keeping one another safe. And I think that’s all I’ve got to say on that subject.
Speaker 2: (23:43)
We will take a couple more questions. I’ll turn it over to Dave with the Detroit Free Press.
Sorry. Hi governor, thanks for doing this. Earlier this week, a senator called for Director Gordon to resign. Can you just speak to the performance that Director Gordon has done, and whether you think it would be appropriate-
… speak to the performance that Director Gordon has done. And whether you think it would be appropriate for him to resign or to remain as the head of DHHS.
Gretchen Whitmer: (24:06)
You know what? I’m not going to entertain partisan attacks on our leaders who have been working 24/7 to get our state through this global crisis. We’re fortunate to have so many incredibly talented leaders here. And if more people who hold office would recognize that our enemy is a virus, and stop trying to look for reasons to fight amongst one another, and harness the spirit and the grit of the people of this state and focus it on the virus, we would all be a lot better off. That means our people, we would be healthier, and our businesses and our economy would be stronger. And I ask and encourage all leaders to in this moment refocus all of our energies on getting our state through this crisis.
Speaker 3: (25:06)
Our next question will come from Rod with WDIV.
Yes, Governor. Good afternoon. Couple of questions about the vaccine. In particular, I was curious if we have any more specifics on the rollout plan. I know that Dr. Khaldoon talked a little bit about that, but it also begs the question, can the vaccine be enforced by state, by employers or schools? In other words, can somebody force you to actually take the vaccine if in fact you are or are not interested in having it?
Gretchen Whitmer: (25:42)
So Rod, there will be more details coming in. It’s a matter of day or days when there will be plans finalized about what our cadence will look like in Michigan, once there is a vaccine that is safe, effective, and approved, and available for us to distribute.
Gretchen Whitmer: (26:01)
There are no conversations around mandates. I think that’s important for me to be very clear on. I think any employer who is worried about making sure that their workforce is safe and healthy, they should be making plans right now for how they will encourage and/or incentivize their employees to get vaccinated. A safe, effective vaccine is the strongest tool that we have against this virus once it becomes available, that and a mask, and that will continue to remain the case.
Gretchen Whitmer: (26:34)
And I think that’s an important that we all recognize too, that vaccines are… This is a moment where we should all feel very hopeful and proud of the incredible strides that have been made, but we also need to make sure that we stay educated on where things stand and understand what a vaccine really means. It’s going to be important that we continue to wear masks awhile. And I think we all need to understand that as a part of our ability to eradicate this virus, we’re going to have to use all of these tools.
Speaker 3: (27:10)
And the final question will come from Ross with WXYZ.
Thank you, Governor. With the Michigan House canceling session for the week due to COVID, does that put the state at any disadvantage as it relates to the rollout of the vaccine specifically?
Gretchen Whitmer: (27:27)
Well, Ross, I don’t think that it puts us at a disadvantage with regard to the rollout, but I do think that it’s problematic for a handful of reasons. One is it shows that if people congregate without masks, multiple households indoors, for any length of time, you can have COVID spread even if you’re in the legislature.
Gretchen Whitmer: (27:48)
Second, the inability to meet this week could compromise our ability to get this additional COVID relief done. And that’s my primary focus at the moment. With regard to vaccine rollout, we are hopeful that we will have vaccines here in Michigan in the coming days, and that we will be able to get our healthcare workers and nursing home residents, and the first priority vaccinated. It will be a little while before we have vaccines available for the general public, but that planning is happening now. And so, our ability to do that planning and to have the resources to do it is being undermined by a Congress that hasn’t gotten this stimulus bill done. And so, that is my primary concern. We want Congress to get their piece of the important puzzle completed before they take a break. And I’m hopeful that the legislature will do this $100 million dollars that I’ve been talking about as well.
Speaker 3: (28:51)
Thank you, Governor. Thank you, everybody. Stay safe out there.
Gretchen Whitmer: (28:54)