Dec 29, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript December 29
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s December 29 coronavirus press conference. Read the full transcript of her COVID-19 news briefing speech here.
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Governor Whitmer: (00:00)
That would really improve compliance and assist law enforcement and help stop the spread of COVID-19 so that we can re-engage more sectors of our economy and stay safe. Studies have shown that if we all wear masks until the vaccine is widely distributed, we will save hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States. And certainly a great deal more, many more lives here in Michigan. Studies have shown that these actions work.
Governor Whitmer: (00:38)
Yesterday, my administration announced that we have begun distributing these safe vaccines to skilled nursing home residents and staff. Now, these residents are among the first facilities to receive the vaccine through our pharmacy partnership for longterm care, our LTC program. The pharmacy partnership is a national initiative to provide COVID-19 vaccines to phase 1A groups of long-term care facility residents and staff. MDHHS is partnering with CVS and Walgreens, through the program, to manage and facilitate safe vaccinations while reducing the burden on our long-term care facilities and local health departments.
Governor Whitmer: (01:30)
We know this virus is a killer that preys on our most vulnerable populations, which is why my administration has prioritized testing in our nursing homes from the very beginning. Now we have developed a plan that prioritizes residents and staff. Remember, it will take some time for this vaccine to be widely distributed to everyone and that’s why it’s important that we continue to all do our part.
Governor Whitmer: (01:57)
One of the most important things that Michigan adults can do right now is to make your plan to get one of these vaccines. They are safe and effective. And when it becomes available to you, we want to make sure that you’re ready to get your vaccine. To provide more information about the vaccine, DHHS has developed a COVID-19 vaccine provider guidance and educational resources that are available on the DHHS website. The page will include faqs, FAQ’s, information about both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and information for providers, and should additional vaccines become approved and available, they will be included as well. I encourage everyone to make your plan for you and your family. And until then, I urge you to continue doing your part to stay safe, to protect your family and our frontline workers alike, and our small business owners of course.
Governor Whitmer: (02:59)
Today, this morning, before this press conference, I signed a bipartisan supplemental budget that includes $106 million in relief to protect families, frontline workers, and small businesses. I proposed the My COVID Relief plan to the legislature back in November, because I know how much our families, our frontline workers, and our small businesses need relief as we are getting through this tough winter. The bipartisan relief bill will provide families and small businesses, the support they need to stay afloat as we continue working to distribute these vaccines and eradicate COVID-19 once and for all. The bill includes $55 million to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19, grants of up to $20,000 are going to be made available to small businesses across Michigan that needs some support this winter, and the relief bill also includes three and a half million dollars for grants of up to $40,000 each for live music and entertainment venues. So it includes $45 million, in addition, as direct payments to workers who have been laid off or furloughed as a result of this virus.
Governor Whitmer: (04:23)
So this is a positive step, but there’s so much more work to do to eliminate the virus and to grow our economy.
Governor Whitmer: (04:31)
On Sunday, the president signed a COVID relief bill that provides some support for Michigan’s unemployed workers. Once again, I want to urge the federal government to pass a bill that includes $2,000 in stimulus checks for American families. It’s the right thing to do. The bill that the president signed extends benefits to self-employed and gig workers and provides all unemployment recipients an additional $300 per week. The extension will bring much needed relief to 700,000 Michigan workers who are currently receiving benefits under the federal UI programs. The continuation of these benefits with the additional $300 a week for all claimants will give our workers the emergency financial assistance to buy essential items like groceries or prescription drugs.
Governor Whitmer: (05:28)
Michigan, like every state in the nation must wait until guidance is issued by the US Department of Labor before we can begin processing the benefits provided under the new legislation. And so we’re hopeful that will happen quickly. Rest assured that the UIA is making program adjustments with whatever information becomes available, and we will work tirelessly to implement any remaining changes as soon as it can, in order to get benefits out the door as quickly as possible.
Governor Whitmer: (06:03)
Again, it’s another positive thing, but there is much work left to do at the state level to protect our unemployed workers. And that’s why today I also signed a bipartisan bill by Senator Hertel to extend unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks through March. This is the right thing to do, and it’ll help Michiganders across the state who’ve lost work as a result of the pandemic.
Governor Whitmer: (06:30)
When I signed the supplemental budget, I had to [inaudible 00:06:34] veto any items that were not subject to our negotiated agreement with the legislature. That includes $220 million giveaway of taxpayer money to the employer owned unemployment insurance trust fund. Be very clear, this will not impact individual workers. General fund dollars have got to be used to fund essential services like vaccines and PPE, not to give tax breaks to big businesses right now. The unemployment insurance agency has also provided more than $900 million to help businesses that have been impacted by COVID. So we have helped, but this went too far because it is really important we use every precious general fund dollar we can to help get through the current crisis.
Governor Whitmer: (07:27)
So the funding that I have vetoed has nothing to do with extending benefits. It’s a line item veto that will not prevent any unemployed Michigander from getting their benefits. I want to be very clear about that. We have done everything focused around helping those who are unemployed throughout this crisis, and we will continue to do so as my administration.
Governor Whitmer: (07:49)
I signed the extension of the bill because the legislature really needs to come back and finish the job, making this extension, not just temporary, but permanent, increasing the weekly benefit, and providing much needed support for Michiganders who’ve lost work is what I hope the legislature will focus on when they come back to work January 13th. We’ve got to work together to pass a bipartisan permanent extension to protect countless Michiganders and their livelihoods.
Governor Whitmer: (08:20)
The extension of benefits to hardworking Michiganders should not be used as any sort of a bargaining chip or tied to other priorities that the legislature might have outside of protecting public health and our economy. We need to take bipartisan action now. Thousands of Michiganders benefits are on the line. So let’s work together and make this extension permanent.
Governor Whitmer: (08:47)
2020 is coming to an end of this week, but our work is not done. I want to remind all of you that this pandemic will not be over just with the beginning of a new year, but with the new year comes renewed hope and reasons for optimism. I really believe 2021, after talking to all of our experts, after building out what we can do here as a state, after having regular conversations with the incoming administration in DC, really believe every year of 2021 is going to get better than the last. We can make sure that that’s the case if we all do our part and work together.
Governor Whitmer: (09:26)
All Michiganders have a role to play. Masking up, practicing safe, social distancing, supporting our small businesses throughout this crisis, and avoiding indoor gatherings that spread the virus. These are ways every one of us can do our part. So let’s all work together to eradicate this virus once and for all and make 2021 a great year, a year where we can come together at the end of it and celebrate like we normally would.
Governor Whitmer: (09:54)
Thank you for doing your part. And with that, I’ll hand it over to Dr. Khaldun.
Dr. Khaldun: (10:04)
Good morning. And thank you, governor. So as a state, we are now at 480,508 cases and 12,089 deaths due to COVID-19. As the governor mentioned, we are cautiously optimistic about the data we are seeing in the state. So here’s where we are with the three main metrics that we are tracking. Cases are now at 279 cases per million people and have been declining for more than 38 days. We are still at a rate that is almost four times what we saw at the beginning of September. Test positivity is now at 8.4%, and has been declining for multiple weeks. This rate is almost three times where we were at the beginning of September. Two areas of the state, the Saginaw and Jackson regions, have test positivity above 10%. And while those regions have also seen declines in cases, they also still have the highest case rate in the state.
Dr. Khaldun: (11:14)
13.8% of inpatient beds in the state are being used to treat people with COVID-19 and that is down from 16.5% the previous week. The number of deaths that we are seeing is also coming down. In the most recent week, there was an average of 107 deaths per day compared to 123 deaths per day the previous week. So overall, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic, but it’s important that people do not get complacent.
Dr. Khaldun: (11:47)
What we are seeing in the data is not a cost to celebrate. While Michiganders are a great job bringing our cases down, that progress is fragile. We are still identifying many cases across the state every day, and it only takes one gathering for it to spread through multiple households and their close contacts. So while we are certainly moving in the right direction, let’s all do our part and remain vigilant. Wear your mask any time you’ll be around someone outside of your household. Try creative ways to ring in the new year with virtual calls with family and friends. Let’s just get through the rest of this holiday season and give ourselves the strongest start to 2021 without a surge in cases from the holidays.
Dr. Khaldun: (12:37)
So part of each person’s responsibility in ending this pandemic is also getting tested. Testing is actually lower than it has been in recent months at 37,307 tests on average in the past week. If you need a test, you should get one. This means that if you have symptoms or if you’ve been around someone who has symptoms or around someone who has COVID-19, you should get a test. There are over 300 testing sites across the state, and many of them are free. So please go to our website, Michigan.gov/coronavirustest to find a location that’s nearest you. This testing is so important and the only way we’re going to know where this disease is so that we can stop it from spreading.
Dr. Khaldun: (13:27)
So as the governor mentioned, two weeks ago, we started vaccinations in Michigan to end this pandemic. And today, we will be reporting that nearly 71,000 people have already been vaccinated in Michigan. Yesterday, we also started vaccinating in our long-term care facilities across the state. There are already over 490 clinics scheduled in these facilities in the upcoming weeks. This is historic. I’m so proud of the hospitals, the local health departments, pharmacies, doctors, nurses, and others across the state that are working so hard to get people vaccinated. Every area of the state will have access to the vaccine, whether you’re in a rural part of the upper peninsula or in the Detroit or Grand Rapids Metro regions.
Dr. Khaldun: (14:20)
I was grateful to be vaccinated a couple of weeks ago with other frontline healthcare workers and the process was very simple. My arm was sore for about a day after I got the vaccine and I’m looking forward to next week when I will make sure to keep my appointment and get my second booster shot of the vaccine to make sure that I am fully protected. And I know that there are some people who have questions about the vaccines and it’s okay. It’s actually a good thing to have questions, but I also want people know where to go for answers. Michigan has a website, michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine, where you can find information on how many vaccines have been distributed across the state, how many people have been vaccinated, and the ages of those who have been vaccinated.
Dr. Khaldun: (15:09)
We also have important information about the vaccines themselves. These vaccines are safe and have been evaluated by the top scientists in the country. They’ve been studied in tens of thousands of people. There’s a robust national monitoring system, more than exists for most medications in fact. Any adverse reactions are immediately reported and tracked across the entire country.
Dr. Khaldun: (15:39)
Now I know there have been reports of some people having allergic reactions to the vaccine. And as an ER doctor, I take any reaction to a vaccine seriously. And it’s important that the vaccine manufacturers continue to evaluate any allergic reactions so they can find out the cause and prevent as many of them from happening as possible. But I also want people to know that current reports across the country indicate that people who have had severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have also had severe allergic reactions to other medications in the past. And that there are still very few reports of allergic reactions to the vaccines compared to the over 2 million people across the country who have already gotten the vaccine so far. So if you do not have a history of a severe allergic reaction to the components of the vaccine, the you should still get vaccinated, and you should talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have about your medication allergies.
Dr. Khaldun: (16:48)
Like other tools that we use in medicine and public health to keep people alive and healthy, these vaccines are an important tool to end this pandemic and save lives. The stakes are just too high for us not to take this opportunity to save ourselves. And this is particularly important in communities of color that have been hit especially hard by this pandemic. While it will be several months before we have enough vaccine to be able to vaccinate everyone who wants one, this is the way that we will end this pandemic. And if we can keep our cases low while vaccinating as many people as possible, we will beat this virus. So please be planning now for how you would get the vaccine when it becomes available to you.
Dr. Khaldun: (17:37)
I also know that the holidays may be emotionally difficult for some people. The loss that many people have experienced this year has been devastating. Let’s please remember to check in on loved ones, friends and family throughout the rest of this holiday season with a phone call or a virtual check-in. And if you or someone you know may be struggling with their mental health, please know that we have resources available. You can go to our website, michigan.gov/staywell. It’s okay not to feel happy at this time of year, and it’s okay for you to seek out help if you need it. Please take care of both your physical and mental health and check in on loved ones who may be having a hard time at this time of year.
Dr. Khaldun: (18:24)
So overall, I am optimistic. The end of this pandemic is near. Vaccines are being distributed across the state and our case numbers are coming down. We know that masks work and many people across the state are wearing them. And we know that Michiganders have what it takes to bring this curve down and keep it down. 2021 is going to be a much better year. So please, everyone continue to be careful and do your part so we can bring this pandemic to an end.
Dr. Khaldun: (18:56)
And with that, I’ll turn it back over to Governor Whitmer.
Governor Whitmer: (19:06)
Thank you, Dr. Jay. All right. With that, happy to open it up for a few questions.
Speaker 4: (19:12)
Governor, the first question will come from Tim [inaudible 00:19:16].
Thank you, governor. Governor, can you give us a timeline on when we might reach the 70 to 80% of the population in Michigan being inoculated and in that period of moving up to that number, do you expect the case loads and the death count to come down correspondingly?
Governor Whitmer: (19:34)
Tim, I am going to ask Dr. Jay to come to the microphone and she can give you some insight onto all those questions.
Dr. Khaldun: (19:45)
Yeah. So I think everyone across the country wants these vaccines to be administered to people as quickly as possible. And if we get more vaccine, we will be getting it into people’s arms as quickly as we can, but we are limited right now, like every other state, by how much we have allocated, but you’re absolutely right. As we start getting vaccines out and distributed across the state, we know that those vaccines are 95%, 90 to 95% effective. So we do expect our case numbers and especially our deaths to come down, especially as we’re vaccinating some of our most vulnerable, like people who are living in our long-term care facilities.
Speaker 4: (20:27)
Okay. The next question will come from Lindsay with WOOD-TV.
Thanks for taking my question. On the vaccine front, I’m wondering if you’ve identified factors contributing to the large gap that we’re seeing between what the state has distributed and what’s been administered. And if you are seeing some factors, what are they? I’m also wondering if you have a response to some questions we’ve been receiving from viewers in West Michigan who say they know of people who may work for a hospital system, but they are not involved with direct care and they are receiving their first dose before those who are actually treating patients. And what would the message be to the hospital systems who may have that approach?
Governor Whitmer: (21:14)
So I’ll have to defer, especially in the latter part of your question to Dr. Jay. I will just start with this. I think throughout this crisis, it’s been really helpful for me to have some perspective by staying in regular contact with my fellow governors. And what we are seeing with regard to some of the initial struggles across the country is that every state in the nation is dealing with building up an apparatus to get vaccines [inaudible 00:21:45] as quickly as possible, but with a federal government that still doesn’t have a reliable regular administration and plan for getting vaccines to the states. And so our experience is not unique here in Michigan, and we are working at all hours of the day to make sure that we are building upon what we do get from the federal government, so that we’re able to move swiftly and get more vaccines made available to people as they become available.
Governor Whitmer: (22:15)
But we as a nation are all struggling with this. And so we in Michigan, I believe have got a good plan. We’re going to continue to be nimble and improve where there are opportunities to, but this certainly is a issue that stems from a lot of the lack of planning on the federal government’s part that we’re trying to make up for here as we build out our apparatus.
Governor Whitmer: (22:37)
With regard to some of the conversation about what’s happening in our hospitals and how that’s working, I’m going to ask Dr. Jay to answer that and certainly invite her to add anything she wants to the first question that I answered.
Dr. Khaldun: (22:54)
There’s no question this is the most massive vaccination effort that we’ve ever undertaken in this country. And I think that it’s the operational challenges of it means that it is I think moving slower than any of us, actually wants it to.
Dr. Khaldun: (23:13)
I’ve talked to a lot of hospital leaders, I’m speaking to chief medical officers of hospitals across the state tomorrow to understand what some of their operational challenges may be. I do know quite frankly, that some of them intentionally wanted to start just a little bit slow just to make sure they knew the process and how to move people through as quickly as possible. I will say, we do expect it to increase as far as the speed of vaccines being administered to people. We are also expanding our support as far as human resource support so that everyone can move as quickly as they can and that staffing is not a challenge.
Dr. Khaldun: (23:53)
To the other question about healthcare workers within that priority 1A group potentially getting vaccinated before others, while we certainly agree with the ACIP priority guidance, and we want there to be equitable distribution of vaccines, it is most important that we get these vaccines out and administered as quickly as possible. A vaccine that is administered to someone who is a healthcare worker is not a wasted vaccine. And so again, we are working with our hospitals. It is certainly not a perfect system, but I’m actually glad that someone got that vaccine and it’s not sitting in a freezer. So we will continue to work with our hospitals to administer the vaccine across every provider who’s in that a phase 1A group as quickly as possible.
Speaker 4: (24:45)
Great. The next question will come from Kim Russell from TV-7.
Kim Russell: (24:50)
Hi governor. With the case numbers decreasing, what do you think people should expect with when it comes to restrictions being eased? What data points are you looking for? Are we watching hospital levels? Are there still concerns there? Are there certain things in the projections that you’re concerned about because of the Christmas gatherings?
Governor Whitmer: (25:11)
Yeah, so, I mean, I think it’s the same kind of data points that we have been looking at, right? So it’s the percent of positivity in our cases. It is hospitalizations. We’re also looking at things like mobility data. We know that for Thanksgiving, that a lot of Michiganders took it very seriously and were not out and about, were not gathering. And we saw that and that worked to all of our benefit because our numbers have been on a continuous decline. As Dr. Jay said, they’re still four times where they were back in September and so they’re still high, but they have been moving in the right direction. And if that continues to be the case, then certainly we would feel that there was lower risk, and in terms of re-engaging other sectors of our economy.
Governor Whitmer: (25:58)
We have a modeling call tonight, as we do every Tuesday. Dr. Jay and I were just talking about what the, we haven’t seen the mobility data, but that is helpful to our understanding and anticipation of what we may see in terms of the numbers seven days, 10 days out from the holiday. So these are all part of the conversation that we’re having with our experts as they are giving us advice about what next steps are wise to take so we can reengage.
Speaker 4: (26:31)
Hey, governor, we’ll go to Beth with the Detroit News.
Thanks governor. I guess, for businesses struggling to pay unemployment or struggling with other financial issues, I guess, do you feel that the state’s aid to them has been enough that they don’t need this extra $220 million?
Governor Whitmer: (26:57)
So about the $220 million was a deposit into a fund. It doesn’t immediately go to the needs of anybody right now, which is a big part of the problem. I’ve been working to expand access to unemployment benefits. I worked against the last administration that changed it from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. Through executive orders earlier in this year, I extended those. We’ve been working with the legislature to try to get them to do a permanent extension. So much of the work that we have done has been about helping the unemployed and help…
Speaker 10: (27:38)
The Senate will come to order. The chaplain Dr. Barry Black will lead the Senate in prayer.
Dr. Barry Black: (27:50)
Let us pray. Prince of peace,, give us today your pardon and peace. Pardon the sins of our lips, the untrue and unkind words we have spoken. Pardon the…