Dec 3, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript December 3
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s December 3 coronavirus press conference. Read the full transcript of her COVID-19 news briefing speech here.
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Gov. Whitmer: (00:32)
Good afternoon. Today is Thursday, December 3rd. I am joined by, of course, our Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, and of course our Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.
Gov. Whitmer: (00:47)
In the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew that this virus had a disproportionate impact on Black communities, because here in Michigan, we saw it. Dr. Khaldun was one of the first people in the nation to identify this. This virus has exposed deep inequities in our state and in our nation, inequities in access to healthcare, affordable housing, transportation, and good paying jobs.
Gov. Whitmer: (01:16)
It’s attacked everyone from the very young to the very old, especially in the Black community. Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist alone has lost dozens of loved ones to COVID-19. Every day, I think about the lives lost here in Michigan to this virus, and this holiday season, especially, I think about the empty chairs at dinner tables across the state that should be filled with people we love. Michiganders everywhere are mourning the loss of their friends, families, and neighbors preparing to start a new year without them.
Gov. Whitmer: (01:53)
I know how widespread the pain has been in communities of color and in the Black community in particular. Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist, Dr. Khaldun and I knew from the beginning, we could not eradicate this virus and save lives without putting a direct focus on its impact on Black communities. We got to work. We listened to the medical experts, and we took a fact-based approach to eradicating this virus.
Gov. Whitmer: (02:21)
Michigan was one of the first states to release demographic data on COVID-19, because we are committed to leading and living our values, which are rooted in justice and equality and equity. In April, I created the COVID-19 Task Force on Racial Disparities, chaired by the Lieutenant Governor to help us protect our most vulnerable communities.
Gov. Whitmer: (02:47)
Since its inception, the members of the task force have been working around the clock to help protect Black communities from the disparate impacts of COVID-19. As a result of their efforts, the task force has made a number of recommendations to address immediate gaps in the state’s COVID-19 response to provide vulnerable communities with access to critical health and non-health resources, and to start work to change the structures that have perpetuated the disparities in Michigan.
Gov. Whitmer: (03:20)
We have emerged as a national leader in reducing these disparities during COVID-19. 15% of Michiganders are African American, but in April, African Americans accounted for over 40% of the COVID-19 cases and deaths. The task force, the Michigan Task Force on Racial Disparities, studied this issue and made quick recommendations about actions we could take to immediately address it and the historic and systemic inequities that underlie them.
Gov. Whitmer: (03:54)
Now, thanks to their hard work, our state has seen significant progress. From March and April to September and October, the average cases per million per day for African-American Michiganders dropped from 176 to 59. In the same period, the number of probable deaths per million among African-American Michiganders dropped significantly from 21.7 to one.
Gov. Whitmer: (04:28)
Today, we are announcing the findings and goals outlined in the task force’s interim report, and I’ll let the Lieutenant Governor get into the specifics of the report’s findings. I do want to highlight some of the actions we’ve taken it in the past nine months to protect communities of color.
Gov. Whitmer: (04:46)
As of November 16, more than 24,000 tests have been administered to previously underserved communities across 21 neighborhood testing sites. These state-operated sites provide COVID-19 testing on a consistent schedule several days a week. One additional site is scheduled to launch prior to the end of this year. All sites offer free testing and prescription is not required for someone to get their test, nor is any form of ID required. I urge people to find their nearest testing site if they need a test. This September, my administration created the Rapid Response Grant Program, which has awarded 31 grants for a total of $20 million of CARES Act funding to local organizations. These grants are used for things like addressing food and housing insecurity, increasing access to testing and flu vaccines, improving contact tracing and more.
Gov. Whitmer: (05:56)
The data is clear, and the actions our administration and the Racial Disparities Task Force have taken have saved lives and protected our most vulnerable populations. We’ve helped reduce the number of COVID-19 infections in communities of high risk of spread with elevated risk of severe outcomes.
Gov. Whitmer: (06:18)
As we enter the colder months, the task force will continue to work 24/7 to protect our communities. The progress we’ve made is promising, but we’ve got to continue working to protect our most vulnerable populations from the spread of COVID-19. Our number of COVID-related cases and hospitalizations is still dangerously high, and dozens of Michiganders are losing their lives to this virus each day.
Gov. Whitmer: (06:50)
We must continue to work together to protect each other. As I’ve said before, we don’t need an epidemic order to know what the right thing to do is. We just need to do it, because the science is settled, wearing a face mask and keeping at least six feet of distance from others are the greatest tools that we have to combat the spread of this virus.
Gov. Whitmer: (07:15)
There is great, great hope on the horizon. We’ve seen significant progress in vaccine development from Pfizer, and even doing some of that work here in Michigan and Moderna, and we anticipate there will be others coming online as well. We’ll continue to work to ensure any effective and safe vaccine is distributed safely and in a way that follows CDC guidance.
Gov. Whitmer: (07:45)
If we want to eradicate this virus once and for all, we’ve got to work together. We got to keep our numbers down by masking up, by washing our hands frequently, and by maintaining six feet of social distance. Please, avoid indoor gatherings where COVID-19 can easily spread from person to person.
Gov. Whitmer: (08:07)
We all have a personal responsibility to protect each other. Even one infection, one unknown infection of an asymptomatic person, can cause an outbreak in our communities. We’ve done this before. We have beat this virus in the spring by listening to medical experts, and we can do it again. With that, I want to hand this over to our Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist to talk a little bit more about the Racial Disparities Task Force and the work that is. Thank you.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (08:47)
Thank you, governor, and I also want to thank and acknowledge Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, our chief medical executive, and say good afternoon to everyone.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (08:55)
Since the beginning of this global pandemic, the coronavirus has really shined a light on the health, economic and educational challenges that Black communities, and frankly, most communities of color face on a daily basis. We observed these deadly trends presenting themselves due to COVID. We did not wait. We took immediate action.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (09:17)
Our state chose not to wait. Black Michiganders could not afford for us to wait. That is why under Governor Whitman’s leadership, six months ago, the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities was established. I am proud and honored to serve as the chairperson of this task force. This work is really deeply personal to me.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (09:42)
I have lost 24 people in my life to COVID-19. As the governor alluded to, that’s 24 empty seats at the dinner table, 24 people who will not have the opportunity to spend another holiday with their loved ones. This is a reality for more and more Michiganders every single day across our state.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (10:07)
With these cases continuously and precipitously rising across the state, it is more important than ever that we continue the work of the Task Force on Racial Disparities. This task force is dedicated to combating COVID-19 with a fact-based approach to eliminating the virus. Today, the task force is releasing an interim report. This report details the progress that we have made as a state on understanding and addressing racial disparities since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (10:40)
I first and foremost want to thank the members of the task force and the state employees from literally every state department and agency for the care and commitment that they have shown daily to flattening racial disparities during this pandemic and beyond. I also want to stress that this is an interim report. The work is not done. This report recognizes the many continued challenges that vulnerable communities in our state face and provides direction for even more action.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (11:14)
The task force was established to prioritize our communities of colors’ short-term needs, without losing sight of the genuine need to reverse generations of racism and inequity that has brought harm and built barriers that people of color must overcome to lead happier and healthier lives. This report shows that the work that has taken place over the last six months and looks ahead at what is to come.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (11:42)
It’s clear that we’ve made progress. Michigan has been recognized nationally for our broader pandemic response, and we have shown that it is possible to reduce the disparities. We were pleased report significant progress has been made toward our first goal to reduce COVID-19 disparities for communities of color and specifically for Black communities over the last six months.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (12:03)
In the early stage of the pandemic, the virus was killing Black people in Michigan at a rate five times higher than that of white Michiganders. In the most recent available data, however, we’ve seen significant progress with Black people accounting for only 9.1% of the cases and 5.7% of the deaths. To put that in perspective, Black people made up under 14% of the population in the state of Michigan, and at the beginning of the pandemic, we were accounting for more than 38% of the cases and 41% of the deaths.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (12:35)
We’ve been able to do things like provide grants to an initiative that will help ensure that these improvements for Black communities are sustained by addressing things like food and housing insecurity, access to technology and the internet and flu vaccination. The task force has worked on closing the digital divide to enable tele-health services and remote learning.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (12:55)
We launched a Get Covered Campaign that makes a coordinated push for every Michigander to sign up for health insurance. We’ve increased our mobile test-
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (13:03)
… to sign up for health insurance. We’ve increased our mobile testing infrastructure and that infrastructure that is already in place, will be able to be extended to offer fervor health services as well as vaccine distribution. And we’ve also sent guidance to health professionals on how and what they can do to avoid implicit bias. Now, while we have taken bees and a number of other specific actions that are listed in the report, the big takeaway is that more than any particular intervention, it is the prioritized attention that our state has placed on reducing these disparities and on resourcing and protecting these more vulnerable Michiganders that has led to these outcomes. These are real actions that we’ve put into place to help reduce disparities for communities of color, but our work is frankly, still just beginning. So going forward, this task force will continue to identify and recommend immediate and long-term solutions to disparities caused by this pandemic.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (14:07)
In this sense, I’m reminded of the words of Nelson Mandela. When he said that, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” Along with several specific initiatives, we will be prioritizing the following goals. Maintaining and expanding the progress made to flatten racial and ethnic disparities. Continuing the targeted encouragement to remain vigilant and following recommended personal behaviors, guidelines to limit the spread and exposure. We’ll develop and implement programs for equitable management and distribution of approved vaccines and antiviral treatments for COVID-19 and the flu. And we’ll proposed policy changes that strengthen communities of color’s resilience and wherewithal, to make it through this pandemic and future public health challenges, we must continue to fight and combat COVID-19 with tools like wearing a mask, washing our hands and practicing physical distancing, we know that there is a light at the end of this tunnel.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (15:11)
You must think of others during these difficult times. We must take responsibility for protecting ourselves and protecting one another. We beat this virus previously by listening to the medical experts and we can do it again. And positive news is within reach. Let me be really clear, the vaccine coming is a good thing. But the presence of a vaccine only matters if people get vaccinated. Several vaccines are very close to distribution, but it will be critical that you vaccinate as many people as possible. Taskforce members are hard at work right now, coming up with ways to address the fears, concerns, questions, and apprehension that exists for many legitimate reasons in communities of color in Michigan. I recognize the historical stain that past, large-scale medical interventions and vaccines have left on communities of color and the black community in particular. I’m also confident that these challenges can be overcome.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (16:15)
They must be, for our communities to once and for all get past this virus. We are committed to listening to and answering all the questions that people in black, brown, indigenous and other communities have about vaccine safety and efficacy. We are blessed in Michigan to have starting with Dr. Khaldun, some of the best minds in the world to make sure that this process is safe, equitable, and trustworthy. We need to get the word out to all communities that when the vaccine is available and safe, we need to utilize it. I’m encouraging everyone to help get that word out. I will get vaccinated publicly at the appropriate time. We need you to tell your friends and family members, your neighbors, that we must all do our part to protect one another when the time comes. When vaccines are approved by the FDA, we will begin to work on distribution, working with hospitals, local health departments and community partners. Dr. Khaldun and her team at DHSS have already been developing a plan to distribute the vaccine.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (17:17)
Rest assured that in time, everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one. The COVID-19 vaccine will be similar to the flu shot. And by the way, there is still time to get flu shots this year. I did get one myself and my family has gotten flu shots as well. It was simple, it is painless and it is effective and only takes a few minutes. So if you haven’t gotten your flu shot, I implore you to do so. By getting a flu shot, not only protecting ourselves, but we’re also protecting those who are working every day to protect and sustain life. The lessons that we’ve learned on reducing racial disparities can and must inform our state and national response to COVID-19 going forward. We are making these data and learnings public, so that leaders everywhere can benefit from and build upon our progress in the weeks and months ahead. I’d like to close, inspired by the words of Alice Walker, who wrote that, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” This year has been so, so hard.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (18:24)
People are so, so tired. Some may even be ready to throw their hands in the air, give up and give in to the virus. But I’m asking that for your sake, for the sake of your loved ones, for the sake of our state and nation, that you stay vigilant. You have the power today to make the choices that will slow the spread of this virus and that will help us reach the other side of this pandemic and do so together.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: (18:52)
The battle against COVID-19 continues, but Michigan is making progress. With the continued support and commitment of state leadership, the work of this task force will deliver meaningful progress toward our vision for racial equity across Michigan, both during this pandemic and well after. The work we’re doing today in Michigan will have a lasting impact on my children and future generations of Michiganders. And myself working along with Governor Whitmer and Dr. Khaldun, we are committed to this work. Thank you all. Please continue to stay safe, continue to mask up and tell you to stand tall and do your part to connect our communities. And with that, I’d like to turn this over to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (19:44)
Good afternoon. Thank you, Governor and Lieutenant Governor, I also really want to applaud the leadership of the Lieutenant Governor and the governor and the work of the Racial Disparities Task Force to address the disparities that we’ve seen with COVID-19. As of yesterday, we had 373,197 cases due to COVID-19 in the state and 9,405 deaths. We are still seeing a slight decline in the rate of new cases over the past 13 days, but our case rates remain alarmingly high. Rates in the state are five times what we saw in the beginning of October. Every area of the state has a case rate over 450 cases per million. And our case positivity rate ranges from 8.5% in the UP to 15% in the Kalamazoo area. Our hospitals are still working hard to be able to take care of COVID and non COVID patients, but many are near or at capacity.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (20:53)
Currently, 81% of hospital ICU beds are full. We are continuing to work with our hospitals to make sure they have what they need to take care of patients and implement their surge plans. We are also still identifying many outbreaks across the state. The top categories for identified outbreaks continues to be long-term care facilities followed by K through 12 schools, manufacturing, healthcare, office settings, and restaurants and bars. We continue to work with our local health departments on reaching out to positive cases and to identify their contacts and potential outbreaks. But at the current rates, again, our state and local public health workers are just not able to keep up. And that means that our outbreak data is limited. It also means it is so important that people continue to do their part. If you know you’ve been exposed, make sure you quarantine and stay away from others.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (21:53)
And if you’re a medical provider or a lab informs you that your test is positive before your local health department calls you, make sure you are doing the appropriate thing by isolating yourself from others and letting your close contacts know. I also have really important information to share about quarantine. Michigan has continued to follow the latest science and data when it comes to quarantine, based on CDC recommendations. Throughout the pandemic, based on analysis of available data, the CDC recommended quarantine period has been 14 days. This week, the CDC released new data based on analysis of hundreds of thousands of cases, indicating at 99% of cases will become infectious within 10 days of exposure or develop symptoms. Based on this new data, the CDC has offered an option for how to potentially shorten the quarantine period in certain circumstances.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (22:57)
While 14 days still remains the gold standard for quarantine and it’s the safest way to know that you will not develop an infection after exposure to COVID-19, local and state public health staff will now have the option to allow people who have not developed symptoms during the 10 days after an exposure to be released from quarantine. With this new quarantine option, people should still remain vigilant by checking for symptoms daily for the entire 14 days after exposure. And they should still continue to do important things like wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. This is great news. This means that while we all still have to remain careful, people can get back to their daily lives, work and school more quickly after being exposed. MDHHS will continue to evaluate data and ways to potentially reduce the quarantine period further in the safest way. So it’s getting easier.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (24:05)
Let’s all do our part. If you’ve been exposed, please do follow public health recommendations and quarantine like you are supposed to. This means no contacts, and for most people not leaving your house at all, unless you have special permission based on your job. If you’re in quarantine and you develop symptoms, please do get a test. There are hundreds of testing sites across the entire state, and you can go to our website, www.michigan.gov/coronavirustest to find the one nearest you. I also want to spend some time talking about some of the work we are doing to support our aging community under the leadership of Dr. Alexis Travis, our MDHHS senior deputy for aging. This pandemic has changed the way we all have to interact with each other and this may be especially challenging for our older adults. Some may need assistance learning how to use video services to communicate with loved ones, learn how to do things like order groceries or household items online, or even to learn how to access important services like telehealth.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (25:13)
MDHHS with the support of the Michigan health endowment fund is partnering with Get Set Up, an education technology company dedicated to creating economic and learning opportunities for older adults. The partnership creates a new, free resource for Michiganders age 60 and over. They can now access more than 150 online group classes, designed for and led by older adults. Offerings include classes on how to use a smartphone or a tablet, how to use services like video conferencing, email, social media, grocery delivery, and telemedicine, as well as virtual social hours. Classes are offered online and they also have a call in option. So we are really excited about this partnership and we want-
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (26:03)
… an option, so we are really excited about this partnership and we want everyone to please take advantage of this new resource. You can visit GetSetUp.io/Michigan, or you can call 1-888-559-1614 for more information.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (26:24)
Let me talk a little more about vaccines, which I spoke about earlier this week as well. We’re working daily with our hospitals, local health departments and other partners to plan for when a COVID vaccine will become available, which we expect to be as early as December 15th. This is really exciting, and I want people to be right now thinking about their plans for getting the vaccine when it becomes available to them. Please know that we will not promote this vaccine in Michigan unless the science is clear that it is safe and effective. The United States has the most respected scientists and experts in vaccines who are reviewing this data, and they will not recommend approval unless the data shows that is it is acceptable.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (27:14)
You should also know that the process for this vaccine being approved is solid. Tens of thousands of people have been involved in trials already, and while the timeline has been condensed, no steps have been skipped. When this vaccine hopefully becomes available later this month, we want to make sure that those who are most critical to keeping our health care system functioning, our essential workers, and those who are most vulnerable to getting severely ill from COVID-19 get this vaccine. And as more supply becomes available, eventually the general public will be able to get the vaccine as well. So if you are an adult over 18, be planning now for how you will get it. You can also visit our website for more information at www.michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine. We will keep this page updated regularly.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (28:10)
So this month is already very promising. More data is coming out about being able to shorten the quarantine period in certain circumstances. We are seeing signs that the case rate is slowing over the past couple of weeks, and vaccines are coming very soon. Let’s all think about how we can be proactive in our lives to fight this pandemic. Wear your mask, wash your hands, do the right thing by socially distancing and not gathering in crowded places. This pandemic will end, and we want to be able to look back and say we did it best in Michigan by coming together, taking care of each other and doing the right thing. And with that, I will turn it back over to Governor Whitmer.
Gov. Whitmer: (28:57)
[inaudible 00:29:02]. Okay. With that, happy to open it up for a few questions.
Speaker 3: (29:13)
Hey, Governor. The first question will come from Kim Craig with TV7.
Kim Craig: (29:20)
Hi, folks. Two quick questions. Can you briefly explain why the Black community is at increased risk, and then also, how do you qualify the earlier statement that Michigan beat the virus before?
Gov. Whitmer: (29:34)
I’ll answer the first question, then I’ll hand it over to Dr. Khaldun. In the spring, it seems like a lifetime ago, I know for some. It seems like yesterday for others, but we saw such exponential growth and community spread, and we took action, and the vast majority of people did what needed to do to push the numbers down. We saved our healthcare systems from being overwhelmed. We saved thousands of lives because of that action, that collective action. Of course, we had to make a lot of hard decisions here in state government, but it was the people of Michigan that rose to the challenge. We really pushed our curve down, and that’s what I meant when I said that. We have beaten this buyer virus back before. We can do this. We know how to do it, and if everyone does their part, we will do that. With regard to the unique exposure with the African-American community to COVID-19, I will ask, of course, Dr. Khaldun to answer that part of the question.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (30:42)
And so I think when we talk about why we’ve seen these disparities, it’s important to understand that it has nothing to do with skin color. It’s really about exposure and what jobs people are doing and what resources they have. So if you think about early in the pandemic, when we said most individuals needed to stay at home, there were still essential workers who had to come out of their homes. Maybe they didn’t have a car and they needed to share rides. Maybe they still had to go out to the grocery store and couldn’t have delivery service, or maybe they were frontline workers who sometimes tend to not make as much money, so they had to work at our grocery stores or drive our buses. So it’s really about exposure and equity when it comes to why we’ve seen these disparities.
Speaker 3: (31:32)
Next call comes from Jonathan [inaudible 00:05:34].
Hey, Governor. As you probably know, six state legislators have disclosed COVID diagnosis in the past month, but the House Republicans in particular will not publicly say how many legislators or staffers contracted COVID-19. Are you committed to doing that? Will you do that for your executive office, have you had cases? Have you been tested recently? Can you talk about that?
Gov. Whitmer: (32:10)
Thanks, Johnathan. I appreciate the question. I have not had a recent test. I have taken a total of four COVID tests. All of them were negative. If I should take a COVID test that comes back positive, I will absolutely disclose that, and I think all elected officials in particular should make the same exact commitment, especially in the legislature that is continuing to meet and has a variety of staff people as well as press people as well as the general public who are in and out of this building. And so I feel very strongly that anyone in these positions who has a positive test should make a commitment to disclose that so that they can keep others safe, educate the public about how prevalent this virus is. I believe that’s the right thing to do, and I think that they should all do that. I’m hearing much similar to what you’re hearing is that there are quite a few people who have COVID, however, it should be a policy, I think, of the legislature to share that information affirmatively.
Speaker 3: (33:17)
Thank you, Governor. The next question will come from Rod with TV4 in Detroit.
Yeah. Good afternoon, Governor. We are curious about the extension of the three weeks. Is that on the table? Are you looking at an extension, and if so, when might you make that announcement?
Gov. Whitmer: (33:39)
So Rod, I think at this juncture, everyone has to know that, of course, we are looking at the data every single day, trying to make decisions with the best information that we have. We also know that there’s a concerning amount of activity that happened around Thanksgiving that will make this month and possibly next month, with the advent of Christmas, potentially spreading events, sadly. That’s why we’re really encouraging people to take this seriously right now. As we look at the data, we’re going to continue to look at the percent of tests that come back positive. We’re continuing to work very closely with our health systems and the leadership there so that we know really how serious the impact has been on our ability to meet the health needs of people across the state. If you are looking at some of the most recent reporting, you know every health system in the state has seen a growth in their hospitalizations from where we were just a month ago, and that is very concerning for everyone in the community.
Gov. Whitmer: (34:50)
And so as we get I think a few more days of information under our belts, we’ll be in a much stronger position to really assess if there are some things that maybe are safer to do, but if we have to make some extensions of the current pause in some realms, and that is sadly possible because of the just sheer volume of COVID. I have to tell you too, we are continuing to pursue ways to help businesses that are a part of this pause because the nature of them, right? Because indoor, multiple households, activities that require taking a mask off like eating. It is my hope that we get this federal stimulus. There’s also efforts being done here in Lansing in hopes that we can get $100 million to help some of these businesses and unemployed workers, as well as build up our apparatus to distribute vaccines.
Gov. Whitmer: (35:48)
So, there are also other things that we are looking to see how we can alleviate the burden on these businesses, including encouraging the public to get takeout, to support your local restaurant, buy gift certificates for people for the holiday If you’re looking for gifts, then want to also support your local restaurant. We want to keep them afloat. While we know that congregating in enclosed spaces with multiple households is inherently dangerous, we’re going to do everything we can to help them get through this tough time.
Speaker 3: (36:22)
All right. We’ll go to Tim Skubick.
Tim Skubick: (36:25)
Governor, to be frank with the people in Michigan, we’re going to take an incredible turnaround in these numbers for you to lift the restrictions on December the 8th. Fair statement?
Gov. Whitmer: (36:36)
Well, Tim, the early numbers look as though we’re seeing a little bit of a leveling. That’s a good thing. We’re on this very dramatic upward trajectory, and leveling is … Think about how many beds we’re not taking, because if we can level that curb. Ultimately, we need to bring it down. When you look at what’s happening in states all around us, you look at other countries that are a little further ahead in the second wave, you know that actions like these have helped to bring those numbers down, and that’s what we’re hoping. The bottom line really is do the masses, do the people do their part, right? It comes down to individuals, all of us doing our part and taking this seriously.
Gov. Whitmer: (37:24)
We said eight, nine months ago that if everyone could just stay in place for three weeks, this virus would be gone, and that’s why here we are eight months later, over 9,000 people having lost their lives to this virus, having what was equivalent of a September 11th event just yesterday in America, the number of lives lost just yesterday. If we could all do our part right now and take this incredibly, three weeks from now life would look very differently. So we really are encouraging people not to travel for Christmas. Start figuring out how to use Zoom to stay close? How do you drop off meals so you don’t combine households in enclosed settings? How can we get through this Christmas season, so next year we can do what we love to do and congregate together. But right now is a really critical time. There is a great deal of hope. I mean, I’m really just so inspired by the work that’s happened around vaccines. It’s amazing, and it’s a reality that we will all benefit from in the coming months. But right now, it’s a really dangerous moment.
Speaker 3: (38:44)
Okay. We’ll take just a couple more questions. So the next one will come from Zach with Gongwer.
Hi, Governor. On the subject of Michigan’s prisons, a number of advocates for Michigan’s prisoners are beseeching you to take …
… prisoners are beseeching you to take action to release some prisoners who are past their earliest release dates given the skyrocketing numbers of COVID cases and escalating numbers of deaths in MDOC facilities. Safe & Just Michigan had a number of tweets yesterday. I want to read one of them to you. It says, “One of the reasons Governor Whitmer supporters like her is that she listens to science. So why does she shut her ears to the science and says, cutting prison populations is key to stopping COVID-19 spread?” Can you respond to that and address where you are at regarding how to deal with COVID in prisons and if releases are something you’ll consider?
Gov. Whitmer: (39:44)
I appreciate the question. Zack, I’m not going to get in the habit of responding to every single tweet or this would be a press conference that never ended. But I will acknowledge that this is a concern that we share as an administration. And I know that families across the state are worried about the safety of their loved ones who are serving time in our prisons or jails. I want to tell you that this is an issue that my administration takes very seriously and so does the leadership of the Department of Corrections. We are following CDC guidance and implementing strict safety measures to protect staff and people serving time. They are all required to wear masks and to practice social distancing and to utilize proper hygienic protocols. The MDOC is also conducting mandatory testing on all prisoners and prisoner staff every week right now. The department is doing roughly 40,000 tests every week and has conducted almost 400,000 COVID tests since the beginning of this pandemic.
Gov. Whitmer: (40:53)
We are one of the only states in the nation that is conducting this type of testing and making this the priority that we have and taking it as seriously as we do. The department has suspended in-person visits since March. They’ve heavily reduced transfers. They clean each prison cell with bleach every day. And the department has a strong relationship with Wayne State University, which provides doctors to the Michigan Department of Corrections that serve as the head of their clinical COVID response. So the MDOC leadership has regular meetings with MDHHS and Dr. Khaldun and have taken incredible actions to keep prisoners safe. I will also say that we have paroled a lot of people in the last 10 months, people that were eligible. But I know that our parole board has worked diligently to ensure community stays safe, but that we are able to get people who are close to have completed their time through the system as quickly as possible and that has alleviated some of the population question that I think you’re raising as well.
Speaker 4: (42:11)
Hey governor. The last question will come from Jacob with [inaudible 00:42:14]
Hey governor. I’m going to go ahead and try to squeeze two questions in here. Number one is the other day you mentioned that the data shows or you were told that there was too much travel over Thanksgiving, and I wanted to see if you had some Michigan specific data for that. Number two, I noticed that Dr. Khaldun did not also mention that the new quarantine guidelines also include a seven day option with a negative test and I wanted to see if Michigan is echoing that guideline as well to local officials here.
Gov. Whitmer: (42:52)
I am going to ask Dr. Khaldun to answer that second part of the question, and she might want to add a little bit to my response to the first part of the question. With regard to national mobility statistics, we know that millions of Americans traveled around Thanksgiving. We know that there were a lot of people traveling in Michigan through our assessment of mobility and the data that has been shared. I don’t have something that I can cite for you right now, but certainly Tiffany would be happy to follow up with you on that.
Gov. Whitmer: (43:23)
As we chatted with the national experts last Sunday, the Sunday before this one that just passed a few days ago, whether it was Ashish Jha or Scott Gottlieb, or Zeke Emanuel, or Josh Sharfstein, each of them cited the Thanksgiving activities and mobility and travel and congregation as a factor that they are very alarmed about as we think about what our COVID numbers look like with as much community spread as we have now, and what we anticipate COVID numbers looking like in a couple of weeks or in another week. So one week out from Thanksgiving. Acknowledging that four weeks out is when you typically see the heightened hospitalizations and hospitals that are already getting close to the brink.
Gov. Whitmer: (44:19)
You add all of those things together and that’s why they’re telling us that the next eight weeks are going to be really difficult, December and January, because of the lag of this type of a virus. And so that’s really, I think, the bigger picture about why mobility, why congregating for the holidays, why it all feeds the growth of this virus and the community spread. With that, Dr. J can add to that if she’d like, and then also focus on the second part of your question. She might need you to repeat it. I’m not sure.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (44:53)
Yes. Thank you for the question. Regarding the mobility data, we are working with epidemiologists at the University of Michigan and also doing modeling and comparisons for Michigan and other states when it comes to mobility and not just over the holidays, but also over the past several weeks. And it is clear that Michigan, we’ve seen a little bit of decreased mobility in the beginning of November, but certainly, again, all national reports are showing that people traveled over the Thanksgiving holiday in ways that they hadn’t since before when this pandemic had started. So I’ll talk about your second question, which I believe was about the other CDC option for shortening the quarantine period. And so the one I talked about was 10 days. So if you’ve had no symptoms after exposure for 10 days, then you can be removed from quarantine even if you do not have a test and you still check yourself daily for symptoms for the entire 14 day, still gold standard quarantine period.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (45:53)
The CDC has also offered an additional option for people in certain circumstances if they’ve not had symptoms for seven days after exposure, to be able to get a test within the last two days of that seven days, to be able to remove themselves from quarantine and still, of course, needing to check for symptoms. That aspect we are still communicating about with our local health departments. Obviously, the shorter the timeframe of that quarantine, the more risk there is for someone to still have the disease and spread it to others. And we also have to make sure if that strategy is implemented, people can get access to tests in an appropriate manner and those negative test results are also shared with local health departments so that they understand if that person actually can be removed from quarantine. And so those are logistics that we are still talking through and working through with our local health departments.
Speaker 4: (46:55)
Thank you, Dr. Khaldun. Thank you, governor. Thank you, lieutenant governor. Have a great day everybody.
Gov. Whitmer: (46:58)