Feb 4, 2021
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript February 4
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s February 4, 2021 coronavirus press conference. She announced that high school contact sports can return Monday, February 8. Read the full transcript of her COVID-19 news briefing speech here.
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Gretchen Whitmer : (00:30)
Good afternoon. Today is Thursday, February 4th. I am joined, of course, by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Dr. J, Elizabeth Hertel, our director of health and human services, Dr. Carpy [Can 00:00:43] who is a pediatrician with IHA in Ann Arbor and Legend Geeter, who is in addition to having a wonderful name, a student athlete at River Rouge. He’s one of the Panthers and he celebrated a birthday yesterday and he’s joining us today as well. So Michigan is making encouraging progress in eliminating this virus in communities across our state. Since our last press conference, Michigan passed the 1 million mark in administering vaccines all across Michigan. We’ve administered 1,076,545 total doses as of the close of yesterday of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. So, that number is going up as we speak. Every shot in the arm is a step forward toward ending the COVID-19 pandemic once and for all and our progress so far is helping us stay track to meet our goal of equitably vaccinating 70% of our 16 and up population in Michigan.
Gretchen Whitmer : (01:53)
We have made incredible strides in making these vaccines available, with every person who lives in a skilled nursing facility in Michigan that wants a vaccine having had an opportunity to receive at least a first dose. This week, we’ve also received promising news from the Biden administration, which has taken bold action to increase the vaccine supply to states and it is now at 10 and a half million doses per week nationwide with continuity and predictability for the next three weeks and I’m sure we’ll get another update next week, but that is going in the right direction.
Gretchen Whitmer : (02:32)
Of course, we want more vaccines, we need more vaccines, but the trajectory and predictability is so crucial and we are grateful for that.
Gretchen Whitmer : (02:40)
They’ve also announced that they are approving 100% reimbursement, retroactive coverage through August of 2020 for the Michigan National Guard to assist in our COVID-19 relief efforts. The men and women of the Guard have been incredible and absolutely critical to our state’s emergency response and relief efforts over the course of this last year with COVID. As we administer additional doses of these vaccines, the Michigan National Guard continues to play a vital role in our ability to administer these vaccines efficiently. They support mobile screening sites, testing, food distribution, and other safety protocols in public spaces all across the state.
Gretchen Whitmer : (03:26)
So I’m incredibly thankful for the service of our Guard members. They’re working around the clock to help Michigan fight this pandemic and will continuing to do so and I will continue to make sure that they’ve got the support they need and resources that they deserve. Going forward, it’s critical that we continue working together on an agreement that leverages every single resource and federal dollar available to support Michigan’s communities, Michigan’s businesses, Michigan students and educators, so that we can recover from this pandemic.
Gretchen Whitmer : (04:03)
I remain ready to work with anyone who wants to focus on these goals. These are not partisan goals, these are Michigan goals and while it’s important that we remain cautious and adhere to safety protocols to prevent this virus from spreading once more, thanks to our efforts over these last few months, and I mean our efforts, all of our efforts, we are now ready to take a few steps forward in returning to some normal day-to-day activities.
Gretchen Whitmer : (04:34)
Today, DHHS is issuing an epidemic order to allow in-person practice and competitions for sports leagues starting on Monday, February 8th. I know these past months have been tough on all of us and I know they’ve been really hard on student athletes who’ve been missing a sense of connection and belonging, as well as the many other attributes that playing sports provides. I appreciate the passion of our young athletes and the desire that they share to get back in the game that they love.
Gretchen Whitmer : (05:10)
Here in Michigan, we all love sports. It’s part of our DNA. And throughout this time we’ve been watching our numbers closely to make sure that we do achieve forward progress, and we are continuing to make it possible for students to get back into in-person learning as well, no later than March 1st is the goal. So I’m pleased to share, because of the steps that we’ve taken and because of your actions as well, our numbers are now in a place where we can allow our kids to get back in the game with their coaches and teammates.
Gretchen Whitmer : (05:42)
So after receiving input from doctors, from coaches, from students, from parents and legislative leaders, today DHHS is issuing a new epi order that will allow sports teams to begin in-person practice on Monday, February 8th, as long as masks are worn at all times. Teams can also compete in person with masks if possible, or where masks are not compatible with the competition, they will be allowed to compete without masks if certain strict safety protocols are in place, including a testing regimen.
Gretchen Whitmer : (06:17)
So this is exciting news, and I’m so glad that our kids are going to be able to get back into playing the sports that they love. It’s also important to remember that as we take this step, we must remain vigilant. At the end of the day, what has been the most important throughout this process in making sure that our kids can play, is that we keep them safe as they do. We don’t want them to put their own health or the health of their families at risk. It’s critical that we get this right so that our kids and educators can return to the classroom safely, so that our small businesses can stay re-engaged and our state economy can recover.
Gretchen Whitmer : (06:57)
To that end, I was also pleased to sign an executive order today to create the Student Recovery Advisory Council of Michigan. As Michigan continues to work around the clock to eliminate COVID-19, the Student Recovery Advisory Council will provide guidance and recommendations to ensure Michigan students have the tools and resources they need to get back on track and back in the classroom for in-person learning.
Gretchen Whitmer : (07:23)
It has been a tough 12 months almost. This pandemic will be over one day soon, but until then thousands of Michiganders still need support. That’s why it’s so crucial that the legislature join forces with me and pass the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan. The plan will ramp up vaccine distribution, support small businesses, get our students and educators back on track and that’s something I think we can all agree on is crucial.
Gretchen Whitmer : (07:58)
We’ve come together to pass relief package before, and we can do it again. I look forward to working with legislative partners on both sides of the aisle to make it happen. Let’s get it done. With that, I’ll turn it over to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (08:16)
Good afternoon and thank you governor. So as of yesterday, we were at 563,893 cases and 14,704 deaths due to COVID-19 in the state. Here’s where we are with the key metrics that we are tracking. Cases are currently at 159 cases per million and have been declining steadily over the past 24 days. Three regions, Detroit, Traverse City, and the Upper Peninsula are all at less than 150 cases per million people. Our test positivity rate is also declining and is now at 4.9%. That is the lowest it has been since mid-October.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (09:02)
The percent of beds that are utilized by patients with COVID-19 is steadily declining as well, and is now at 6.6%. So overall, I’m pleased that we have continued to reopen our economy. Michiganders are doing their part by wearing masks, avoiding gatherings and socially distancing and because we continue to see our metrics trending in the right direction, we can move forward with allowing contact sport practices and competitions with specific public health measures in place like mask and testing.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (09:34)
As a former college athlete myself and the mother of three children who play sports, I know the important role that sports play in our family’s lives. But we also know that one of the most important things we can do right now is have our children be able to learn in person. As we continue to re-engage, it is critical that everyone adheres to these important public health measures so we can prevent outbreaks, not just on our sports teams-
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (10:03)
… measures so we can prevent outbreaks, not just on our sports teams, but in our schools as well. Please everyone remain vigilant so we can keep our COVID-19 case numbers trending in the right direction. It’s also important that we continue to be careful because we have a new variant that has been identified in Michigan. This variant that I’ve spoken about before, B117, is more easily spread from person to person. If this variant becomes more common, as national experts predict it could, then we could see a very rapid rise in cases and more hospitalizations and deaths. So far, we have identified 28 cases of this new variant in Washtenaw County and Wayne County. And there will likely be more. We’re working very closely with our local health departments to make sure we are aggressively identifying any potential outbreaks and slowing the spread of this variant as much as possible.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (10:59)
I’m also very proud of our team at the State Bureau of Laboratories led by Dr. Sandip Shah for their national leadership in sequencing samples from across the state so we can rapidly identify these variants and slow the spread. One of the most important ways we can slow the spread and identify these new variants is by testing. So please, if you have symptoms, if you’ve been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, or if you’ve recently traveled from an area that has a known variant of this virus spreading, please do get a test. I was honored to testify in Congress this week about Michigan’s progress with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. We have made great strides with vaccinations in Michigan, announcing over a million doses administered this past Monday. Every resident and staff person in a skilled nursing facility has been offered their first dose of the vaccine. And last week, we also announced our new strategy outlining specific principles and goals that will help us end this pandemic as quickly as possible. We will continue to focus on equity and efficiency in our vaccination strategy. I’m proud of the work of our local health departments, our health systems, our pharmacies, and other partners who are doing great work to get Michiganders vaccinated. But we still do not have nearly enough vaccine to be able to get every Michigander who is currently eligible an appointment at this time. I continue to ask for your patience, but please know that everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be. And we are working to make that happen as quickly as possible.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (12:38)
Finally, I know that Superbowl Sunday is coming up and people will want to watch the game with family and friends. Please be mindful that we have to do this differently this year while we are still seeing so much virus in our communities. Michigan largely avoided a post-holiday surge because we all did the right thing. This Superbowl Sunday, please avoid gatherings. And if you do gather, please keep it limited to only one other household, and make sure you’re wearing a mask, socially distancing, and washing your hands frequently. So I’m proud to be a Michigander. As a state, most people are doing what they should be doing, and that is why we’ve been able to keep our cases going in the right direction. And we are saving lives. Everyone, please keep doing your part so we can end this pandemic as quickly as possible. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Director Hertel.
Director Hertel: (13:37)
Thank you, Dr. Khaldun. As a parent of children involved in sports as well, I understand the interest and emotion connected to finding solutions that allow us to gradually reopen opportunities for youth sports, including their physical and mental health benefits, while keeping our kids, coaches, and families as safe as possible from COVID-19. Contact sports, like other activities where participants gather and interact in close proximity across multiple households, naturally pose a higher risk of COVID-19. And it remains our responsibility to protect public health. However, as Michigan’s COVID-19 numbers trend down and we continue to understand best practices to reduce spread in close contacts like settings, after piloting a testing program for high school teams, and announcing the MI Safe Schools testing program, we believe there are opportunities to be agile and resume youth sports with a combination of public health measures and testing in place.
Director Hertel: (14:44)
Today, I signed an amended epidemic order that will allow youth contact sports to resume practice and competition with consistent masking, team testing, and other precautions beginning February 8th. This includes ice hockey, basketball, wrestling, soccer, and more. I’m excited that we are at this point where we can take this step. It is thanks to all of you who have been careful and taken steps to slow the spread of COVID-19. We know this hasn’t been easy and we thank you. And so we are counting on everyone to help make this work so we won’t eventually have to take steps backward again.
Director Hertel: (15:26)
During all practices and competitions, participants are required to remain masked during play. For sports where participants can not remain masked, all participants, excuse me, must be tested consistent with the testing protocol that will be specified in the department’s guidance for athletics to be issued February 7th. This guidance will be available on our website at michigan.gov/coronavirus. Masks should be worn at all times when not playing. Participants are required to maintain six feet of distance from each other during practice, and when not engaged in competitive play.
Director Hertel: (16:05)
Sports organizers, the institutions, the schools, associations, or other organizations that set and enforce rules to ensure the physical health and safety of all participants for an organized sport, must ensure that all competitions and practices comply with these requirements. And even when it is not required, sports organizers are strongly encouraged to administer a testing protocol as specified in our interim guidance for athletics. The order will be posted on our website at michigan.gov/coronavirus. We plan to release additional guidance by Monday to help teams and families prepare and comply with these new rules. This guidance will include a recommendation that attendance be limited to two spectators per athlete to reduce the risk of COVID-19. This information will also be posted on our website. And again, we are excited to be able to make this step forward. But coaches, players, parents, and even officiants, we need to work together to make this successful. It will take all of us sticking to the new rules for practice and game day. Our health and epidemiology teams will continue to monitor the data related to this order and our guidance. But with your partnership, we hope to stay on this course and avoid returning to a pause in play. This pandemic is not over yet, and it is important that we remain vigilant, but we have reason for hope. So keep masking up, keep physically distancing, and keep avoiding gatherings outside of your household. And at the same time, as trends improve, we will continue to look for ways to return to the activities that we love safely. Thank you. And with that, I will turn it over to Dr. Karthikeyan.
Dr. Omkar Karthikeyan: (18:10)
Good afternoon. Thank you, Governor Whitmer, for your leadership on this issue, which is, of course, of vital importance to children and families all across Michigan. My name is Dr. Omkar Karthikeyan and I’m a pediatrician with IHA in Ann Arbor. And I’m here today to speak on the importance of providing an in-person learning option for children. Children have sacrificed disproportionately since the start of the pandemic. Back in March, as the scope of COVID-19’s impact began to come into focus, school closures are one of the very first mitigation steps taken. At the same time, virtually all sports and extracurricular activities were shut down for children as well. So in the blink of an eye, they lost their entire networks for education, exercise, and socialization. Now, this was a very sensible strategy at the time as our presumption at that point was that COVID-19 would behave like influenza does where children in schools are major drivers of its propagation. However, as we moved through the spring and into the summer, what we learned is that this is very much not the case. It became clear to us that children not only were less susceptible to contracting COVID or serious illness from COVID, but they also appeared less likely to spread it either to other children or to the adults in their lives, namely the teachers, caregivers, or even their parents. Furthermore, we learned that asymptomatic spread, which has been such a major obstacle to controlling the pandemic, does not appear to occur at the same rate in children as it does in adults. And this data has borne out through numerous rather large studies involving often thousands or even hundreds of thousands of children. And it certainly was consistent with what we were observing in our pediatric practices.
Dr. Omkar Karthikeyan: (19:45)
And then in the fall, as schools began to reopen their doors all across the country, what we learned was that very basic strategies like masking and social distancing worked, and that children of all ages, even as young as four or five years old, were happy to comply with this if this is what it took to get them back in school safely.
Dr. Omkar Karthikeyan: (20:02)
… but this is what it took to get them back in school safely. These simple steps managed to more or less prevent any significant outbreaks within the school setting. And that means between students, from students to teachers, or vice versa. And this occurred even in settings of relatively high community spread. Quite simply, schools do not appear to be super spreader environments.
Dr. Omkar Karthikeyan: (20:24)
Now, unfortunately, the other thing that we’ve learned in this time is the toll that school closures has taken on children. Symptoms of anxiety and depression are on the rise, as are pediatric ER visits for mental health emergencies, child abuse rates are up, childhood obesity, long known to be an epidemic particularly here in Michigan, is on the rise as children are spending less time moving their bodies and more time in front of a screen.
Dr. Omkar Karthikeyan: (20:49)
And all across the nation we’re beginning to understand the educational shortcomings of distance learning. In my very own family, I’ve seen my daughter’s love of learning drain from her over the course of the past year or so, since she was last able to be in-person class; and this is despite her having a teacher this year who is an absolute rockstar.
Dr. Omkar Karthikeyan: (21:12)
But for many families that are far less fortunate than my own, the devastation has been profound. And this has been especially true for families of color, non-English speaking families, and those who are disadvantaged economically or otherwise, many of whom simply don’t have the time, the means, or the bandwidth to engage consistently in distance learning, and have just giving up. And so we’ve seen achievement gaps growing at alarming rates.
Dr. Omkar Karthikeyan: (21:36)
Now, certainly there are some families for whom virtual school has been the best decision for them, but I’ve spent far more visits than I would ever want to comforting families who are hurting, with parents in tears who are despondent that they feel that they’re failing their child who’s sinking academically or drowning emotionally, or trying to preserve hope for a child who’s grown disillusioned at waiting seemingly endlessly to rejoin their friends in a classroom, something they used to take for granted.
Dr. Omkar Karthikeyan: (22:04)
Now fortunately there have been many well-established roadmaps for how to reopen schools, from the CDC, the Biden administration, Governor Whitmer’s taskforce, or frankly other districts all over the nation that have successfully reopened. So it’s imperative that we utilize all of these resources together, and we connect teachers, staff, and administrators with their counterparts in the districts that have successfully reopened so that they can exchange ideas and learn best practices for their strategies. And with all things, our reopening plans need to be guided by hope and creativity, but above all science, not fear and misinformation. And of course we pediatricians always stand ready to assist in any manner possible. Thank you for your time. And with that, I’ll bring up Legend.
Legend Junior: (22:59)
Good afternoon, my name is Legend [Junior 00:23:01], and I am a senior at River Rouge High School. I will be attending Providence College in the fall on a full-ride scholarship for basketball. Thank you Governor Whitmer for listening to us, the athletics, our families, and our coaches. We all have a responsibility to ensure we keep one another safe and do our part to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
Legend Junior: (23:23)
One of the greatest lessons of basketball is teamwork, and it will take everyone to defeat this virus. This is why I’m committed to staying safe while still playing the sport that I love. Getting back into classrooms and being able to play the sport that I love will prepare me for my future. My teammates and I really appreciate that you have allowed indoor groups since January, and that gave us the opportunity to connect with one another, and get closer together. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak before you. Thank you.
Gretchen Whitmer : (23:55)
Thank you Legend, nice work. Happy birthday. Hi. Legend, thank you, Dr. K, Dr. J, Director Hertel. What’s that, I’m happy to open it up for some questions.
Speaker 2: (24:11)
Thank you governor. Our first question is in from Rick Albin with Woodtv.
Rick Albin: (24:18)
Thank you, and governor, thank you for doing this. Could you be more specific about what happened between last week and this week that brought you and the director to this decision to go ahead and open up athletics, let them resume more quickly than you had originally thought?
Gretchen Whitmer : (24:38)
We’re flipping a coin here to see who’s the best to answer that question Rick, I think I’ll hand it over to Director Hertel.
Director Hertel: (24:48)
Thank you for that question. I think Dr. Khaldun was able to demonstrate that we continue to see a downward trend in our case rates, and that our hospital capacity is in a position where our hospitals are not feeling overwhelmed with the number of patients that they have coming in, both COVID and non-COVID. So as we watch those case rates decline, we feel that we can safely open up these other activities as long as we continue to ensure that we’re putting our mitigation measures in place.
Speaker 2: (25:22)
Our next question will come from [Zach Gortel 00:25:33] with [inaudible 00:25:35].
Zach Gortel : (25:40)
Hi governor, good afternoon. There’s been a lot of activity on this issue over the last a week. To what extent did the very, very large demonstration at the Capitol over the weekend, and what had been a planned news conference today featuring a number of, as I understand, it would have been a number of pastors talking about the racial inequities of not reopening contact sports; to what extent did those factors play into your decision to let DHHS reopen contact sports?
Gretchen Whitmer : (26:16)
None. Zach, I’ve been very clear throughout this crisis that we are going to follow the science. And that’s what we have been doing. I understand that there are many different groups at various different times over the last 11 months who have made their case publicly. The fact of the matter is if anyone’s watched how I’ve conducted myself, and the way that we have navigated COVID, it’s that we have been absolutely committed to following the science. And I was at Pfizer yesterday, I took a tour, and thanked the incredible people who’ve been working so hard to deliver these vaccines. And I told them how proud all Michiganders were when we saw Pfizer highlighted on the international news as the vaccines rolled out.
Gretchen Whitmer : (27:07)
Their motto is, “Science will win.” If we follow the science, we protect lives. If we follow the science, we can safely re-engage more sections and activities of life that we all enjoy, and that we all crave.
Gretchen Whitmer : (27:20)
If we have the resources to make sure we’re successful in our vaccine administration, which we’ve been leading in, but it’s precarious, because we need those federal resources that have been allocated that just simply haven’t been appropriated yet. These are all pieces to our continued success and forward movement.
Gretchen Whitmer : (27:40)
But as for events that have happened, that’s not what drives decisions in my administration; it is the science. And I’m proud to say that the pause has worked; we are a leader regionally, we’re a leader nationally. And we’re in a strong enough position that we can do this safely. And we’ll continue to follow protocols, and continue to watch our numbers, but we want our student athletes to be successful. And I’m really pleased that we’re at this moment now, and that the numbers tell us that this is a safe step to take.
Speaker 2: (28:14)
We’ll turn over to Tim Skubick for the next question.
Tim Skubick: (28:17)
Governor, it appears that the Republicans are headed in a different position on spending the COVID dollars than your position. One, are you any closer to a compromise this week than you were last week? And are you frustrated by their inability to negotiate with them?
Gretchen Whitmer : (28:32)
So if my team can pull up that one slide that shows what is in the Michigan COVID relief plan, I think it’s important to focus on this. The federal government, signed by Donald Trump, our congressional delegation, a bipartisan group of our own congressional delegation, passed relief to states. Other States are already deploying these resources to help reengage their economy, to help with their vaccine administration, to get their kids safely back in school, to help people who are unemployed.
Gretchen Whitmer : (29:03)
Michigan has not yet, because we need to get these dollars appropriated; and that’s what I’ve asked our legislature to do. But here’s what these dollars are for; these are federal dollars have been allocated for us, they just need to be appropriated so we can really continue the progress that we’ve made, and have as strong economic re-engagement as possible.
Gretchen Whitmer : (29:22)
$90 million for a vaccine distribution, $2 billion for schools, and our educators, and our kids, $2 billion. COVID testing, $575 million that is available to us, that we just simply need to get appropriated. And I’m eager to work with the legislature to get this done. But every day that goes by that it’s not getting deployed is compromising our position as we are currently leading, and then as we seek to reengage more things.
Gretchen Whitmer : (29:54)
Rent and utility relief, $661 million for Michiganders. Food assistance, there are a lot of hungry Michiganders, two-
Gretchen Whitmer : (30:03)
… assistance. There are a lot of hungry Michiganders, $2 billion in food assistance for people that are struggling. Congress sent these dollars to Michigan, we need to get them out there so that we can support people as we are navigating these tough moments. And I’m eager to find some common ground with the legislature so that we can get this done because people of our state are relying on us to use these resources that have been given to us and get them to the people and the businesses and the students who need them most.
Governor, Are you compromising or negotiating with them?
Gretchen Whitmer : (30:37)
I’m sorry, I had a hard time hearing that last part.
Are there any talks going on, Governor?
Gretchen Whitmer : (30:51)
Oh yeah, there’s all sorts of talks going on, Tim, there always are. And I will continue talking with leaders on both sides of the aisle and both chambers of the legislature. I just hope that we get some quick action on this front, because like I said, one of my biggest concerns right now is we have been able to secure the supplies that we need as we do vaccine distribution, but we need resources to keep doing that. Other States are deploying these federal dollars that they got in the same bill that came out of Congress, they’re already putting them to work and they’re moving up on the supply list, and Michigan’s position is, we could fall down that list if we don’t have the resources to do this contractor.
Gretchen Whitmer : (31:35)
That would mean our vaccine administration perhaps slows down. That would mean a longer time before we can return to normal. That would be more people could possibly get sick and a variant could take hold. That’s precisely why this is so important that these resources that have been given to us, we get them deployed so that we can keep this trajectory that we’re on going and get back to normalcy as quickly as possible.
Speaker 3: (32:02)
Our next question will come from Dave Boucher at the Detroit Free Press.
Dave Boucher: (32:07)
Hi, thank you. We’ve talked a lot about the disconnect between the number of vaccines distributed and the number of vaccines administered, I’m wondering what it would take to administer every vaccine has been distributed in the state in the next 24 hours? We’ve heard a lot from readers and viewers about why that can’t happen.
Gretchen Whitmer : (32:27)
I’m going to ask Dr. Khaldun to explain it to you.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (32:32)
Yes, so that’s an excellent question. I’ll say, the way that the vaccine distribution works is someone has to actually schedule an appointment. It’s not that the vaccines just show up someplace, and then we have lines of people who just show up and expect to get their shot that day. So we want this to be organized and planned. We do have a goal of 90% of those shots that are received by any facility that they’re administered within seven days of receipt. But it needs to be organized, there needs to be appointments, it needs to be scheduled. The way that these vaccines have to be handled as far as the temperature and being in a freezer and then being thawed, we want it to be done well, and so it can’t all be done within 24 hours. And I have not heard of any state that has set that goal of it being in an arm within 24 hours.
Speaker 3: (33:22)
Our next question will come from Jacob with MIRS.
Hey Governor, returning to the decision to allow youth contact sports were earlier than previously announced. Do you see this as an attempt to reach across the aisle to Republicans? And if so, what would you hope that they do in return?
Gretchen Whitmer : (33:46)
I’ve been clear throughout this crisis that we are going to be following science and listening to our public health experts. We’re very fortunate that we’ve got some of the best public health experts on the planet here in Michigan, whether it’s Dr. Joneigh Khaldun or is Dr. [Kay 00:34:03] or it has all of the phenomenal leaders of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, or our epidemiology department here at the state of Michigan, Dr. Lyon-Callo and her team, our local health departments. I mean, we’ve got some of the best brains there are. We’ve been staying focused on the science.
Gretchen Whitmer : (34:21)
There certainly are perspectives that I think are important, and we are always interested in making sure that we take those into consideration and listen to them. I appreciate the work that the Senate, in particular appropriations did with Director Hertel having a conversation and really seeking to understand and relaying some of the questions and concerns that they have. I know that there is a desire to understand, and it’s our desire to make sure that we include as many people in the conversation. But at the end of the day, the North star is always going to be the science and the numbers and the public health of the people of the state.
Speaker 3: (35:09)
We’ll take a couple more questions, and I’ll hand it over to Craig Mauger, Detroit News.
Craig Mauger: (35:15)
Hey, thanks Governor for taking my question. Governor, I wonder what you say to school districts in this state that are not offering any in-person instruction at this point, but will allow athletics to begin on Monday, what do you say to those districts? Is that a good decision or not?
Gretchen Whitmer : (35:31)
You know what, I’m not going to second guess individual districts. I think that’s why it’s so important that decisions are made at the local level because they are confronting a certain set of factors that we can’t anticipate. We get hundreds and hundreds of districts in Michigan, and that’s why them having the ability, us giving them the support so that they can be successful, us giving them the knowledge and the blueprint, and that’s why we’ve re impaneled the Return to Learn advisory council so that we can focus on academic recovery. We know the learning loss is real. We know that in a normal year between the last day of school and the first day of the next year, there’s always learning loss and that learning loss is always more profound for kids who are in poverty or kids who are English language learners or kids who are at risk. The normal learning loss will be dwarfed by the COVID learning loss.
Gretchen Whitmer : (36:21)
And that’s something as a parent, as a governor, as someone who wants Michigan to be a leader in the space of educating our kids, I recognize this is going to have to take a lot of our energy and focus. And that’s precisely why when we have $2 billion from the federal government that we can infuse into our schools and into our education systems, every day that it’s not appropriated, I worry means it’s a day that we’re not doing everything we can to support the resumption of in-person learning. And so I’m not going to second guess individual districts. I am going to say from my perspective as a parent, I recognize that today’s step is re-engaging student athletics, but my premier goal is to try to make sure that we meet the educational needs of our students across the state. And that’s what this task force is doing, that’s what the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan is focused on as well.
Speaker 3: (37:19)
The last one’s [inaudible 00:37:20] Emily Lawler with MLive.
Emily Lawler: (37:21)
Hi governor, thanks for taking my question. I talked to a County public health official last week who said that through contact tracing, they know that team sports this fall were responsible for some transmission that kept kids from being able to go to school. How are you balancing athletics and academics in this decision? And if you see athletics causing spread, will you hesitate to shut them down again?
Gretchen Whitmer : (37:48)
I’m going to ask Dr. Khaldun to step in here.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (37:53)
Yeah, I think it’s important. You know, I mentioned in my remarks that we know that athletics and athletic teams are very associated with schools. But also we know that schools can operate very safely wearing mask and distancing, so that’s very, very important. We’ll continue to watch the numbers. We’ll continue to watch our cases, but we do think that there is a way for athletes to be able to participate in the safest way possible.
Gretchen Whitmer : (38:20)
All right, thank you everybody have a good one.