Jan 22, 2021

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript January 22

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript January 22
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsMichigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript January 22

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s January 22, 2021 coronavirus press conference. Read the full transcript of her COVID-19 news briefing speech here.

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Gretchen Whitmer: (02:00)
Good morning, today is January 22nd. It’s Friday, and I’m glad that you’ve joined us. I am, of course, joined by Dr. Janae Khaldoon, our chief medical executive, and Kim Collins, owner and head brewer at Guardian Brewing Company in Saugatuck, Michigan.

Gretchen Whitmer: (02:17)
On Wednesday, the United States saw the swearing in of a new president. When President Biden took the steps of the United States Capitol, he said, “Together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division.” And I think that that is an incredibly important message for our nation at this time, and certainly for all of us here in Michigan as well. It is time to join forces, and unify as one US, as one Michigan. We are all facing a common enemy, COVID-19, and we’ve been battling this enemy for months. This virus has now taken more than 14,000 lives here in Michigan. That’s 14, 000 of our family, our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers. We’ve got to work together to get through this and to protect one another.

Gretchen Whitmer: (03:10)
I was glad to see that President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act yesterday so that we can accelerate manufacturing everything from PPE, to testing supplies, to vaccinations. I have been calling on the federal government to take this action for quite a while. And I’m happy that President Biden recognizes the importance and knows that we cannot end this pandemic unless we work together. Michigan’s numbers are looking promising. DHHS’s pause to save lives has worked. On November 15th when the pause was announced, Michigan had 734 cases per million. Now we’re down to 177 cases per million. That is a reduction of over 70%. Our action saved our hospital systems from getting overwhelmed. Our action saved lives. And I want to especially thank all of the Michiganders who have stepped up and done their part these past few weeks in particular.

Gretchen Whitmer: (04:14)
The science is settled. Wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and avoiding indoor gatherings where the virus easily spreads from person to person, these things work. And now, while we must remain vigilant and cautious, we can lift some protocols that were previously in place. Today, the department of health and human services is issuing an epidemic order to resume indoor dining. On Monday, February 1st, I know this pandemic has hurt our restaurant owners, our restaurant workers, and all of their families. I want to thank those that made incredible sacrifices and did their part on behalf of protecting our communities from COVID.

Gretchen Whitmer: (05:03)
I have spoken with a number of restaurant owners over the course of these months, and I know that it has not been easy. I want you to know that I will continue to do everything in my power to support you and your families. We’ve been working around the clock to provide support over these past several months. I’ve worked with the legislature and I signed a bi-partisan relief bill that gives some crucial support for our small business owners and our restaurant workers.

Gretchen Whitmer: (05:32)
I also announced that most entertainment and recreational venues and restaurants that depend on indoor dining can postpone their monthly sales use and withholding tax payments that are due December 20th of 2020, and January 20th of 2021. And we have partnered with restaurants across the state for a program that provides hot meals to those in need. The MEDC has also been leading a support local campaign to urge Michiganders to buy local and eat local, to support our small businesses and local restaurants. Support local campaign will continue through March to keep support for our restaurants throughout the state strong. As part of my supplemental budget request, I’ve asked the legislature to approve $10 million to reimburse restaurants that choose to go through a program to update their ventilation systems. This will help us protect those who set foot into our restaurants. We want this to work. We want people to stay safe.

Gretchen Whitmer: (06:38)
I urge Michiganders across the state to do what you can to support your favorite local restaurants. Buy a gift card for a friend or family member. Get take out a couple of times a week if you can. Let’s all do our part. I also urge the legislature to work with me to pass the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan that I introduced on Tuesday of this week. This plan is focused on growing Michigan’s economy to help us and the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes a strong focus on vaccine distribution, economic recovery, on behalf our kids’ schools and more. My COVID recovery plan will use $90 million in federal funding to ramp up vaccine distribution in Michigan, and bring us closer to our goal of getting 50,000 shots in arms per day day here in Michigan. It’ll provide crucial support for our small businesses and families that need it most through programs like the Michigan Main Street Initiatives. And it will secure grants for restaurants and other place based businesses, and provide them food and housing assistance to families who have been hit hard by this pandemic. It will help our students and educators get back on track. Our working families, our small businesses, our frontline and essential workers are counting on us to find common ground, to work across the aisle, to get this done on behalf of our state.

Gretchen Whitmer: (08:13)
And so once again, I extend my hand to the legislature to say let’s get this done for the people we serve. I also urge them to permanently extend unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks, which would bring Michigan in line with 40 other states, and provide hard hit Michigan workers with the financial security and peace of mind that they need, and that they deserve. And I urge the legislature to pass good jobs for Michigan legislation to help Michigan retain and grow our businesses and create jobs.

Gretchen Whitmer: (08:49)
Pfizer, as I mentioned the other day, was the first business to utilize Good Jobs for Michigan, and it did so to build their sterile drug manufacturing plant, and they created 450 good paying jobs in Portage, Michigan.

Gretchen Whitmer: (09:03)
… 450 good paying jobs in Portage, Michigan. The same Portage plant that we all saw with pride being showcased on the global stage, as the Pfizer vaccine started to roll out at the end of last year. Passing this legislation will be good for our families, our businesses, and our economy. Yesterday my administration announced more support for families that have been hit hard by COVID. The more than 1.2 million people in Michigan who are eligible for food assistance benefits, will receive an additional payment by the end of January, that raises their monthly amount by 15% to help families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This 15% increase in SNAP benefits is for six months and comes to a close in June. And I want to thank our US Senator Debbie Stabenow for her leadership in securing this important increase, and for her tireless efforts to expand access for food assistance, which has brought relief to so many Michiganders in need throughout this pandemic.

Gretchen Whitmer: (10:06)
So, just because we are lifting some protocols on February 1, doesn’t mean it’s time to let our guard down. In fact, it’s more important than ever that we keep our guard up because the actions we’ve taken have worked. COVID-19 though is still a very real threat to us all and our economy, and that’s why we’ve got to keep taking it seriously. People across the state have been hurting. It has been a long tough year. Many are mourning the loss of a loved one, and yet we have to stay vigilant. The good news is that we know what it takes to be successful. We know what to do, and we can do this. Wear your mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands, avoid indoor gatherings where the virus can spread. That’s how we end this pandemic together.

Gretchen Whitmer: (11:05)
The state is working with local health departments and pharmacies to ramp up distribution of the vaccine. One of the most important things Michiganders can do right now, is to make a plan to get that vaccine. It is safe and it is effective. And when it is available to you, make your plan to get vaccinated. Let’s join forces and eradicate this virus together. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Dr. Khaldun.

Dr. Khaldun: (11:33)
Good morning, and thank you governor. So this is where we are with our most recent data on COVID-19. Our case rate is now at 225 cases per million, and has been declining for the past 11 days. Our test positivity rate is now at 6.8%, and has also been declining for the past 12 days. Our hospitalizations also continue to decline. Now just under 10% of inpatient beds in the state are being used for patients with COVID-19, and that has been declining for seven weeks. So overall, I am pleased with our progress. We should be proud as Michiganders. We largely avoided the post holiday surge, and it’s because many people did the right thing; avoiding gatherings, wearing masks and washing hands. Our pause has worked, and we’re doing much better than most states including those in the Midwest. You can see Michigan’s cases here in blue because of the great progress we have made today.

Dr. Khaldun: (12:40)
MDHHS is moving forward with a new order. So starting February 1st, indoor dining at restaurants will be allowed, as well as concessions at entertainment venues and additional personal services. Large stadiums will also have greater capacity limits. These are incremental steps we can take because of the successes we have seen with our order. Now I want to talk a little bit more about restaurants. Because our data is looking better, we want people to have the choice to go to a restaurant, and we are doing what we can to make it safer. This slide shows the new way restaurants will be opened with some restrictions, including a 25% capacity limit, and a curfew of 10:00 PM. So am pleased that we can move forward in this way. We know that our restaurant owners want to protect their patrons and to help to end this pandemic. However I do want to caution people. Top scientists and doctors from across the country have reiterated that being indoors with no mask on, is one of the riskier activities people can do when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Khaldun: (13:54)
So now people have a choice. The safest thing to do, especially if you are elderly, if you have underlying medical conditions, or if you live with someone who’s elderly or has underlying medical conditions, the safest thing to do is to not eat inside a restaurant. But we still want you to order from them though. You can support them with takeout, delivery, or dining outdoors. MDHHS is also announcing a new voluntary program; MI COVID-19 Safer Dining, for restaurant owners who can certify that they meet certain criteria for implementing measures that prevent the spread of the virus, by making sure there is good ventilation and proper distancing between tables. So if you choose to diet in a restaurant, look for this special certification so you know that restaurant is taking additional steps to make indoor dining much safer. More information can be found on our website, michigan.gov/covidsaferdining.

Dr. Khaldun: (14:54)
While we are slowly able to open up more parts of the economy, I do want people to be careful and understand their risk. Now this is especially important because of a new variant of the coronavirus that’s been found in Michigan called B117. It’s been found in Michigan and several other states across the country. Now we’ve been warning about this for weeks. We’ve now identified one outbreak, but there are possibly other cases in the state that have not yet been identified, and cases that are not associated with the outbreak that we found. So this slide shows why this new variant is concerning. It’s more easily transmitted from person to person. This means that every person who gets it, is more likely to infect more people. So this slide here shows how one, the original virus might spread from person to person. But on the right you can see how the new variant could cause more spread because each person infects more people.

Dr. Khaldun: (15:55)
And if this new variant becomes more common as many scientists have said it could, it will mean more cases, more hospitalizations, and unfortunately more deaths. But the good news is, the tests we currently have for COVID-19 do identify this new variant, and current data tells us that the vaccines that we have also work against this new variant. But we will likely see more and more cases of this, and it will be harder to control the spread of it. And we don’t want to go back to where we were last April, or where we were in the beginning of November when our hospitals were overwhelmed, and hundreds of people were dying every day. But there’s something you can do. You should still keep doing the basic things; wear your mask and wear it properly over your mouth and your nose every time you will be around someone outside of your household, make sure you are socially distancing, and you should get tested if you are having symptoms, if you think you’ve been exposed, and especially if you have traveled to areas where this new variant is circulating.

Dr. Khaldun: (17:03)
And remember that just because something is open, it does not mean that it is a hundred percent safe, or that you should do it. So please everyone, do be smart. We all have our part to play in ending this pandemic. So one of the most important things you can also do to end this pandemic, is to get your vaccine as the governor mentioned. And I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made in this state, with over 598,000 doses of the COVID-19 safe and effective vaccine going in arms. In fact, Michigan has jumped more than 20 spaces in the past two weeks when it comes to our rate of vaccinating people in Michigan compared to other states. I’m so proud of the work of our local health departments, our hospitals, and our pharmacy partners, in getting us to our goal of vaccinating at least 70% of Michiganders over the age of 16, as quickly as possible. These vaccines are safe, they are effective, they have been studied in tens of thousands of people.

Dr. Khaldun: (18:03)
Effective. They have been studied in tens of thousands of people. No steps have been skipped in the approval process. It’s important that everyone makes an appointment to get their vaccine when it is their turn. However, while we’re pleased with the progress we’re making with vaccines, there’s simply not enough available right now for everyone who is eligible to receive one. So, please be patient. You can go to our website, michigan.gov/covidvaccine to find out if your local health department has appointments available. You can also now call 211 to get assistance with scheduling. So, overall our data looks good with cases and hospitalizations coming down, and we’re glad that we can slowly start to open up more parts of the economy in the coming days, but please everyone, continue to be safe and be smart. Be mindful of the risk associated with the activities you are doing. Continue to wear your mask properly, and wash your hands frequently. Let’s all do our part to end this pandemic. With that, I’d like to introduce Kim Collins.

Kim Collins: (19:14)
Hello everyone. Thank you so much for inviting me here today. My name is Kim Collins. I’m the owner and head brewer of Guardian Brewing Company in Saugatuck. I am pleased to serve on the Board of the Michigan Brewers Guild, as well as the Co-chair for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Guardian’s really excited to open for indoor dining at any level, as soon as it’s deemed safe, so the news today is pretty awesome. We’re a small brew pub, which means that all of our sales go over our bar, out our taproom, whether it’s delivery or carry out or even dining on our patio. With our license, we don’t distribute beer. Therefore, having the option for both indoor and outdoor service and dining at any level is pretty essential for our success. I talked to our team at Guardian today. We have 20 staff members. They’re excited and they’re ready to reopen. They feel confident about applying simple protocols that we’ve been practicing this whole time. We’ve been open seven days a week, the entire pandemic, and so our staff’s just pretty jazzed for the news today.

Kim Collins: (20:29)
We feel very fortunate to be having been open seven days a week. I think it’s a huge reflection of my staff’s ability to be consistent, be vigilant, as the governor said, simple things like sanitizing and wearing masks and just keep doing it so that we can build trust within our community. We’re known for following our protocols in a strict manner, and we’re not afraid to turn away customers who don’t feel like they need to follow them. So, we’ve definitely built that trust within our community. At the end of the day, it’s really the health and the safety of our staff and our community that matters most. Guardian’s for everyone, and we love our community. We love the relationships that we built over the last two years. We’re ready to show them again, that we’re a trustworthy and safe place to visit. Guardian team, I just wanted to send a little shout out. I’m really proud of you. You’ve done great work over the last year. Thank you.

Gretchen Whitmer: (21:33)
Thank you, Kim. Appreciate that. We had an opportunity to visit a little bit before we came out here, and just hearing what the spirit is in terms of Kim’s workforce and team, and how everyone’s been able to stay safe. It’s important that we all do our part so that we can continue to keep, whether it’s Kim or her workforce, or the workforce and in your local restaurants and small businesses. If we all keep doing our part, we’re going to continue to move forward together. It’s great. So, with that, I am happy to open it up for a few questions.

Speaker 1: (22:15)
All right [inaudible 00:22:16] Governor. We’ll start questions with Dave at the Detroit Free Press.

Dave: (22:23)
Hi. Thank you for doing this. Can you clarify that this order allows all establishments, not only restaurants, bars and other establishments to allow at least some restricted indoor dining. [inaudible 00:22:32] concerns to any hospital associations or health departments about this?

Gretchen Whitmer: (22:38)
We’ve had regular conversations with industry, regular conversations with hospital system leaders. I mean, this has been an ongoing conversation, because we wanted to know that if and when we made a change that it was one that everyone, all of our experts felt comfortable that we could do this and do this safely. That has been the sentiment here around this space, considering where our numbers are and how seriously Michiganders have taken this pause and done their part. We are in a stronger position than most other states. Our vaccines have ramped up incredibly. We need more vaccines, so there’s no question we still need a lot of partnership out of the federal government, but I am glad to be able to say that I have confidence that that is coming and has already begun. So, we’re not out of the woods yet.

Gretchen Whitmer: (23:33)
I know that we’ve been saying that for many months. There’s reason to feel good, and optimistic. We know what works, and if we all continue to take that seriously and do our part, we’re going to be, we’re going to get more of us through this tough time in a stronger position, and that’s our universal goal. Dr. J., You want to add anything in terms of the scope of what this order applies to? Okay.

Dr. Khaldun: (23:56)
Sure. Yeah. We did put it on a slide, but it was very quick. So, right now nightclubs will still be closed, but bars and restaurants will be open to 25% capacity. There will be a 10:00 PM curfew as well.

Gretchen Whitmer: (24:11)
I know that we’ve made the slide deck that we used available to all the members of the press, or that is coming by the end of this press conference. Maybe we could pull up that one slide again in the event we’ve got other questions.

Speaker 1: (24:26)
We’ll go to Frank with WXYZ?

Frank: (24:31)
WDIV, and thanks for taking my question. Governor, every time we have closed indoor dining, we’ve seen a drop in cases. Now, there are new variants out in the state, and with reopening indoor dining, how are restaurants supposed to navigate? Is there a possible second pause coming?

Gretchen Whitmer: (24:50)
Well, our goal is to make sure that we don’t have to take another pause in this space, and that’s why we’re encouraging and supporting the restaurant industry to ensure that they follow the protocols that we know work. We’re also encouraging them to improve ventilation. There is science behind how many air exchanges are necessary, depending on the size of a place, and we were making it easier for them to do that by giving them the support they need to improve those ventilation systems. So, we recognize that the strength of our numbers merits this change in policy. We also recognize that this variant is very concerning, and we’re going to keep watching that. But everyone, if we can all recognize that the science is settled here. We know that masking works. We know that not having gatherings indoors, in our homes, that’s where we’ve seen a lot of spread washing our hands, social distancing, all of those things are really important tools.

Gretchen Whitmer: (25:53)
And, if we all make use of them, we will ensure that our restaurants can be successful, as we take this step and we can keep ourselves safe and mitigate the harm that we’ve felt in our economy.

Speaker 1: (26:05)
Okay, great. We’d like to wish Craig [Mah ger 00:08:11] a Happy Birthday, so I’ll go to him next, for the next question.

Craig M.: (26:18)
Hey, thank you. Thank you for that, and thanks for the question. I’m curious, Governor, if you could answer this as to why you all have decided to delay the reopening until February 1st? Any order allowing the reopening is 21 days, and February 1st is 10 days away. Can you just explain the timing behind these dates?

Gretchen Whitmer: (26:40)
Sure. I can ask Dr. J. To come up, but I think that our, what we have done in the past is to have some lead time, and that’s what we’ve heard from the industry too. Unfortunately, this is an industry that has to have some planning time to be able to ramp up, to be able to bring staff on, to be able to purchase supplies. We’ve heard that-

Gretchen Whitmer: (27:03)
And to be able to purchase supplies. We’ve heard that many times from leaders in the industry and wanted to give them the ability to do that. And I think that’s important and happy birthday, Craig.
Dr. Khaldun: (27:24)
No. That was great. Now I would just add that, throughout the pandemic, we’ve been incrementally opening. Opening up a little bit, and then identifying with the cases and the data that we’re looking at, what impact that has. So that’s part of why the order lasts the amount of time that it does.

Speaker 2: (27:38)
Christina [inaudible 00:27:39] with INS.

Speaker 3: (27:50)
Governor vaccine distribution has not gone as smoothly as we would have hoped, that’s no secret. Seniors are struggling to get appointments and answers and vaccines are not being accounted for on the state website. How do you expect this will change or improve down the future with the Defense Production Act?

Gretchen Whitmer: (28:08)
Well, actually, Christina, I would point you to the information that Dr. J shared in her opening remarks. I mean, we have made incredible strides. And as my chief operating officer said in a recent press conference that we did, this is like a locomotive. It is bumpy and it fits and starts at the beginning, and it’s cumbersome, but we’re gathering steam. And we are, you’ve seen incredible strides. Our local departments of public health are doing just incredible work. The hospital systems. I mean this is a joint effort. And when you look at the vaccines that Michigan actually has control over. The Pfizer vaccines, by and large, but the vaccines that come to us, instead of going to the pharmacies who are doing the LTCs we’re in a very strong position. And I’m proud of the work that we’ve done.

Gretchen Whitmer: (29:00)
It doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It doesn’t mean that it’s seamless, but we’ve made great strides. And Michigan has rocketed to the top of the list in terms of States that are actually getting it done.

Gretchen Whitmer: (29:10)
I think it’s important to point out though, that we have the confidence in our plan to do 50,000 vaccinations a day. We’re getting 60,000 a week at this juncture. And that’s the frustration that you can feel coming from me, that I know Dr. J, that our local health department leaders, that our health systems, that’s our universal frustration. We have the capacity and the plan to do a lot more vaccinations quicker, but the federal government … it’s been hard. They have not gotten us what we need.

Gretchen Whitmer: (29:45)
Now, the use of the DPA by the Biden administration. The actual purchase of vaccines that are available, the ramping up that is happening. More vaccines coming online, Johnson & Johnson at AstraZeneca. These are vaccines that are in the pipeline that hopefully we’ll be getting, will be worthy of approval and get that approval soon. So a lot of this is going to be coming and moving very quickly, going back to that locomotive analogy.

Gretchen Whitmer: (30:15)
But right now we have, we’re getting as many vaccines for a week for the state, as we want for a day for the state. And that tells you why that gap is there. And so it is going to be bumpy. We’re asking that people be patient. That you make your reservation when you have the opportunity to, and some of those reservations may be a couple of weeks out or longer, but we will get to everyone. That is my solemn vow is that everyone who wants a vaccine is going to get one. It’s just going to take us, depending on how quickly we get those vaccines to the state, that’s what’s going to determine how quickly we’re going to be able to get to everyone.

Speaker 2: (30:55)
All right Governor, we’re good. Oh, I’m sorry. We got time for just a couple more questions. [inaudible 00:31:03] with LSJ.

Speaker 4: (31:11)
Thank you for taking my question. I also have a question about vaccines. We heard from a few readers about instances where people cut the line, so to speak, maybe they get a vaccine ahead of their priority group for some reason. Do you see this as a problem? And if so, how widespread is that problem? And what is the state doing about it?

Gretchen Whitmer: (31:36)
Do you want to take this one? I’m going to let Dr. J take this one, Carol.

Dr. Khaldun: (31:41)
Yeah. As I said, I think, we’re very pleased with the progress we’ve made with opening up to Phase 1-B. Letting our Michiganders age 65 and up get the vaccine as well. And I’ll also say that equity is incredibly important, as well as efficiency. Again, part of our values as we move forward with our vaccination effort. We are working with our pharmacies, our local health departments and our hospital systems to make sure they understand the guidance that we’ve put out when it comes to who should get a vaccine and those equity principles. But I’ll also say any vaccine that’s placed into an arm is not a wasted vaccine. No one, no human being is fully immune. And so we are encouraging people to please don’t waste the vaccine.

Dr. Khaldun: (32:25)
We don’t want it sitting in the freezers. We don’t want it to expiring or being out of the freezer refrigerator and not being able to use anymore. So we are really encouraging everyone to use equity principles when it comes to vaccine distribution.

Speaker 2: (32:51)
Excuse me, the question will come from Mike [March 00:32:47].

Mike: (32:51)
Thank you for takin my question. I want to go back to the three weeks for this current order. Previous orders, I don’t think all of them that kind of timeline. Is there a chance that if cases do rise because of [inaudible 00:33:01]that you would go back to a pause for indoor dining or is the idea that maybe in three weeks rather than 25% we go to 50% capacity?

Gretchen Whitmer: (33:12)
Right. I think you’ve just highlighted the unknown that we’re, that we’re grappling with, that we are watching the data with. It is our hope and intention, and it is totally within our capability to do this and safely, and then be in a position to actually expand more. That’s the goal. That goal is dependent on our ability to keep the spread of the virus down. We have shown we’re capable of it. We’ve shown we know how to do it. We know the science of this virus better. The variants concerning as Dr. J showed you in that one pictorial, this is one and a half times more contagious than the original COVID. We are in a race. And that’s why I’m so impatient to get vaccines distributed here in Michigan and get more into Michigan so we can do exactly that.

Gretchen Whitmer: (34:03)
So I share that with you, not because I’m pessimistic. In fact, I am optimistic, but I’m also sobered by the fact that this is a challenge that complicates things. And that’s why I’m calling on my fellow Michiganders, no matter what your political views are, the science around this virus is settled. And if we can all wear masks and be very smart about congregating and not do it, unless it’s necessary, washing our hands, doing that social distancing, we will be in a stronger position in a few weeks and we’ll be able to do more. And that’s the hope.

Gretchen Whitmer: (34:44)
But the reality of this moment is that wearing masks and being smart is going to have to be how we operate for quite a while. We want to get to 70% of our population, 16 and up vaccinated in a short a period of as time as possible. We are working toward that. We’ve built up our capabilities. We need vaccines, and we need the vast majority of people to keep doing what we know works and that’s wearing the mask. All right. Thank you everybody. I hope you all have a good weekend.