Jan 8, 2021
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript January 8
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s January 8 coronavirus press conference. She also addressed the attack on the U.S. Capitol and Donald Trump’s response. Read the full transcript of her COVID-19 news briefing speech here.
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Gretchen Whitmer: (04:48)
Good afternoon, and thank you for tuning in. It is Friday, January 8th. And of course I’m with Dr. Khaldun. First, I want to start out by saying how grateful I am that all of Michigan’s congressional delegation, their staffs, and so many who work at the Capitol are safe. The events that unfolded two days ago, just two days ago, were appalling and scary. Over the summer last year, when millions of Americans peacefully protested the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and countless other Black Americans, they were responded to with tear gas and rubber bullets and called thugs and criminals by leaders like President Trump. And Wednesday, much like when he stood on the national debate stage and told white supremacists to “stand back and stand by,” the president spoke directly to the group of domestic terrorists, who stormed the Capitol, and he doubled down on his dangerous election day conspiracies and said, “We love you, and you’re very special.”
Gretchen Whitmer: (06:42)
Had the group of people who stormed our nation’s Capitol been Black Lives Matter protestors, it’s logical to conclude they would have been treated very differently. Wednesday was a dark day in our country, and unfortunately it’s a site that was too familiar, especially to us in Michigan. We saw events like this play out here months ago in our own state. Some of these same people that were in DC were the same that were here at our Capitol, coming in with weapons to intimidate lawmakers. Some of them were even implicated, some of the people that were at our Capitol, were implicated in the plot to kidnap and kill me. They stormed the United States Capitol this week to intimidate lawmakers at our federal level.
Gretchen Whitmer: (07:39)
Eight months ago …Eight months ago, I called on President Trump, I spoke with Vice President Pence. I reached out to the Republican leadership here at our Capitol and asked them to help bring down the heat. None of them did a darn thing, and here we are a really tough moment as a nation. While some Republicans have spoken out in the last 24 hours, we need more everywhere to stand up and say domestic terrorism will not stand, whether it is directed at a governor or Dr. Fauci or Secretary of State Benson, or the Georgia secretary of state or the United States Congress. This nation was founded on democracy and honoring the will of the people. We cannot forget that we are Americans first. It’s time to come together and to put this election behind us once and for all and focus on our common enemy: this virus, COVID-19. As Americans, there is no problem we cannot solve if we work together, so let’s get to work working together.
Gretchen Whitmer: (09:02)
Today, my administration is announcing a goal that all school districts offer an option for in-person learning no later than March 1st and earlier if possible. The value of in-person learning for our kids is immeasurable, and we must do everything we can to help our kids get the great education they need and to do so safely. Over the last nine months, medical experts and epidemiologists have closely been following the data and know now that schools can establish a low risk of transmission by ensuring that everyone wears a mask and adapting careful infection prevention protocols. It’s critical that we take a fact-based approach by doing things like wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing social distancing. As rapid testing access expands, we have even more tools to make school safer for students and educators and other staff.
Gretchen Whitmer: (10:09)
My administration has worked with the Michigan High School Athletic Association to pilot a testing program in 200 state high schools that has largely been successful, and on Wednesday, I announced that school and childcare staff will be eligible to receive the COVID vaccine beginning this upcoming Monday. My administration is working closely with school officials and community leaders to ensure schools can operate as safely as possible. I strongly encourage school districts to provide as much face to face learning as possible, especially for our youngest students, especially for economically disadvantaged students and students with special education needs and English language learners. Some families will choose to send their kids to …
Gretchen Whitmer: (11:03)
Some families will choose to send their kids to school when that’s an option. Others will choose for their children to continue learning remotely. And some educators meet the CDC definition of high risk, and we will continue to support these groups that wish to continue teaching and learning at a distance. We know that in-person learning provides a key benefit for many parents who rely on their children to be at school so that they can do their work and participate fully in our economy. Many students and families have struggled with remote learning and need opportunities for face-to-face interactions with educators, even if it is a hybrid schedule to allow for smaller groups together. Every parent deserves to know that their child will be safe and learning in the classroom. Every educator and every member of our school support staff deserves to know that they are safe at work. On top of testing and vaccinations, we will work with districts to ensure that when schools begin in-person learning, safety protocols like mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing remain in place. Many districts across our state have been largely open for face-to-face instruction since the beginning of the school year and they should not stop now. These schools have demonstrated that they can provide a safe learning environment for their students and safe workplaces for their staff. The plans that these schools developed with teachers include strong infection control measures, and those plans are working. So I encourage these schools to continue implementing their plans and operating safely to the greatest extent possible.
Gretchen Whitmer: (12:55)
I have incredible respect for our teachers. The teachers and educators who’ve been working in-person over the last several months are true frontline heroes. And we are grateful. Since day one of this pandemic, educators have stepped up and led providing our students with the best support and best education under the circumstances. They’ve managed to continue lunch programs for those who rely on them. They’ve provided emotional counseling for the countless students in need of that. And they’ve ensured that our students received the academic support necessary, whether that was being done remotely, in-person, or both. I want to, again, thank all the educators who’ve worked tirelessly to serve our children. I will not stop working for you.
Gretchen Whitmer: (13:47)
So this is good news for our students and our educators and their families. My administration will continue working around the clock to distribute the safe and effective COVID vaccines, but we need help from the federal government to get it done. Yesterday, I with seven other governors from across the country sent a letter to the Trump administration requesting that they distribute the millions of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that they are currently holding back in freezer farms like the one in Portage, Michigan. According to publicly reported information, the federal government currently has upwards of 50% of current produced vaccines held back by the administration.
Gretchen Whitmer: (14:32)
Today, the incoming Biden administration announced that they will release available vaccine doses that the Trump administration is holding back. I’m hopeful that the Trump administration will do it sooner rather than waiting for the new Biden administration, because it will mean that we can get more vaccines distributed and put an end to this pandemic sooner. My colleagues and I across the nation are grateful that the Biden administration is committed to this and hopeful that the Trump administration will take this action. Michigan and states across the country are ready to work around the clock to continue ramping up distribution, to get more shots in arms, and to save more American lives, but we need the federal government to take action.
Gretchen Whitmer: (15:19)
Over the past year, Michigan has emerged as a nationwide leader, fighting this pandemic, getting our economy back on track and saving lives. And now we’re working to cement our status as a national leader in vaccine distribution. On Wednesday, the CDC released new data that shows Michigan in the top 15 states when it comes to vaccine distribution. Dr. Khaldun and I will continue working 24/7 along with our incredible teams in state government and in local government and across the state and hospital systems, et cetera. It’s going to take hard work and it’s going to take collaboration, state, local, federal government, businesses, local health departments, and everyday Michiganders. But this is Michigan and I know we’re going to finish what we started. Thank you. And with that, I’ll hand it over to Dr. Khaldun.
Dr. Khaldun: (16:17)
Good afternoon. Thank you governor. So as of yesterday, the State of Michigan had 512,751 cases of COVID-19 and 4,015 deaths due to this virus in the state. So here’s where we are with the key metrics that we are tracking. Our case rate is at 222 cases per million people, and that’s an increase of eight cases per million in the past week. Our percent positivity is now 9.3%. It has continued to increase over the past week and was 8.2% on December 27th. 12.8% of available inpatient beds are now filled with patients that have COVID-19, and that number continues to trend downwards.
Dr. Khaldun: (17:07)
So our metrics overall tell me that we are at a pivotal moment. The declines we were seeing prior to the holidays seem to be reversing. And I’m concerned that there were gatherings over the winter holidays, and we’re starting to see the results of that. And I’m very concerned that it’s only a matter of time until we see a new variant of this virus in Michigan that originated in the UK and has caused a dangerously fast increase in cases there. This variant is transmitted more easily raising a significant increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. But it’s not too late. There’s still time for people to do their part to stop the spread of this virus in Michigan.
Dr. Khaldun: (17:53)
Even if you traveled over the holidays, you can be quarantining at home for at least 10 days after you return so that if you do have the virus, you don’t spread it to others. If you’ve traveled over the holidays and if you know you’ve been exposed or if you’re having symptoms, please get a test. And you should mask up and mask right. Wear a mask properly over your nose and mouth anytime you will be around anyone outside of your household. This protects you and it protects others.
Dr. Khaldun: (18:26)
Today, as the governor mentioned, we’re releasing guidance for schools to help them understand how to bring children and staff back to school in the safest manner possible. As a parent, I know how hard it has been to not have children engaged in in-person learning. This can have negative impacts on children’s academic achievement, their mental and their physical health. And is especially challenging when parents have to figure out how to work and take care of children who are home all day. We want every school district to be working with their local health department to identify the safest way possible to provide in-person learning. And we’ve set a goal, as the governor mentioned, for every student in the state to have this option before or by March 1st. Things like appropriate spacing of desks, wearing masks, a cohorting of students and adequate ventilation significantly decrease the risk of virus spread in schools and is how many students across the state are already engaging in in-person learning today.
Dr. Khaldun: (19:33)
Starting Monday, K-12 teachers and childcare staff will be able to start getting vaccinated. And this is another important tool to help prevent spread of the virus and to keep our kids in in-person learning. And our updated guidance for schools can be found on our website at michigan.gov/coronavirus. So, vaccinations. Vaccinations are accelerating across the state. Through the end of the day on Wednesday, there were 174,749 doses of vaccine administered across the state. Over 24,800 doses were recorded on just Wednesday alone, which is our highest number yet since we started this effort. And I know many more have occurred since then. I am pleased that I was actually able to get my second dose of the vaccine yesterday. These vaccines are safe and effective, and I have comfort now. And knowing that I am now highly unlikely to bring this virus home to my family, which has spread this infection to my colleagues in the Health Department or in the Emergency Department.
Dr. Khaldun: (20:42)
Today I’m actually feeling well. My arm’s a little sore, and I know it’s possible especially with my second dose to not feel well in the next day or so. But I know that if that happens, that’s because the vaccine is working and I encourage everyone to be patient, but please do sign up for an appointment for a vaccine when it becomes available to you. So on Wednesday, we also announced that the State of Michigan is moving forward with phase 1B of its vaccination plan. And we’re pleased that starting Monday, local health departments and health systems may start to offer the vaccine to those who are over age 65 and some essential frontline workers. So K-12 teachers, as I said, first responders, and the workers in prisons, jails, and shelters. We’re glad to be able to move this forward, but I really want people to be patient. This is not like a flu shot. You can’t just walk up to a facility or call and demand a vaccine. Unfortunately, you will not be able to get it that way and you will be turned away. There is simply not enough vaccine today that has been given to us by the federal government for that to work at this time. So what should you do? First, you should check the Michigan Health Department website at michigan.gov/covidvaccine. We’ll be regular-
Dr. Khaldun: (22:03)
…at michigan.gov/covidvaccine. We’ll be regularly updating that website with information about the local health departments that may have vaccine available to you right now if you are eligible. You will find links to those health departments with information on how to schedule an appointment, if one is available. If a health system has a vaccine appointment available to you, they will contact you directly. If a local health department is not listed on our website, they are not yet ready to accept appointments for the vaccine. We don’t want people to be frustrated by this. We know this will happen because we just don’t have enough vaccine in the state and I ask for patience as our health systems and our local health departments accelerate their efforts to provide the vaccine to as many people as possible.
Dr. Khaldun: (22:50)
If you’re now eligible for the vaccine, because of your line of work, please be patient as your employer also works with the state and local health departments to arrange where your vaccination will take place and they will notify you when the plan is finalized for how you will receive the vaccine. We do have to be patient, but we still have things that we all can control. Protect yourself and others by masking up and masking right. Wash your hands frequently. Get a test if you are exposed or if you’re ill. And when it’s your turn, please do choose to get the vaccine. We are on the right path to end this pandemic. With that, I’ll turn it back over to Governor Whitmer.
Gretchen Whitmer: (23:38)
All right. Happy to open it up for a few questions for either me or Dr. J.
Eric Lloyd: (23:45)
Great. Governor, the first question will come from [Tim 00:23:48] with WILX.
Hi, Governor. Does the March 1st start mean that you’re confident we’ll get enough of the vaccine to vaccinate everyone in this second phase like teachers before then?
Gretchen Whitmer: (24:01)
I think what March 1st signifies is that we have learned we can pursue in-person instruction safely, that we’ve got a lot of schools that have been doing this, and they’ve been successful even before vaccines were imminently on the horizon. And we’re grateful for how seriously they took the protocols and how well they’ve been able to keep people safe. We have expedited, of course, our putting teachers into the group that is eligible for getting vaccinated. And we are hopeful that as vaccines continue to ramp up and as we move even quicker, the systems are being built as we do this. I think we’ve made incredible strides.
Gretchen Whitmer: (24:49)
And I do think that we will have a lot of our educational workforce vaccinated in the next month or so. And that’s our great hope. And the incoming Biden administration has acknowledged that they will be using the DPA and they will be seeking to release vaccines and working with vaccine producers to get more to states and to local Departments of Public Health and so I do think we are going to see a lot happen between now and March 1st, and that gives us great confidence as well.
Eric Lloyd: (25:23)
Okay. The next question will come from [Colton 00:25:25] with Chalkbeat.
Hi Governor, thanks for putting on the press conference here. I wonder if you would talk a little bit about the information that’s feeding us this recommendation regarding schools. Can you point to any studies, shifting data with COVID, anything that has led to your shifting position on this?
Gretchen Whitmer: (25:49)
I don’t know that it’s shifting. I think it’s become clear, but what I would like to do is I’ll ask Dr. J to come up and address your question.
Dr. Khaldun: (25:59)
Yeah. I can tell you there’s been many… I don’t have stats off the top of my head, but I can tell you there’s been many studies, and we can follow up and give them to you, that talk about the data in schools and where outbreaks have been. And, in general, most children across the country have been able to be in in-person learning with the proper mitigation measures in place. And again, like I said, masks, distancing, cohorting students in smaller groups. So again, the outbreaks that are occurring across the country are not primarily in schools. Schools, based on our order, can be open now anyway, so it’s not so much a shift, but it’s an encouragement and we are looking to provide even more tools so that schools can open as safely as possible.
Eric Lloyd: (26:49)
[inaudible 00:26:49] Dave Eggert with the Associated Press.
Dave Eggert: (26:53)
Hi governor, why not require schools to at least offer in person instruction? Many schools have not had any in-person instruction, basically, since last March.
Gretchen Whitmer: (27:08)
So we recognize that there is a challenge, right? We’ve got 800 different districts. We have unique situations that we have to be mindful of and we’ve been working very closely with the education community to make sure that we strike the right balance. What we want to do is to encourage districts to have an in- person option available, especially for younger students. And it was interesting to me in talking with Linda Vail, our public health director here in Ingham County, how few schools in Ingham County are offering in-person and that was something that I did not appreciate. Obviously, I know what my child’s school district policy is, but across the county, I was a little surprised to find out how rare is to have some in-person. And that we have come to know much more about this virus. We have come to build up our systems around testing and we’re building them around vaccination. And we believe that knowing how critical in-person education is for our students, that it is safe, and that’s why we wanted to encourage.
Gretchen Whitmer: (28:16)
Now, we also know that there is a variant out there, and I don’t mean to seemingly contradict myself here, but I think that it’s going to be important that we continue to watch the data very closely and that we support our educators and our staff and our schools as well as families, and most importantly, our children as we are navigating next steps the quicker and more people that we can get vaccinated the better toward all of these goals.
Eric Lloyd: (28:50)
Okay, we’ll go to Chad with Crain’s.
Governor, now that you are moving forward with encouraging schools to reopen, back in October and early November, school outbreaks were far more frequent than outbreaks attributed to bars and restaurants. So where do you stand on allowing bars and restaurants to reopen in the near future?
Gretchen Whitmer: (29:16)
I think there’s a problem with the conclusion in your opening statement, and that is that there were very few outbreaks. What we have seen, the studies have shown, that restaurants and bars are places where we see many outbreaks. Our tracing capabilities are underwhelming on that front and so I think that’s part of the data issue that we haven’t seen translate and that’s why we have continued the policy. We know that the pause is working. You look at where our numbers are. On Fridays I’ll often call constituents who have called or reached out to my office. And today I chatted with a man in northern lower peninsula who started with telling me that he wasn’t a supporter of mine in the election. See, I call people who I know don’t see the world the same exact way I do. I think it’s important. And it’s so hard to stay connected, especially with COVID.
Gretchen Whitmer: (30:07)
But he was analyzing the data. He’s an engineer and he said, “There’s no question the actions that you’ve taken are working, and so I support the work that you’re doing.” And I think that that’s a hard thing for us to communicate regularly when we know the economic pain and the personal sacrifice so many have made throughout this. The fact of the matter is, the studies show that that’s where we have seen the highest risk. Our numbers are better than most other states in our region, stronger than many states in the nation. But this variant is giving us pause and we want to watch and make sure that we’ve got as many days worth of data post-holiday so we recognize whether or not this blip around the holidays is a trend, or if it’s just that, a blip. I’m as eager as anyone to get our restaurants open for in-person dining, but we got to make sure that it’s safe to do so. And there are some encouraging signs, but we have to be really smart and we’re going to continue to watch the data.
Eric Lloyd: (31:13)
All right, Governor, we’ll take just a few more questions. So the next one will come from Justin with Mlive.
Hi, thanks for taking my question. Earlier today Representative Albert, the incoming House Appropriations Chair, called for a full reopening of the state and said he can’t envision starting conversations about allocating federal COVID-19 relief funds until the governor takes more steps toward reopening Michigan. How would you respond to Mr. Albert’s comments? And do you anticipate opening the economy any further a week from now when the current restrictions are set to expire?
Gretchen Whitmer: (31:51)
Well, I hope you took the opportunity to ask some followup questions because I’m sure that the representative isn’t implying that they would withhold hundreds of millions of dollars for vaccinations, for testing, for education for our kids, for eviction relief. I’m sure that they wouldn’t say unless you open restaurants, we won’t give $90 million for vaccine deployment, or $575 million to support COVID testing and tracing efforts and mitigation efforts.
Gretchen Whitmer: (32:25)
This federal funding also includes $665 million in eviction diversion, and rental assistance to help people who are struggling stay in their homes. I hope that’s not what they’re threatening, because that would be devastating to so many people in our state. Maybe they don’t know what all is in that so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, but $125 million in emergency education relief dollars, millions for access to broadband, that’s what’s in these federal dollars, and emergency childcare funds to assist providers and families. That’s about $287 million. So it’s my hope that the…
Gretchen Whitmer: (33:03)
… $87 million. So it’s my hope that they’re not suggesting now we should start negotiating away public health measures to keep people safe and hold these things hostage, because there are a lot of people in our state struggling, and this federal relief is necessary. I’m hopeful that they’ll get to work and get this allocated as quickly as possible.
Speaker 2: (33:20)
I think we’ll go to Grant with TV 4.
Hi, Governor. Thanks for taking my question. In all the violence we saw this week in DC, there was another bomb threat at the Capitol this week that caused the Capitol to close down, and yesterday the Attorney General said the Capitol was not a safe place to be, and that people shouldn’t visit. Do you share her view there?
Gretchen Whitmer: (33:45)
Well, I do think that our policies around weapons in the Capitol should be changed, and I’m hopeful that the Capitol Commission will take that action. I’ve made that position known for a long time now, and it is my hope that the Capitol Commission will take this action to protect people in our Capitol.
Gretchen Whitmer: (34:03)
Now, this isn’t just a place where legislators come to enact laws. Although, every one of them should have the right to be safe in their workplace. We also have a lot of staff that are here, a lot of journalists that show up. You know what else happens at this Capitol? It’s the people’s building. This is a place where fourth graders come to learn about state government. We have a duty to make sure that this is a place that is safe for all who come into our State Capitol. That means that we should have some restrictions with regard to people bringing in weapons into this building, and it’s my hope that the Capitol Commission will take that action.
Speaker 2: (34:45)
All right, Governor, the last question will come from Eric Lloyd with TV 9 & 10.
Eric Lloyd: (34:48)
Hello, Governor. I was just wondering with this new push and urge to get in-person classes by March 1st, do you feel like teachers should be mandated to get the vaccine?
Gretchen Whitmer: (35:01)
Yeah. Interesting question, Eric. I don’t think that that’s necessary. People want to get this vaccine. They have seen people like Dr. J get it and how they are healthy and fine. People are getting … confidence in the vaccine is growing. We are trying to move as many vaccines and get shots in arms as quickly as possible, and more people have that confidence and an interest in getting the vaccine. So, I really believe that we need to continue ramping up. It would be great if we had the full throated support and help from the federal government. In the interim, we will continue building up our systems. We’re making great strides, but I believe that so many of our teachers, our educators, our support staff in our schools are eager to get this vaccine. That’s why we’ve moved them into a phase where they can.
Gretchen Whitmer: (35:53)
I want to address one more thing before we end. I know you said that was the last question, but I’m going to just address something. Right now when you look at the website about how many vaccines have been received versus how many have been administered, it would, I think looking at every state, you would recognize that this is a process that has to take a little bit of time. I know everyone wants to see if you’ve got 500 shots, you’ve got 500 shots given. We are transporting, we are breaking down. We are working with local public health departments and hospital systems, and we’ve made incredible strides.
Gretchen Whitmer: (36:27)
As Dr. J said, we administered over 22,000 shots in the last 24 hours, I believe. It’s close to that. Is that about right?
Dr. J: (36:35)
Gretchen Whitmer: (36:36)
24,000. All right. I under sold that, but we’re making great strides. And if you look at what’s happening across the country, we have to have perspective here. Michigan is in the same situation as every other state, we’re all building this up and we’re all at about the same level. So I want to be crystal clear. The state of Michigan has pushed out every single vaccine that we have received. We’ve pushed it out to eligible providers, our local public health departments and our health systems.
Gretchen Whitmer: (37:09)
There are some recipients who have not gotten shots in arms, and we’re giving technical assistance. We are offering the National Guard to assist so that we can get it done. This is a team effort, but we are getting these out and we are setting aggressive goals.
Gretchen Whitmer: (37:28)
We’re getting about 60,000 vaccines a week from Pfizer. 100% of those vaccines are shipped out upon receipt. That’s why we rank fifth highest in the nation when it comes to getting vaccines out the door. Those doses first went to our healthcare systems and local health departments to administer priority group 1A. Health care systems and local health departments have been requested to use their inventory within seven days as of the last week, and they are also allowed to start with 1B populations, as we’ve articulated.
Gretchen Whitmer: (38:08)
Our daily shots in the arms have climbed considerably over the last week alone. That’s the Pfizer vaccine. Now let’s talk about the Moderna vaccine, because I know that this can be confusing. I just want to walk through it. 100% of the Moderna vaccine, all of the Moderna vaccine is shipped directly to CVS and to Walgreens to administer each week through 207 vaccinating locations. That vaccine does not come to the state of Michigan. It goes directly to CVS and Walgreens. So our daily shots in arms, when we total all of these up is continuing to rise over 20,000 per day. We’ve got over 24,000 this week in one day.
Gretchen Whitmer: (38:55)
We have met with the CDC regularly. The frustration about their website is real, if you can feel it, but we’re trying to get more pharmacies approved so that they can engage in the federal program so that those allocated and unavailable doses of Moderna for long-term care facilities can get administered faster.
Gretchen Whitmer: (39:17)
We also have offered up Michigan National Guard as a partner. The city of Detroit will be getting almost 4,000 doses for their drive-through next week. They’re doing a great job. We’re excited about the work that they’re doing. So in addition, the dashboard yesterday reflected the new higher number of doses received, 725,000, even though they came in batches over multiple days, which is part of the website issue. Yesterday, it showed 550,000. So, it’s an example of why that dashboard doesn’t tell the whole story.
Gretchen Whitmer: (39:52)
So we still need a national strategy. I have been saying for months, whether it was around getting masks at the beginning or getting testing or an economic recovery or relief, now vaccines, there still is not a national strategy. We’re building this as States. We’ve made great strides. We have a list a mile long of distributors and people that want to help. We need to get more vaccines into the State of Michigan so that we can deploy them. That’s what we are working through, and that’s what we are most, I think looking forward to with the release of these Pfizer vaccines, whether it is soon under the Trump administration or in 12 days under the Biden administration we’ll be ready.
Gretchen Whitmer: (40:37)
So thank you, and I appreciate your patience. I know that you’re seeing people get vaccinated and it’s exciting, and we all want to be on that list when it’s our time, just ask for your continued patience. We will get everyone who wants a vaccine vaccinated, but we need to be a little bit patient. Thanks so much. Have a good weekend.