Mar 2, 2021
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript March 2
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s March 2, 2021 coronavirus press conference. She announced relaxed COVID restrictions. Read the full transcript of her COVID-19 news briefing speech with updates on vaccine distribution here.
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Governor Whitmer: (00:19)
Good afternoon. It is Tuesday, March 2nd. Thank you for joining us. Of course, I’ve got Dr. Janae Khaldun by my side, our chief medical executive, director Elizabeth Hertel, the head of Department of Health and Human Services, Paula Cunningham, the head of AARP, Michael Krueger, the owner of Crunchy’s, and Mike Stack from Applied Fitness Solutions. So today I’m going to announce additional re-engagements for bars and restaurants, nursing homes, and entertainment venues after providing a brief update on our ongoing equitable vaccine rollout.
Governor Whitmer: (00:58)
To date, we have administered 2,269,495 vaccines to Michiganders of all races. This number is growing as we speak. Michigan is number nine nationwide for total vaccines administered and our case count and positivity rates remain among the lowest in the nation. Our target remains equitably distributing 50,000 vaccines shots per day, a metric that we have met for 16 days. On Friday, the FDA approved a third safe and effective vaccine. This one from Johnson and Johnson, which is being manufactured by Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is truly a remarkable achievement, and it is a proud, proud moment for our state, with two of the three vaccines being made right here in Michigan, by Michigan workers. I think that is important to pause and marvel at the miracle of science that we now have three safe and effective vaccines on the market. Was just under a year ago that Michigan confronting COVID was confirmed to have begun. And now we have three vaccines that are safe and effective, and it is miraculous. It’s a powerful reminder of what Michiganders are capable of.
Governor Whitmer: (02:27)
We know Michigan is the state that put the whole world on wheels. We know that Michigan was the arsenal of democracy that crushed the Nazis. And now Michigan is the arsenal of health leading the way out of this pandemic. These are safe vaccines that will protect you and your family and others from COVID. They’re essential. These vaccines are essential to getting our country and our state back to normal so we can hug our families, get back to work, and confidently send our kids back to school.
Governor Whitmer: (03:01)
Now I want to give a quick perspective on how vaccine distribution is going nationally. On January 20th, the day that President Biden was sworn into office, just 8% of Americans over 65 and 14% of Americans over 75 had received their first shot. In just five weeks, nearly half of Americans 65 and up and 60% of those 75 and up have received their first shot. As a state, we will continue to ramp up our vaccine distribution.
Governor Whitmer: (03:39)
This week, and on top of vaccines we were already scheduled to receive from Pfizer and Moderna, we will be receiving an additional 82,000 vaccines of Johnson and Johnson. Now this is great news. This will be a new high watermark, but I want people to understand the next week we will receive fewer vaccines. And that’s because this first batch has already been manufactured and they’ve got a number of they’re ready to push out with the FDA approval. Now there’ll be manufacturing as we have need. And so we will see this number drop, and I just want to share that. So we’re all very clear. And we have expectations that are grounded in fact. We are headed in the right direction and we just ask that people remain patient as we work around the clock to get more shots in arms, and that we redouble our efforts toward staying safe in the interim.
Governor Whitmer: (04:41)
Whether you’ve had a shot or not wearing a mask is really important until we get to about 70% of our population vaccinated. Washing your hands, social, distancing, these things work. And we have been doing them and been doing them well. And that’s why today we can take additional steps. So I want to thank all the people in this state who have done their part so that now we’re in a position that we can re-engage more of our economy.
Governor Whitmer: (05:09)
Today, we are announcing that restaurants and bars can operate at 50% capacity. That’s up from 25%. I’m also pleased that we can now allow visitations at nursing homes too. We know that this virus has taken a disproportionate toll on our seniors. And the isolation and the time apart has been taxing on everyone with loved ones in long-term care facilities. Under the new guidelines, family members will be able to go and visit their relatives and nursing homes after receiving a negative COVID-19 test.
Governor Whitmer: (05:49)
Additionally, today’s public health order increases capacity limits in retail, casinos, gyms, stadiums, and other entertainment and recreational facilities. Of course, there is a limitation. We’re doing this incrementally, but these are all the places where we can safely do more.
Governor Whitmer: (06:13)
So we increased capacity limits for residential and non-residential gatherings, including venues like banquet halls. The increased capacity limits outlined in this order will still give us the ability to protect public health as we carefully track variants and continue leading with science and data. It will also enable more people to go back to work. And I’m proud that we are able to take this positive step without compromising public health. All of these reengagements will enable Michiganders to enjoy more of life’s simplest pleasures that have been disrupted over the past year. Going out for a meal with your family, a date night to go see the new cheesy romcom, a coffee with your grandma. These are the things that make our lives full. And I know how eager we all are to get back to enjoying our days with loved ones. We’re getting there, Michigan. This is good news.
Governor Whitmer: (07:17)
I want to reiterate, we know we have to redouble our efforts though, to stay safe as we re-engage. It’s more important now than ever. The only reason we are at this point is because you’ve been doing the right thing every day to protect yourself and your family and your community, by wearing a mask and washing your hands and maintaining social distance. We know that these are the three pillars of pandemic public health, and they’re not going away. And so I urge you to save vigilant and stay safe.
Governor Whitmer: (07:51)
Today, I’m also announcing the formation of a new work group under the Michigan Department Of Labor and Economic Opportunity to assess and make recommendations for safely re-engaging office workspaces that have been remote. The work group will include business leaders, labor leaders, and others to advise the administration on a plan for phased return to in-person work, taking into account the trajectory of the pandemic, vaccines, variants, and mitigation measures. I look forward to reviewing the recommendations as they become available, and I am committed to prioritizing public health and workplace safety as we move forward.
Governor Whitmer: (08:37)
We are not past this virus yet, but we do know a lot more than we did because we’ve been living with it and learning for the past year. If we continue allowing and following science and data, and making sure that that remains our north star in all the decisions we make around re-engagement, we will be able to do more. And I know that we will continue to make progress if we can do that collectively.
Governor Whitmer: (09:04)
All of the momentum that we are seeing is possible because we remain committed to following guidelines that protect public health. As we move forward, we need to massively scale up testing and tracing so that we can ensure that we can keep up with increased demand and mitigate any potential spread.
Governor Whitmer: (09:25)
For our schools and for our nursing homes alone, just for those two aspects of life to stay open, we’ve got a purchase about three to 4 million Binax antigen tests every single month. And with these additional re-engagements, we’re going to have to consider service employees and entertainment venue staff. That will be a need as well. And that’s why we need the legislature to immediately pass the Michigan COVID Relief Plan, Michigan COVID Recovery Plan, that I laid out in January to spend over $5 billion of federal money that was signed by President Trump and sent to Michigan a couple of months ago. Our ability to purchase those tests, as well as rollout vaccines and keep people safe, is essential to our ability to do these re-engagement.
Governor Whitmer: (10:21)
So we need the legislature to pass the COVID recovery plan. Right now, those billions of dollars are gathering dust because the Michigan Legislature has not appropriated them. So I want to reiterate, it’s $5 billion to deploy into our economy, money that was signed by Donald Trump and supported by a bipartisan group of our own congressional delegation. Dollars to help small businesses and schools, and restaurants, and entertainment venues, and nursing homes. This money is just sitting there. So for us to reengage on this hand, means we’ve got to have those resources so we can keep people safe in the process. If the legislature doesn’t take action soon…
Governor Whitmer: (11:03)
Us. If the legislature doesn’t take action soon, we’re going to run out of those Binax tests by the end of this month. And since it takes two weeks from order to receipt, time is running out. So I’m hopeful we can quickly negotiate a recovery plan that fully allocates the $5 billion in federal funds. Washington didn’t send us this money to sit on it. They sent it to us because people need it. They sent it to us because it’s crucial to economic re-engagement and protecting public health. It is crucial for our seniors and for our students alike, and small businesses too. So I’ve been trying to get the legislature to negotiate with me. I will continue that effort, but we need them to get to the table.
Governor Whitmer: (11:49)
President Biden frequently says he believes America’s best days are ahead of us. And I agree. Michigan’s best days are ahead of us too. We’re tough. We’ve been through a lot. We’re a state of doers. We’ve got grit, and we think big. And we take on bold solutions to tackle big problems. One day, when we look back at this extraordinary time, we should be able to add another moniker to our list. We must and we will, become the state that beat the damn virus. We will usher in a new era of prosperity, because we are Michigan. And that’s who we are. So thank you for joining us again today. I am pleased to have so many guests here who’ve got important messages to share. And with that, I will hand it over to Dr. Khaldun.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (12:42)
Good afternoon. And thank you, Governor. So here is where we are with the key metrics we are tracking for COVID-19. We are now seeing a plateau in our case rates. Cases are now at about 91 cases per million people, slightly lower than where we were the previous week. Two areas of the state, the Saginaw and Traverse City regions have seen a small growth in their case rates. Test positivity is now at 3.7%. It has increased slightly from 3.5% the previous week. This is similar to where we were in the beginning of October. We’re still doing quite well with our hospitalizations. 3.9% of inpatient beds are now being used to take care of patients with COVID 19. And that is down from 4.3% the previous week. The number of outbreaks that local health departments are working on is now 565. And this is down from 631 the week before that. This past week, the most reported new outbreaks included K through 12 schools, followed by manufacturing and construction, and long-term care facilities.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (13:53)
Overall, long-term care facilities still have the most ongoing outbreaks and make up over 40% of all reported ongoing outbreaks. We are also still concerned about the B117 variant that has been identified in the state. So far, there’ve been 422 identified cases of the B117 variant. About two thirds of those have been associated with an outbreak at a correctional facility. But there are other places in the state where we do not know where those individuals became infected with the variant, which means there is likely some undetected spread occurring in the community. So overall, we are at a critical time in our fight against this pandemic. Our case rates have dropped significantly since the fall surge, but they are still higher than they were last summer. And they are no longer dropping.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (14:48)
We have several outbreaks going on across the state. We know the new, more easily transmitted B117 variant is present. And if that variant becomes more prevalent across the state, we could see a rapid increase in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. This pandemic is not over, and we must all continue to remain vigilant. But the good news is, we have the tools that we need to fight this pandemic back. Over 60 million Americans have been vaccinated across the country. And over 2.2 million Michiganders have received these safe and effective vaccines. Over 45% of people over the age of 65 in Michigan have gotten a vaccine. And this past weekend, as the governor mentioned, we had more good news on the vaccine front, with federal authorization of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for people ages 18 and up. We are thrilled that Michigan will receive 82,700 doses of this safe and effective vaccine that will be heading to local health departments and some hospitals all across the state this week.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (16:02)
Let me talk a little bit more about this vaccine. So the Johnson and Johnson vaccine works a little bit differently than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It uses an inactive form of the common cold virus, the adenovirus, that cannot cause any illness. And it gives a cold to your body’s cells so that your body can start making special antibodies so that the body fights the real COVID-19 virus if you come in contact with it in the future. Now the nice thing about this new vaccine is that you only need one dose to get fully protected. You don’t have to worry about coming back to get a second shot to get complete protection. And the vaccine can be stored at regular refrigerator temperatures, which means it is easier for providers to manage. This particular type of vaccine has been used in other vaccines. It does not alter your DNA. It does not give you the virus and went through the same rigorous testing as other vaccines. And no steps were skipped in the process. Just like the Pfizer and Madonna vaccines, it can cause mild side effects like a sore arm, a headache, or fever. It was studied in tens of thousands of people, of different races and ethnicities. And it was found to be safe and effective. In clinical trials, 28 days after just one dose of this Johnson and Johnson vaccine, it was 85% effective and preventing severe illness. And no one who received the vaccine died of COVID-19. In comparison, most annual flu shots are only between 40 and 60% effective at preventing illness. This vaccine works. This is very, very important. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine will save your life if you get infected with COVID-19.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (17:59)
In Michigan, we have lost over 15,500 lives due to this terrible virus. If people are offered this Johnson and Johnson vaccine, they should take it, because declining this vaccine if it is offered to you could be the difference between life and death. And especially, since we still don’t have enough vaccines available to everyone who wants one right now, it is important that people recognize that all three COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and important tools as we fight to end this pandemic and save lives. So I’m pleased that we can move forward with incrementally reopening more of the economy. We want people to be able to visit their loved ones in a nursing home. And we know that our businesses are doing their part to make their establishments as safe as they can.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (18:52)
Our case rates are not what they were in the fall, and we are getting more and more people vaccinated, but please do be cautious. This virus is still very present in the state and our progress we’ve made is very fragile. So even after you get your vaccine, regardless of which one it is, everyone still needs to keep masking up, socially distancing, and following the quarantine and isolation recommendations of your local health department. And please do get a COVID-19 test if you feel sick, if you’ve been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, or if you have traveled outside of the state in the past two weeks. Let’s all continue to make progress as we work to end this pandemic as quickly as possible. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Director Hertel.
Elizabeth Hertel: (19:50)
Good afternoon. Thank you, Dr. Khaldun. We know this past year has not been easy. So many of us lost and grieved family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. To keep others safe, we visited with hands pressed against windows, from lawns and balconies, or from further distances connected by phone or video. We’ve longed to embrace loved ones, mourn the face-to-face moments, and did our best to find new ways to celebrate holidays, birthdays, and milestones together until we could safely gather again. And as we could, we’ve taken steps forward. We continue to monitor COVID-19 trends closely and reevaluate our current epidemic orders to determine when and where it is safe to re-engage. Due to the trends that we’re seeing, we’re taking a step forward, but a cautious one. Thank you to all of you who took precautions, followed public health guidance and helped get all of us to this point.
Elizabeth Hertel: (20:51)
Today, I signed updates to two epidemic orders, one allowing for increased capacity limits at some venues, larger residential and non-residential gatherings, and one expanding visitation at long-term care facilities with testing protocols in place. The changes to the gatherings and mask order will go into effect Friday, March 5th, and will remain in effect until April 19th. Under this revised orders, restaurants and bars are allowed to be at 50% capacity. Tables must be six feet apart, with no more than six people per table. And there is now an 11 o’clock curfew. Indoor entertainment venues are allowed to be at 50% capacity, up to 300 people. Gyms and group fitness facilities are allowed to be at 30% capacity. Retail is open to 50% capacity. Casinos are also open to 30% capacity, and stadiums and arenas will be allowed to have 375 people if their capacity is under 10,000, or 750 if their capacity is over 10,000. And as we approach…
Elizabeth Hertel: (22:03)
… is over 10,000. And as we approach our spring holidays and celebrations, our indoor residential gatherings will go up to 15 people indoors from three households, but our outdoor residential gatherings can include up to 50 people. For indoor non-residential gatherings, the capacities will increase to 25 people, and outdoor gatherings will be limited to 300 people in non-residential settings, and 1,000 for entertainment and recreation venues. The epidemic order continues to temporarily pause other venues and activities where participants have close physical contacts and are not consistently masked, such as water parks. As before, employees whose work cannot be performed from home should continue to go to work, and employees who can work from home should continue to do so. Under the updated residential care facilities order, visitors are limited to two people per resident, but indoor and outdoor visitation will be allowed at long-term care facilities in all counties, regardless of county risk level.
Elizabeth Hertel: (23:10)
Visitation may continue as long as the facility has not had a case of COVID in the previous 14 days, and we ask that all visitors participating in indoor visitation are subject to rapid antigen testing. This testing will help keep residents, staff, and visitors safe, while also allowing for this increased social interaction. We also ask that visitors wear face masks and other appropriate PPE, and that in general, they maintain that six feet of social distancing. Adult foster care homes and other residents that have 12 or fewer residents are encouraged to implement these visitor and staff testing protocols as well. In addition, communal dining and group activities for residents may resume. They are also encouraged with appropriate precautions in place. Both revised orders are now up on our website, michigan.gov/coronavirus. Our health and epidemiology teams will continue to monitor these trends related to these updates.
Elizabeth Hertel: (24:14)
While we are getting closer to putting this pandemic behind us, and with that comes a sense of relief, it is important to remember that COVID-19 is still present in our communities and across the state. So just like the re-engagement of contact sports, Return to Learn, and starting in-person dining after a pause, we are counting on everyone to help make this work and avoid any steps backward. Wear a mask when you are in a public place and not eating or drinking. Wash your hands, physically distance, and avoid gatherings with more than the number of people, households, or capacities outlined in these orders.
Elizabeth Hertel: (24:51)
If you are sick, stay home. Get tested when it is required for visitation if you think you have been exposed, or if you have symptoms of COVID-19. And when you are eligible and an appointment is available, please get one of the three safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. So far, more than 2 million doses have been administered, as we know, and the vaccines are our best chance at ending this epidemic. If we protect ourselves and others, if we continue to work together and we remain vigilant, we can and we will take more leaps forward and put this pandemic behind us. Thank you. And with that, I will turn it over to Paula Cunningham of the AARP.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (25:43)
Thank you. And thank you, Governor Whitmer, for the opportunity to speak today on behalf of AARP and the continued quest during this pandemic for the safety and protection of nursing home residents, staff, and older adults. Recognizing early in the pandemic that this virus was disproportionally impacting people in congregate care facilities, you took clear action to make certain that older adults and those in those facilities were protected. We appreciate your continued priority to older adults, and protecting seniors and protecting their families. It is our understanding that 100% of nursing home residents have had priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (26:25)
AARP over the last year has been acutely focused on the safety and wellbeing of nursing home residents and staff, and those with a loved one residing in a long-term care facility. The social interaction with family and friends is critical to the overall health and wellbeing of long-term care residents. The stories of separation during this time have been heart-wrenching. We welcome the state’s effort to revisit prohibitions on visitation that were instituted when less was really known about COVID, and before the vaccines were available. We appreciate that this is being done in a careful, deliberate manner, and relying on the best evidence and following the guidance of CDC and state medical experts. Governor Whitmer, we appreciate you appointing AARP to have a seat at the COVID-19 nursing home preparedness task force. It was an effective and productive group of bipartisan individuals who cared deeply about fighting real solutions.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (27:31)
AARP, along with others, advocated for virtual visitation, establish timelines, milestones, and accountability for facilities to begin in-person visitation. We applaud this new order, Governor Whitmer, and the progress that is being made to keep nursing home residents and staff safe by providing testing for all visitors. We are hopeful that this new order will continue the downward trajectory of COVID-19 positive cases in these facilities, and that will help improve the quality of life not only for the residents of the facilities, but also for their caregivers. We will continue to lift our voice as [inaudible 00:28:13] friend and fierce defender for older adults, and we sincerely appreciate working with you, Governor, and with anyone else who has the same mission. Thank you.
Michael Krueger: (28:33)
Good afternoon. First, I’d like to thank Governor Whitmer, who is more affectionately known around our establishment as Richard’s sister, and I’d also like to thank all of you watching at home. My name is Michael Krueger. I’m the proud owner of Crunchy’s a local bar and restaurant here in East Lansing. About a year ago, the entire country came to a standstill when the COVID pandemic first hit our cities. In the year since the first shutdown, the hospitality industry has faced countless struggles and hardships, from having to lay off staff when they needed a paycheck the most, investing in PPE and business renovations to keep patrons safe, while pinching every penny, to having to go out and find employees to hire as we slowly opened back up. Our industry has been through a lot.
Michael Krueger: (29:22)
It’ll be a long road recovery for those of us who were fortunate enough to have made it through this. We truly could not have done it without the support from our locals who continued to frequent our businesses by ordering takeout, delivery, gift cards, all of that kind of stuff when we needed their help. We also could not have done it without our staff. I want to take this time to publicly thank all of the industry workers, specifically my managers, Adam and Alicia, and the rest of my staff for exemplifying what those who work in our industry do best. We take pride in serving our customers, and we are a resilient bunch who are committed to adapting and changing no matter what is thrown at us. Us business owners will forever be grateful to all of those people.
Michael Krueger: (30:04)
As we transition from a 25% to a 50% capacity and move the curfew to 11:00, we are continuing to move toward a sense of normalcy that I think just about all of us is looking forward to. With new COVID cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities continuing to trend down, and more and more people getting vaccinated every day, I am hopeful that we are and will continue to move in the right direction. While bumping up our capacity, our industry must continue to abide by mask and social distancing rules. So please remember to be respectful to the staff and to the business employees who are doing their best to ensure a safe environment for everybody. With that said, as an industry, we look forward to expanding our dining service safely, bringing our employees back to work and getting them more hours, and continuing to serve Michiganders across the state. Thank you.
Mike Stack: (31:07)
Good afternoon, and thank you, Governor Whitmer, for asking me here to speak today. My name is Mike Stack, and I am with the Michigan Fitness Clubs Association and Applied Fitness Solutions of Southeastern Lower Michigan, and today I’m excited to share some information with my fellow business owners about the MIOSHA workplace Ambassador Program. As an organization that advocates for the health of the community, we know what could happen when private industry comes together with state and federal agencies for the betterment of our community. When I was forced to shut our doors, I was crushed, just like many business owners that we’ve talked about for so many months. Thoughts of when we could reopen, what resources would be available to reopen, and ultimately would my business even survive flooded my mind. I’m sure many business owners can relate to this very difficult situation. The last thing I wanted to do was implement anything incorrectly and put at risk our clients, our customers, and the community at large, with greater spread of COVID-19.
Mike Stack: (32:10)
When we started, we worked with connections I had with the University of Michigan through the School of Public Health and Michigan Medicine. Clearly, their time was limited, and my financial resources were limited by the fact that my business was shuttered. The MIOSHA Ambassador Program is something that can really help ease the concerns and give peace of mind to many business owners. Over the summer, we had somebody virtually review our reopening playbook. And then earlier in the fall, we had somebody come out to our business as an ambassador to do an on-site walkthrough, and gave us inspection and provided us insight as to what we can do and make up gaps that we had in our reopening playbook. Overall, it was doing a lot of validating of what we were already doing that was safe and effective. I found a lot of comfort in knowing that I was able to put best practices in place, and doing so-
Mike Stack: (33:03)
… will have put best practices in place, and doing so while saving my own resources by utilizing this program. I really think many businesses are afraid of having somebody come out from the state because they associate that with fines and regulations. This was one of those opportunities where the state was truly here to help. I can’t stress enough how great this program has been for my business, and the benefits that it’s provided as we’ve tried to stay open. It can accelerate the process of putting great practices in place to keep your staff and your customers safe.
Mike Stack: (33:37)
And in a lot of cases, much like my business, save you a lot of money in the process because you’re not spending money on your own resources. Having these experts come out was truly a collaborative and helpful partnership. And it’s a win-win-win for the business owner because I can keep my business open, minimizing my own use of resources, the state can prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we’re also able to get people back to exercising and staying healthy. I strongly encourage every business owner themselves to save some headache, some hassle, and some money, and schedule a visit with an ambassador.
Mike Stack: (34:13)
I promise you, you won’t regret it. The ambassadors are truly here to help, and they understand exactly what needs to be done in terms of correct safety measures, and they’re not there to shame you or discipline you for anything you may be doing wrong. I can say this from not only my personal experience, but from talking to several business owners in the Michigan Fitness Club Association who’ve had very much the same experience as I’ve had. The process of scheduling is easy, and the ambassador was very helpful and incredibly understanding. To get started with your free consultation go to michigan.gov/COVIDworkplacesafety. Thank you.
Governor Whitmer: (34:53)
Wonderful. Thank you so much. I want to thank our guests who joined us today. We appreciate it, and now happy to open it up for three or four questions.
Speaker 2: (35:01)
Kelly [inaudible 00:35:11].
Hi Chelsea. Am I good to ask?
Yep. Please go ahead.
Perfect. This is Kelly with News Channel 3, and I’m just wondering with Robert Gordon and his deputy director receiving a separation agreement when they resigned from the state, why were they paid after the resignation? Is that common practice to pay state employees upwards of $150,000 after that?
Governor Whitmer: (35:45)
Thanks for that question, Kelly. So let me start with this, and I’ll answer kind of a broader question. You know, this pandemic has been a challenging time. There’s no question. It’s been hard on seniors. It’s been hard on students. It’s been hard on small businesses, and to be candid, it’s been hard on everyone who serves in state and local government as well. I’m really proud of the work that my administration has done throughout this pandemic. The numbers show that the actions we’ve taken have helped saved thousands of lives in Michigan, and there’s a reason that Michigan has some of the lowest numbers in the country.
Governor Whitmer: (36:24)
You know, Robert Gordon and his team were an incredibly important part of our response, and I appreciated his service to our state. Separation agreements, to your question, are used often in the public and private sector when someone in a leadership position leaves an organization. And due to the nature of the agreement, there’s not a lot more that I can say on the subject. However, I do want to say this. There were not any improprieties with Director Gordon’s work.
Governor Whitmer: (36:55)
It’s simply that he tendered his resignation, and I accepted it, and I appointed a new director, Elizabeth Hertel, who has hit the ground running. She’s doing incredible work, and she needed to put her own team together at DHHS so that we can stay laser-focused on ramping up our vaccine effort and end this pandemic and get back to life as normal sooner. So I’m going to have to respect the nature of the separation agreement, but I’ll say that I did really appreciate Robert’s work, and I wish him well in the future.
Speaker 2: (37:30)
The next question will come from [inaudible 00:37:33].
Speaker 3: (37:38)
Hello, governor, there’ve been recent reports of poor quality of food being given to Michigan’s National Guard in Washington. D.C. says they found .01% of meals to be undercooked, and they say there are no cases of foodborne illness. Are you hearing that same story, and what would you like to see happen regarding that situation?
Governor Whitmer: (37:59)
Well, I appreciate the question because I do think it’s an important one, and I think every one of us owes a debt of gratitude to the incredible men and women that serve in the Michigan National Guard, as well as all of our military branches. You know, when the call comes and people ask for help from our guard, we answer the bell. Right? We jump in and we help. And the call came from Washington, D.C. They called and asked that we contribute a thousand guard members to assist with ongoing security efforts in Washington, D.C. shortly after the inauguration. The call was from the Capitol Police and we answered it.
Governor Whitmer: (38:38)
We granted that request, but I made very clear at the time that my expectation was that our guardswomen and men would have appropriate, proper hotel accommodations and a per diem to ensure adequate meals, and ensure that they were respected, and their service was treated with respect. So when reports of undercooked, and frankly, inadequate meals came to me, I immediately got on the phone with Acting Secretary Whitley of the Army to raise these concerns. Additionally, I asked Major General Paul Rogers, our Adjutant General, to go to D.C. and to check on the soldiers. Now, it is my understanding that the quality of the food has dramatically improved. It doesn’t mean that it’s excusable that we had to take these actions to get to this point, but that is my understanding.
Governor Whitmer: (39:35)
Now, this deployment is scheduled to come to a close on March 12th. I do not have any intention of agreeing to an extension of this deployment. I think that our brave men and women who serve in the guard have been called on in unprecedented ways over the last 12 months. Whether it is evacuating people in Midland in a 500-year flooding event, or testing for COVID for people across the state in all sorts of places like our nursing homes and in our prisons, to going to Washington, D.C. when our nation’s security is a concern with a lot of civil unrest. They are consummate professionals who take time away from family. It’s an incredible sacrifice, and we owe them respect and support, and this is something that I take very seriously.
Speaker 2: (40:32)
[inaudible 00:40:32] turn it over to Tim [inaudible 00:40:34].
Governor, why did you have to give Mr. Gordon any money in the first place? And the Republicans allege that this is hush money.
Governor Whitmer: (40:48)
Tim, I’ve explained the nature of a separation agreement. We have been through a lot over the last year. It has taken a toll. The former director resigned, I accepted it, and we’re continuing to move forward because we’ve got a lot of tough work to do.
Speaker 2: (41:04)
Was it hush money?
Governor Whitmer: (41:09)
Tim, I really bristle at that characterization. It is the nature of a separation agreement when someone in a leadership position leaves is that there are terms to it, and you can’t share every term to it. That’s simply what it is.
Speaker 2: (41:30)
Speaker 4: (41:34)
Hi, governor. I was wondering what were some of the factors that you and the state health department looked at when deciding to loosen some of these restrictions?
Governor Whitmer: (41:41)
Yeah, I think that’s an important question, and I’m going to ask Director Hertel to come and shed a little light on that so that we can get your question answered.
Elizabeth Hertel: (41:55)
Thank you for that question. As Dr. Khaldun went over in detail, we have seen some of our key metrics continue to decline over the previous seven weeks. We have case rates that are similar to what we had seen last fall. But the continuing trend of decline in our case rates, our positivity rates, and the ability for our hospitals to care for individuals when they need care, really led us to looking at the orders that we had in place and deciding that we were in a position where we could loosen some of these restrictions a little bit further. We know when we loosen restrictions we will probably see cases rise again. My hope is that we will see perhaps a continued plateau, maybe a slight increase but then a decrease, and that we can continue to loosen those restrictions moving forward.
Speaker 2: (42:53)
Thank you everybody. I appreciate you coming to the best conference, and stay safe out there.