May 12, 2021
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript May 12
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s May 12, 2021 coronavirus press conference. Read the full transcript of her COVID-19 news briefing speech with updates on vaccine distribution here.
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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (00:16)
Well, good morning. Today is Wednesday, May 12th. Thank you for joining us. I of course am joined by Dr. Janae Khaldoon, our chief medical executive. Dr. [inaudible 00:00:32], the president elect of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians. And John Walsh, the president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association. So thank you for joining us today.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (00:43)
I’m going to provide a brief update on vaccinations, on cases. We’re going to follow up on the back to normal challenge and walk through some changes in the epidemic order. I know that we can all feel a sense of hope. Vaccinations are up, cases and hospitalizations are down. The days are getting longer and warmer, and Seinfeld will be on Netflix sometime this summer. That is true, but it’s just a little bit of levity. Life is looking and feeling increasingly normal.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (01:15)
To date, Michigan has administered nearly 7.5 million doses of the safe, effective COVID-19 vaccinations. Over 55% of Michiganders have received their first shots and over 40% are fully vaccinated, including 70% of our seniors. I also want to shout out to Leelanau County for being the first county in Michigan, to hit 70% and Oakland, Washtenaw, Emmett and, Grand Travers for surpassing 60%. Nationwide, we have administered over 260 million doses. Nearly 60% of Americans, 18 and up, have gotten their first dose. On Monday, the FDA authorized the safe, effective Pfizer COVID vaccine, which has manufactured right here in Michigan for children ages 12 to 15. And later today, the CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practices will meet to review the FDA’s authorization. This committee has the final sign off before shots start going into arms. And this is great news.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (02:22)
If and when the CDC committee signs off and we expect that very soon, we’ll begin administering vaccines to Michiganders 12 to 15, so that they can be safe from COVID-19 as well. We are ready to go in Michigan. We have Dr. Reddy here with us today who will say more about this shortly. As a parent, I encourage all parents with children in this group to have a conversation with your family doctor about the safe, effective vaccines, as soon as possible. As the number of Michiganders getting vaccinated increases, our COVID numbers decrease. After cases ticked up in April, I encouraged all of us to double down on basic health protocols we know work. Nearly two weeks into May, we have bent the curve. Cases are down more than 60% and hospitalizations have fallen over 30% since our mid April peak. Tragically, we’ve lost over 18,000 Michiganders to this virus. And we can’t forget that. While we are making steady progress, we know what this virus is capable of when we let our guard down. I encourage folks to keep masking up indoors and always opt to be outside whenever possible. Thankfully, it’s getting easier and easier to be outside as we enter the summer. And as the vaccinated population grows, we can take steps forward to continue lifting restrictions while keeping everyone safe. Two weeks ago, I introduced the Michigan Back to Normal challenge, which charts our path out of the pandemic with specific metrics and accompanying actions. Our goal remains equitably vaccinating 70% of the 8 million Michiganders 16 and up, which is around 5.7 million people. So far 4.5 million people or over 55% have gotten their first shot.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (04:14)
There are four steps to get back to normal and we hit step one on Monday. Under step one, two weeks after we hit that 55% number of Michiganders 16 and up, we permit all workplaces to be allowed to return for in-person work. Michigan surpassed those 55% between Sunday and Monday at some point. So on Monday May 24th, we anticipate that [inaudible 00:04:40] will take action, allowing offices across Michigan to allow in-person work for all workers. Step two occurs two weeks after we get to 60% of Michiganders 16 and up with their first shots.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (04:51)
What happens? Well, we lift the curfew on restaurant and bars. We’ll increase capacity at exercise facilities and gyms and increase indoor capacity limits at sports stadiums, conference centers, banquet halls, and funeral homes. We’re slated to take further action as vaccinations continue climbing. Last Thursday, May 6th, MDHS updated their COVID-19 gatherings and face masks epidemic order. Going forward fully vaccinated people do not need to mask up anymore when gathered indoors at a residence. And outside the home, masks are only required at outdoor gatherings with more than 100 people. But I want to be clear, masks are still an important tool to keep yourself and your family and the most vulnerable among us, especially indoors, it’s how we keep people safe.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (05:43)
And if you’re not fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends you continue to mask up whenever you’re around others, who you don’t live with. Masks are still required in stores for contact sports and indoors if you been vaccinated yet and are with people who aren’t a part of your household. Every day, we’re getting closer to putting this pandemic behind us. The way to get there is to vaccinate as many Michiganders who are eligible as quickly as possible. So if you’ve already gotten your shot, thank you for doing your part to keep yourself and your family and your community and the State of Michigan safe. I encourage you to share your experience with friends and family who have not yet made the decision to get their shots yet. Share your story because you are the best messenger for the people in your life.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (06:31)
And now, I want to speak directly to Michiganders who still have some questions or have not decided to get their shots yet. The vaccine is safe. It’ll help protect you and your family and other people from getting COVID. Even if you have had COVID, you should still get vaccinated to protect yourself from variants or a repeat infection. If you received a monoclonal antibody treatment, you should get your shot 90 days after your treatment. The vaccine has gone through rigorous testing and over 150 million Americans have taken it. The vaccine like others before it for polio and smallpox is trusted by doctors. Vaccines are our best chance of putting this pandemic behind us and returning to normal.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (07:18)
They represent hope and healing. And if you want to learn more, I encourage you to talk to your family doctor and learn more about how the safe, effective vaccines can save your life and the lives of those you love. I got my second shot 13 days ago, meaning I can enjoy the benefits of an effective level of immunity starting tomorrow. And I’m really excited. I can’t wait to see my friends who I have not been able to hang out with in a long time. If you get vaccinated, we can all get back to doing the things we love with the people we love. We can have the quintessential Michigan summer we all crave. So thank you for doing your part. Now I want to turn it over to Dr. Janae.
Dr. Janae Khaldoon: (08:02)
Good morning. And thanks-
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (08:03)
Good morning and thank you governor. I’m pleased with the progress that we are making towards ending this pandemic. All of the metrics we are tracking for COVID-19 are decreasing. Although the virus is still very present across the entire state. As of yesterday, Michigan has 253 cases per million people, and that number has been decreasing for four weeks. That’s down almost a third from where it was a week ago. The percent of tests that are positive is 9.8%. Almost half of where we were at our peak in the beginning of April. 11.8% of hospital beds are being used for COVID-19 patients, and our hospitalizations are continuing to decline.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (08:48)
As these metrics trend down, the number of vaccinated people continues to trend up. I’m so excited that we were able to meet our first milestone in the MI Vacc to Normal plan this week, with over 55% of Michiganders over the age of 16, receiving at least one dose of the safe and effective vaccines. Because of this, MIOSHA will be able to start allowing businesses to bring their employees back to work soon. As the governor mentioned, about 7.5 million doses of the COVID vaccines have been administered across the state. About 60% of Michiganders over the age of 50 are fully vaccinated. That is just great progress.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (09:32)
This week the Pfizer vaccine was authorized by the FDA for children aged 12 to 15 years. Now, as a parent of two children in this age group, I am thrilled. While we are still awaiting further guidance today from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the authorization of this vaccine is an important milestone for our children. This will mean less missed school because of quarantine, fewer missed sports practices and games. A return to birthday parties, sleepovers, and most importantly, our kids will have a much lower risk of getting ill from this terrible virus.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (10:13)
Kids are not immune to COVID-19. We’ve seen many outbreaks among schools and school sports, and over 150 children in Michigan have gotten a very serious inflammatory syndrome from COVID-19 called MISC. And unfortunately, many of these children have ended up in the intensive care unit and some have even lost their lives. So I’m asking all parents today to take this virus seriously and take your child to get vaccinated. Think about it. Not having to wear masks. Not needing to quarantine if exposed to the virus. This is really a big deal. We also want to ensure broad access to vaccine in trusted places. That means individual doctors office, pediatricians, family physicians, school clinics, federally qualified health centers and pharmacies.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (11:10)
So today I’m asking every primary care doctor to enroll as a vaccine provider. The most important thing we can do right now is to make vaccines available for whenever someone is ready. We know that patients trust their doctors and when they are ready to get vaccinated, we want you to have vaccine on hand. Reach out to your patients now and ask them if they’ve been vaccinated, and if they have any questions that you can answer about the vaccines. Primary care providers can also work with your local health department. If you would like to keep smaller quantities of the vaccine on hand.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (11:50)
Know that if you become a vaccine provider, you can also focus on just vaccinating the patients who you already know, who are already in your practice. We at MDHHS want to make the process as simple as possible for doctors, and in doing so make vaccines accessible to everyone. Now, we also know that everyone does not have a primary care doctor. So we are still focusing on our neighborhood, mobile, and homebound vaccination strategies, bringing vaccines to where people are. We are making great progress. Vaccines are widely available, and our numbers for COVID-19 are trending down. We are in a new phase of fighting this virus, but this is certainly not over.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (12:36)
We still have the virus very present across the entire state. We still have the threat of more easily transmitted variants that we are identifying every week and threaten to undo our progress. So for now, I’m calling on everyone to do what we know works to keep our numbers trending down. Remember that outdoors is much safer than indoors. Be sure to wear a mask if you are in public and will be within six feet of people who are not vaccinated.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (13:08)
We also still want you to get tested if you have symptoms, or if you are not yet vaccinated and have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. And please, do not delay getting your vaccine so that you can have the peace of mind of knowing that you and your loved ones are protected. So we are making great progress Michigan, so let’s just keep on going. And with that, I will turn it over to Dr. Reddy.
Dr. Srikar Reddy: (13:42)
Thank you, Dr. J. Good morning. My name is Dr. Srikar Reddy and I probably serve as a president-elect of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians. I’m a family physician affiliated with Ascension Medical Group in South Lyon, and I’m a virtual care and telehealth physician leader. It’s been a long year going through the public health crisis and family physicians have been working hard to help our patients and their families fight and prevent COVID-19.
Dr. Srikar Reddy: (14:09)
The progress made so far in vaccinations in our state is encouraging, but we still have a ways to go to protect all of our residents, including teens. Now that over 55% of the state’s adult population is vaccinated, it’s time that we shift our focus to individuals who are still hesitant. You may be thinking, “I and a family member have had COVID, why do we need to get vaccinated?” It’s important for everyone, including those who have suffered through the illness to get vaccinated, to help protect our fellow citizens who are at high risk of contracting COVID or who have an underlying condition that we’re they to get the virus, could be severely ill or even die.
Dr. Srikar Reddy: (14:50)
I believe that getting vaccinated is our civic duty and one that I take very seriously as a family physician and as a father, husband, and son. While hospitalizations due to severe illness and deaths from COVID are on the decline. Michiganders are still contracting and passing on the COVID virus. Getting vaccinated will stop this. Now is also time to focus to vaccinating 12 to 15 year olds, especially as summer activities are on the horizon. Despite teens not being a high risk population, the aim of vaccinating them is to control this highly contagious virus and prevent new variants from emerging.
Dr. Srikar Reddy: (15:33)
My 13 year old son contracted COVID last December, and I will still be getting him vaccinated as soon as possible. My wife, who is also a physician, and I, both trust in scientific trials that are proven that COVID vaccines are safe and effective, not only for adults, but also for our children.
Dr. Srikar Reddy: (15:55)
Speaking on behalf of my family physician colleagues, we understand there is still need to build confidence in the COVID vaccines. And we want to assure Michigan-
Dr. Srikar Reddy: (16:03)
… need to build confidence in the COVID vaccines. We want to assure Michiganders that all the approved COVID vaccines are safe and highly effective. If you have any questions about the vaccine, talk to your family physician who can provide you with science backed information. Family physicians are trusted sources for getting vaccinated and sharing evidence-based vaccine information.
Dr. Srikar Reddy: (16:24)
So with the help of family docs, the state’s capacity to vaccinate adults and teens will grow helping us end this pandemic faster. We know our patients, we know their history, we know their risk factors. It only makes sense to visit your family position to get vaccinated and to get your teenager vaccinated too. A recent survey found that eight out of 10 people rely on the advice of their primary care physician when deciding to get a vaccine. We’re entering yet another new phase of the pandemic and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Dr. Srikar Reddy: (16:59)
Michigan’s family physicians are key partners in helping end this pandemic and serving our patients at the same time. Lastly, outside of COVID-19, I want to remind Michigan residents to continue to stay up to date on other vaccinations, which are essential to public health in our state, such as those that prevent whooping cough, pneumonia, and measles. That goes for teens and children. Thank you.
John Walsh: (17:35)
Thank you, governor. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to address the importance of vaccination. I’m John Walsh, President and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association. I’d also like to give a very hearty thanks to those of you who have been vaccinated, helping us all reach a huge milestone. There being 55% of our population receiving at least one shot of the vaccine.
John Walsh: (17:56)
Our manufacturing industry has continued to work safely and productively since last May following a two month pause. While folks on the shop floor have been on site that entire time members of our finance, engineering, and sales staff, just to name a few can only now return to the office enjoying their production colleagues onsite. This is clearly an indication of our progress in the fight against the pandemic and allows our office colleagues the opportunity to once again, interact in person, increasing the effectiveness of collaboration, fueling creativity, and restoring those important social and professional relationships at work.
John Walsh: (18:36)
In our opinion, the clear path to normalcy is through vaccination. I’m proud to stand here today, representing manufacturers across the state that have risen to the challenge from the beginning of the pandemic to respond to people’s needs. In particular, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize that one of our members, Pfizer manufactures one of the most effective vaccines right here in Michigan. Our fellow Michiganians are working hard to protect their families at Pfizer and their friends are at state and in fact, the entire world.
John Walsh: (19:10)
What was once the arsenal of democracy is now the arsenal of healthcare. We are very proud of our members and their contributions to keeping people safe across the country and the world during the pandemic. We will continue to encourage our members, their employees, and all of you to consider getting vaccinated. Supplies are now abundant and readily available increasingly on a walk-in basis. Consult your doctor or members of the medical profession if you have questions and concerns. They are ready and in my opinion, they are the most qualified to help you with making this important decision.
John Walsh: (19:45)
One point that I do want to make is of critical importance to manufacturing. As we continue to grow and recover from the pandemic is the need to get production workers on site. One of the biggest challenges of course, is childcare. Parents need to be confident that their children can return to school. Our board of trustees at the local level, our teachers, they need to be confident in the school system to get folks back, our children into the classroom in the fall so that workers, one, well, let me start here. Make sure our kids are safe and being educated. Then in turn, their parents can return to the workforce.
John Walsh: (20:23)
So it’s another additional reason why we encourage vaccination. We have hit the milestone of 55% laid out by the governor, and now we encourage others to move forward so that we can make progress in getting back to normal. To see each other at a restaurant, to cheer the Lions at a victory in a packed stadium, and to share the joy of those about you at a large and hopefully loud wedding. My thanks again to the governor for supporting the manufacturing industry and having me here today.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (20:56)
Thank you, Dr. Reddy. Thank you, John. John and I served in the legislature at the same time. He served on the Republican side of the aisle. I served on the Democratic side of the aisle. I say Michigander. He says Michiganian, but we’re all in this together to get the people of our state vaccinated. We got to get the politics out of this moment and really appreciate the leadership that we have at our health systems across the state at our manufacturers and biggest employers. We’re all in this together. So I appreciate them joining us today. With that, I’m happy to open it up for a few questions. So let’s see. We got Rick Albin at the top of the list.
Rick Albin: (21:33)
Governor, thank you for taking my question. The promise of vaccines is that at some point we get, as you say, back to normal and that would mean for many of us not only being able to get back to work fully, the remote aspect would be gone, but so it would be wearing masks, for example, when we’re in our workplaces. At the very same time that’s the promise, MIOSHA is proposing rules that could keep those same policies available if they decided to use them wearing a mask and disinfection, that kind of thing. Why is it necessary for another agency to take on that responsibility when Health and Human Services has been handling it during this period of time?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (22:14)
Well, MIOSHA is focused on workplace safety. That is their role though they’ve been working very closely with DHHS and big employers, as well as labor leaders. We want to make sure that we get this right. We’re also anticipating some further clarification from OSHA, the federal agency and these I think are important aspects to us re-engaging in the workplace and doing so in a sustainable way that is safe and doesn’t contribute to spread. That’s the ultimate goal here.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (22:48)
I’ve had a lot of conversations with employers across the state, and I know many are encouraging their workforce to get vaccinated. Some are incentivizing it. We of course are encouraging employees to get vaccinated as well and working through if there are ways that we can encourage that, that makes sense. So we appreciate the leadership that we’re seeing across the state. We know that we’re really encouraging MIOSHA to get some more clarity and we’re waiting on OSHA at the federal level, but it’s really important that we work with our public health experts and work with our employers and make sure that our workforce has confidence.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (23:26)
I know there’s been a lot of talk about getting people back to work. People, I know are struggling with a number of issues. One is confidence they’re going to be safe when they get back in the workplace and that’s why it’s critical we get this right. Another is childcare, and I am glad that I was joined by the head of the manufacturers here in Michigan. I think we all understand that childcare is a critical component toward getting people back in the workforce, getting working parents back in the workforce, knowing that they’ve got a safe, great place for their child to be when they are at work. And that’s why I introduced $370 million in the budget to do just that. I am hopeful…
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (24:03)
… $70 million in the budget to do just that. I am hopeful that the legislature will join me in this effort because our goal is to get people back to work and take care of the youngest Michiganders there.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (24:14)
Dave Eggert: (24:20)
Thanks, Governor. Several business groups and the Republican led Michigan House want to use federal COVID-19 relief money to pay unemployed workers an incentive of up to 1000 or $2,000 to go back to work. They’re citing labor shortages. Do you support this concept? And would you sign such a return to work incentive if it got to your desk?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (24:42)
So when you think about the American rescue plan and the billions that were sent to Michigan under the Trump administration and billions that are coming under the Biden administration, we have an incredible opportunity here. And this opportunity is reliant on us getting this right and being strategic about how we deploy those resources, so that we can get people back to work, so we can get people enhanced skill sets so that they can get into better paying jobs, so we can wrap our kids with the kind of supports they need to address their academic needs, their mental health needs, their physical needs. All of these are important components to our mutual long-term success.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (25:23)
So I’ve seen some of the conversations that are happening. We know that there are a lot of pressure points on working families right now, in terms of getting back into the workforce. One is a concern that they’re going to be safe, that their health is protected, and that’s why vaccinations are so important. Another is childcare, and that’s why we have made this a huge priority in my budget, and I think this would be a great first step for us to take together if the legislature appreciates how serious this component is to our ultimate goal of getting our economy back on track. I’d love to find some common ground with them on that particular item, because I think that would do a lot more to give parents peace of mind so they go back to work.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (26:09)
Rachel Just: (26:14)
Yeah. Hi, Governor Whitmer, thank you for taking my question today. Today the Michigan GOP is holding a press conference to talk once again about your trip to Florida. Now I know you’ve said that you don’t want to talk about that anymore out of concern for your own safety, but could you just expand on why you’re not able to talk about a trip that was taken about a month and a half ago? And can you talk about claims that you used a private plane funded by Detroit businessmen to take that trip?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (26:40)
So I appreciate the question, Rachel. I’m going to make a couple of important points. Number one, when I ran for governor, I talked about all the different hats that I wear, that so many people wear, just like me, mostly women, frankly. The hat of taking care of my mom at the end of her life, rearing my daughter at the beginning of hers, also serving as a State Representative, and having to fight to make sure that my mom had what she needed at the end of her life. This is a part of my story. And so for anyone to be surprised that I had a family member, who’s been having a lot of health issues, that I showed up to check in, they’re obviously not paying attention to who I am and what I do. It’s been a center piece of the work that I’ve done as governor to take care and protect the people of Michigan.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (27:27)
Now, I took a brief trip, from a Friday to a Monday, two full days I was there. It was not a vacation, and it was not a gift. This was a quick trip that I took and I think it’s important for people to know, like a lot of children of parents who have health issues or relatives who have health issues, I showed up when I was needed. I did a lot of cooking, a lot of cleaning. I also did my day job, meaning I was on regular calls and conferences with my team. I didn’t miss any of that work as well. When you’re the governor of Michigan, you’re always on the clock, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not also a daughter who shows up when a family member needs her.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (28:10)
And this flight was not a gift. This flight was not paid for a taxpayer expense. And I don’t know that there’s anything more to add. When a family member of mine needs a little help though, I’m going to show up, just like when we have a crisis here, we’re going to work 24/7 to keep the people of this state.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (28:34)
No more? We’re done? Okay. All right. Thank you everybody. Stay safe, mask up, but make sure you get those vaccines. We are making big progress and it’s time to feel optimistic. Let’s all be in this together and get through it together. Thank you.