Apr 13, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Press Conference Transcript April 13
Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer held an April 13 press briefing on COVID-19. She said the curve of cases is starting to flatten. Full transcript is here.
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Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (00:00)
All right. Well, hello. It is Monday, April 13th. I’m here at the Capitol in my office with Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. We will be joined by Jeff Donofrio. I wanted to start by sharing a few thoughts. I’ve been thinking a lot about kind of where we are as a state and where we’re headed. I want to talk a minute about the virus and a little bit about what we’re all going through as we’re confronting something that no one’s ever been through before.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (01:18)
COVID-19 is a novel virus. That means it’s brand new. There’s no cure. There’s no vaccine. It’s highly contagious. It’s deadly. You can have it and not even know it for days on end. We don’t have enough PPE for our frontline providers. That’s the masks, and the gowns, and the gloves. It’s because of this virus that we have to take these extraordinary measures. My job is to try to flatten the curve. We know that the curve that was anticipated for Michigan looked very steep. I have to do everything in my power to protect people in this state. That’s precisely what we’re trying to do.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (02:01)
This COVID-19 can render a lot of people sick, can render a lot of people unable to beat COVID-19. That means a lot of death. It threatened the very fabric of our healthcare system. Our trajectory is looking as though it’s starting to flatten. That means all of these incredible measures we’ve taken may really be starting to work. We know that’s the goal. That’s precisely why we’ve done everything that we can. As governor, I got to use every lever at my disposal to protect people. I don’t enjoy using these levers, but the fact of the matter is this virus is an incredible opponent that we all have to wage the war against.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (02:52)
As I execute all these levers and take these actions, I want you to know that I don’t do any of this lightly. It weighs heavily. I know that there is a cost associated. The question that we’re trying to confront is, how do we save lives? How do we hold onto this healthcare system? That’s what’s driving every decision that we’re making to try to flatten this curve. The good news is that most people in our state are doing their part. They’re staying home. They’re observing social distancing. They’re washing their hands and wearing masks when they go to the grocery store.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (03:30)
I’m grateful. Because of that action, we have made a huge contribution to saving our healthcare system. I want you to know this, too. No one wants to move on to the next phase more than I do. That is a fact. Had a lot of sleepless nights because this is tough stuff. I know that people in our state are paying the price for the decisions that we have to make in this moment. I understand that incredible hardship that people are going through, the worry about your job, the depression of isolation, the sadness of missing out on events that you had planned to take part in, the loneliness of celebrating a holiday without your loved ones, the stress of not being at work, or the confusion of just trying to figure out why you can buy a lottery ticket and not seeds. I get it. It’s tough.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (04:22)
I can tell you as your governor, I’d much rather be working on fixing the damn roads or making sure that we’re announcing… As a person, I’d much rather be focusing on my daughter’s milestone graduation from high school this year. Well, we can’t do any of that right now. It’s not just about us. It’s about all of us, not as individuals but as a state. It became clear to me this weekend that there are a lot of people who understandably are really worried about whether or not we’re ever going to get past this moment, and we are. I know that there’s the worry that maybe it’s three weeks, and then another three weeks, and another three weeks, and this will go on and on. We will get past this. We will get through this. This is not a permanent moment.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (05:19)
We are crunching the data daily. We are analyzing what is happening across Michigan, in our hospitals, in our communities. We are checking in to make sure that we are mindful about how and when we can move on to the next phase, which I said, no one is more interested in doing that than me. I know you all are, as well. Every day, we are writing the plan so that we can reengage safely at the appropriate time because not one of us wants to go through this again, not in a month, not in the fall. We want to avoid that at all costs.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (05:59)
I want you to have your freedom. I want to have mine, too. We will get to a place where we can be with our friends and family again, where restaurants will open again, where we can go back to work safely again. We have a few tough days ahead of us, but those days where we can resume some normalcy, they are on the horizon if we keep doing what we need to do to get past this moment. Let’s talk about what’s happened since the last press conference that we’ve had.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (06:35)
Today, I joined a coalition of 12 governors who asked President Trump to allow for a special enrollment period of at least 30 days on the federal healthcare exchange. It is essential that we remove barriers as quickly as possible to ensure that more Michiganders have access to life-saving healthcare. We’ve already taken steps in Michigan to expand access through increasing the ability for people to have telemedicine, but we need the federal government to agree to opening up this special enrollment period.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (07:14)
Second, we worked with nearly all of the state’s insurance companies to waive cost-sharing, including copays, deductibles, and coinsurance for COVID-19 testing and treatments. Consumers with these plans will not be charged cost-sharing for coronavirus-related medical treatment. Talking about primary care visits, lab testing, emergency room visits, ambulance services, and FDA-approved medications and vaccines for COVID-19 when they become available.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (07:48)
Third, we announced 13 new, expanded COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites that will provide greater access to residents across Michigan. A new lab will help speed up getting results. The new drive-thru capacity will include two large-scale sites in Detroit and Flint. The sites will aim to serve at least 750 and 250 people per day, respectively. New drive-thru sites will also operate in Atlanta, Bad Axe, Battle Creek, Bay City, Benton Harbor, Jackson, Kalamazoo, and Traverse City. The partnership will significantly expand drive-thru test sites currently operating in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Saginaw.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (08:36)
Fourth, starting today, the Department of Health and Human Services is launching a statewide hotline for Michiganders whose mental health has been impacted by COVID-19. The hotline will operate seven days a week from 10:00 AM to 2:00 AM. The number is 888-733-7753. It’s 888-PEER-753. We know that under these unprecedented times, people have a lot of stress, and anxiety, and fear, and sadness. We want to make sure that if you are experiencing that, you’ve got some resources. There will be more steps on this front that we will be announcing later in the week.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (09:23)
Access to quality, affordable healthcare is more important than ever. Right now, too few people in our state have it. We see that in Detroit where the basic lack of access to care has contributed to the city becoming an epicenter for COVID-19 here in Michigan. We’re doing what we can right now to help people get tested and treat it without fear of crippling medical debt, but we need the federal government’s help on that front. We’re hopeful that they will expand the special enrollment period.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (09:55)
I know I’ve said it before, but I think that it’s important for perspective for people to understand this is a challenge unlike we’ve ever confronted. That’s precisely why… DTE has announced that they’re going to be delivering two million N95 masks, I believe, today that will help with a lot of people on the frontline. We’re working around the clock to secure more PPE to protect our families and our healthcare professionals. Now we have an update on the numbers. We have 25,635 positive cases that have been detected, 1,602 deaths. These numbers give us reason to have some cautious optimism that, you can see it, the rate of increase appearing to slow down. We’re starting to even flatten a bit. Now I say, “Cautiously optimistic,” because Dr. J would be the first to point out that this is a snapshot. We need to have a lot more data to really determine if this is a trend, but this is something that I think… order is working.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (11:11)
I spoke with one of our hospital leaders this weekend who said, “The efforts that we are all taking saved the healthcare system,” so thank you for doing your part. I recognize that there are a lot of passionate gardeners in Michigan. I’ve heard from a lot of you. We need to recognize that peak retail season in Michigan is still a few weeks away. Now with the cold weather that we’ve had, it could be delayed even further. I recognize and appreciate the effort our plant wholesalers need to care for the plants at this time, and we want them to continue to do so. Right now, my immediate concern is trying to keep everyone in Michigan safe. We will make sure that our employers and businesses in the nursery greenhouses, like all small businesses, have opportunity to secure small business loans, USDA relief dollars, so we can support them in this difficult time. We understand the challenges that they are facing.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (12:14)
I want to have a little bit myth-busting right now because I think there’s been so much inaccurate information that’s been disseminated. I think it’s important that we all have a level head and I take an opportunity to just clarify a few things. First and foremost, I want to declare nothing in this stay-at-home order prohibits people from buying car seats for your children. There’s no prohibition on that. You can buy bug spray. You can buy American flags. I have not banned homeschooling. These are a few of the falsehoods that have been disseminated on social media that I wanted to clear up. There’s a lot of false information that is being disseminated. I think you need to always discern if there is political posturing going on as opposed to sharing of facts. The orders that I have signed are all available online that you can read. We are promulgating frequently asked questions to clarify things where there is confusion.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (13:17)
I know that there are a lot of people hopeful around our state that we can reopen rural parts of the state because they haven’t seen COVID-19 yet. This map is a little hard to see right here. COVID-19 has presented in a lot of places across our state. People who believe the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order shouldn’t apply to them need to really, I think, understand that COVID-19 can be carried by a person without any symptoms for days. That’s precisely how it continues to spread. Just because you live in an area with a few cases doesn’t mean it can’t spread rapidly and impact your family, and friends, and neighbors. One person unknowingly carrying COVID-19 can infect another 40 who can then infect thousands more.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (14:10)
I’ve heard from leaders in a lot of the rural parts of our state who’ve reached out and asked that we continue to make sure that we are very concerted in our effort to educate the public about how serious this threat is. We’ve seen a number of statements from these leaders and hospital CEOS in rural parts who are worried about their ability to treat an outbreak should one start to multiply and happen in their areas. They are encouraging Michiganders to stay home. Karen Cheeseman, the CEO of Mackinac Straits Health System, said, “We support the strong recommendations urging the public to stay home and continue social distancing measures.”
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (14:53)
The thing is that in these more rural parts of our state that we all love to go visit because they’re gorgeous, they don’t have the hospital systems that are able to treat an outbreak if a lot of people head north and people start to get sick. They’re smaller hospitals. They have fewer beds. They have less PPE than even our hospitals downstate. They can’t afford for anyone to play fast and loose with the rules. They can’t afford for us to make exceptions for certain parts of the state because, of course, COVID-19 doesn’t observe county lines. At this stage, we can’t make exceptions for some people in the state to get back to work. We will get to that point, but we are not there yet. There are leaders all across our statehood who are seeing it, from the mayor of Traverse City to the mayor of Jackson, to the CEOs of all our health systems.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (15:46)
I want to acknowledge it’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to be angry. If it makes you better to direct it at me, that’s okay, too. I’ve got thick skin. I’m always going to defend your right to free speech. I just ask that those who are protesting these orders do so in a safe manner so that you don’t get sick and you don’t subject our first responders to risk either. Please do not disseminate demonstrably inaccurate information or prey on other people’s anxieties. This is a tough enough situation. Let’s not make it harder on one another. I think a little humanity and compassion is really important right now. Think about the 1,602 Michiganders who’ve died from COVID-19. Think about their families and their loved ones who can’t support one another in person because it’s just too dangerous. Every one of these people had a story, and has a family, and has people who are in mourning. While some of us are grieving the loss of our freedom, they are grieving the loss of their loved ones.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (17:01)
There’s a story in the newspaper this weekend about a woman named Sandy Brown who, in just three days, lost her husband and her son. She wasn’t even allowed to get out of the car to go to the funeral to watch their burials. She said, “There’s not even a word created to describe my pain. It’s unimaginable.” That’s the reality that’s playing out across our state. We have two crises that we are confronting, public health crisis and an economic crisis. I want to talk about the economic crisis we’re facing in our state. We need to get this right. I understand how intense and difficult this moment is for so many people across our state. I’ve heard firsthand from business owners who’ve spent a lifetime building something that is now precarious. They’re terrified that they’re going to lose everything and they’re not going to be able to take care of the employees who work with them. I know our larger businesses are facing risks, as well. The workers who are tied to these businesses are desperate to get back to work. Hard work is in our DNA here in Michigan.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (18:16)
We, at the state level, are developing plans to safely phase in the reengagement of Michigan’s economy when it is safe to do that. In a moment, Director Jeff Donofrio from Labor and Economic Opportunity Department will give a more in-depth update on our work to secure more unemployment benefits for Michiganders who are out of work because of this disease. We’re also working incredibly closely with our medical expertise and our business leaders to develop a plan. This includes people from Labor, people from local government, to ensure that we safely return to work at the appropriate time. This is an all-hands-on-deck effort. It’s going to be a data-driven approach based on facts, based on science, based on recommendations from experts, and epidemiologists, and economists.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (19:12)
I want to encourage employers to start thinking about what that might look like when it is time. How are they going to keep their employees and their customers safe? Every day, we’re analyzing the data to make sure that we’re ready when it is time to reengage. We’re going to be looking closely at four different factors. It’s not just limited to these four, but these are four that we know we are going to have to take a look at: a sustained reduction in infection rate, enhanced ability to… I’m sorry. To test and trace COVID-19, sufficient healthcare capacity to handle resurgence, and best practices in the workplace. We can’t afford a second wave, and so it’s going to be incredibly important that we do this right.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (20:02)
The reengagement of our economy will likely come in phases, but we will get there. You can expect regular updates from me on this progress on how and when we can start to get back to work. There’s nobody who would rather be able to push a button and just return to life as normal, but no button exists in this environment. We’ve got to be smart. We got to have grit. We got to pay attention to the science and stay united in this effort. We will get there together. We are working already on plans to make sure that when we’re ready, we can reengage safely. With that, I’m going to ask Dr. Joneigh Khaldun to give us an update, as well.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (20:54)
Thank you, governor. As the governor mentioned, we are starting to see early signs of a plateau in the rate of growth of COVID-19 cases here in the state of Michigan, and particularly, in Southeast Michigan. Despite the reductions in the rate of growth, there are still many new cases and deaths every single day. We’re closely monitoring the entire state. We’re starting to see increases actually in some parts of the state, such as in Genesee County. As we move forward with fighting this crisis, we must be mindful that different areas of the state may be different as it relates to the number of cases of COVID-19 when those cases develop and how fast the growth rate is. We’re working very closely with our team of epidemiologists in the state to make sure we’re appropriately tracking this information and we are ready to respond appropriately. Part of that response includes making sure we’re doing the necessary testing and tracking those results.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (22:00)
This Saturday, as the governor mentioned, we are pleased to announce 13 new or expanded testing sites across the state, including Detroit and Flint. This will increase our testing capacity by 40% when it is fully operational. Last week, we also expanded our testing criteria so that people who are critical infrastructure workers who have symptoms can get a test if they need one. I’m excited to announce that today, we’re now expanding our testing criteria even more so that people with mild symptoms, regardless of where they may work, are able to get a test now. This availability of new testing supplies and expanded capacity means we can now expand testing significantly, which will be critical to guiding our public health response, as the governor mentioned.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (22:53)
It’s also an important part of understanding the racial disparities that we’re seeing when it comes to cases and deaths across the state. It will be important to look at that as we work… virus taskforce of racial disparities that Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist is chairing. I also want to thank our frontline healthcare workers and hospital leadership who’s working incredibly hard for several weeks to support this effort. Last week, we announced the opening of the TCF Regional Care Center in Detroit. The facility is now seeing patients. We’re working very closely with our Detroit area hospitals to identify patients who can be transferred to this facility. We’re also working very hard to prepare the second alternate care facility at Suburban Showplace in Novi. We anticipate that facility will be completed next week.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (23:47)
We’re still looking for medical volunteers, specifically respiratory therapists and nurses, to work not only at those facilities, but also our hospitals who are really feeling the surge from this increase in cases. If you are a medical professional who can help, please go to our website, michigan.gov/fightcovid19, to sign up. I know this is hard. I have three children. Like many people across the state, we’re dealing with the challenges of how we’re going to continue their education, sporting events, and lessons that have been canceled. I want to take this time to give a special thanks to my children’s school teachers, their soccer coaches, and their music instructors who have really done an amazing job with keeping our children across the state, and my family as well, engaged.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (24:38)
While this is hard on everyone, I want to be clear. Easing up on social distancing measures too soon would be incredibly devastating. A lot more people will die, and our hospitals will get overwhelmed if we don’t do this right. We even have other experiences to learn from. Many people often compare this pandemic to the pandemic of 1918 with the flu that incurred in the United States and across the world. What was clear then is that cities who were less aggressive and started too late with social distancing or relaxed social distancing too soon saw far greater deaths. Their economic rebounds were also slower and not as robust. Health and economy are very interrelated. We must put the health of our communities first. I applaud all of you for remaining vigilant, and being patient, and adhering to the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. There’s no question. This will slow the spread of the disease, and it will absolutely help us to save lives. I’ll turn it back over to you, governor.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (25:47)
All right. Well, thank you, Dr. Khaldun. I’m going to ask Jeff Donofrio, who is the Director of Labor and Economic Opportunity, to join us.
Jeff Donofrio: (26:07)
Thank you, governor. I want to make sure that, first off, we state on behalf of all the people in the Labor and Economic Opportunity Department that we are committed to making sure that every eligible Michigander who needs unemployment insurance benefits will get them. It’s very important during this critical time that individuals have the resources that they need. As everyone, I think, is aware, we’ve seen historic numbers, the largest increase and the largest numbers of individuals filing for unemployment insurance in our state’s history. I think the latest numbers will be released this Thursday. However, last week, we said that 830,000 Michiganders had filed for claims. Since that time, that number has increased to over a million, which means that over a quarter of our state’s workforce have filed for benefits.
Jeff Donofrio: (26:59)
We’re not alone in seeing these increases. In fact, we’re the third largest though, after California and Pennsylvania. We’re larger than all of the Great Lake states and larger than states like New York, who have also been hardest hit. We’ve greatly expanded the number of staff and the resources we have dedicated as servers and other resources to make sure we can take these claims. However, every state, including Michigan, has struggled to cope with these surges. That includes our UIA website today, which has struggled to take claims. Despite this, most individuals who are eligible to file claims have done so. To date, we know that $350 million has been paid out to almost 600,000 Michiganders. This money is critical for families to put food on the table, to keep paying their bills, to buy prescription drugs. It’s going to be critical for the reentry and the reopening of our economy.
Jeff Donofrio: (27:59)
We also know that this is of little comfort to those individuals who are worried about their economic future and still have not been able to file for unemployment benefits. We understand that this is frustrating, and we want to help. Director Steve Gray of the Unemployment Insurance Agency and the dedicated staff of LEO and UIA are working around the clock to make sure that you can file your claim. We won’t rest until everyone has done so. Claims are backdated to reflect the date in which a worker is laid off due to COVID-19 regardless of how much time has passed. The date that you file will not affect the benefits that you received. Over 90% of claims have been filed online at michigan.gov/uia. To help our website handle the traffic that we have seen, we’ve asked individuals to file by last name: those with the last name starting with A through L, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and those with the last name starting M through Z on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday.
Jeff Donofrio: (29:05)
We’re also asking that if you can, you consider filing on off-peak hours after 8:00 PM, again, to help us be able to process as many claims as possible. For those who need additional assistance, we know help is on the way. We’ve added hundreds of call center individual staff. We have hundreds more on the way. We’ve expanded the number of hours in operations of those call centers. We’ve set up new tools like a dedicated IT team that will help with forgotten passwords, locked accounts, and authentication codes. This still isn’t good enough. We have to keep doing better to ensure that everyone gets the help they need during this crisis. On this Easter Monday, we ask for your grace and patience as we work to get benefits to those in need.
Jeff Donofrio: (29:52)
We also know that many small business owners, those traditionally not covered by unemployment insurance, are hurting, as well. The self-employed, the gig economy workers, those who are 1099 independent contractors and are lower wages who had not been eligible in the past but find themselves unemployed because of COVID-19, can now, this week, can apply for unemployment benefits at michigan.gov/uia. If you’ve already applied, there’s no need to reapply. Look for an email that we’ll send you with the next steps you need to take to get your benefits. We’ll send additional information as well through the coming days on the status of the website and on frequently asked questions to make sure that we can dispel myths that might be out there.
Jeff Donofrio: (30:38)
The governor, as a reminder for folks, had already expanded unemployment eligibility to those workers who have no paid leave but are sick or quarantined, to those workers who have an unexpected childcare situation or family care situation because of the disease. They’re, of course, eligible for unemployment benefits now. We’ve also made sure the duration of benefits has been increased from 20 weeks to 39. As of last Wednesday, we became one of the first states to payout the additional $600 in pandemic unemployment assistance from the federal government on a weekly basis.
Jeff Donofrio: (31:15)
We’re adding capacity. We’re increasing eligibility and benefits in making sure that we work hard to provide that emergency relief that’s needed to weather this economic crisis. We understand the deep economic pain associated with COVID-19. We appreciate your patience as we work to process the historic need for benefits. We are committed to getting our economy back up and running as the governor said, but we need to make sure we get this health crisis right. Flattening the curve of transmission is the most important thing we can do to minimize the long-term economic damage and get our economy back to work. Thank you.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (31:55)
Thanks, Jeff. With that, happy to open it up.
Speaker 5: (32:00)
Thank you, governor. I don’t know if you saw the President’s tweet today. He said, “Some of the fake news are saying that it is the governor’s decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States and the federal government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect. It is the decision of the President and for many good reasons. With that being said, the administration and I are working closely with the governors, and this will continue. A decision by me in conjunction with the governors and input from others will be made shortly.” Are you aware of that tweet? Now, just wanted to get your reaction to it.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (32:32)
I was not aware of the tweet. I’ve been on phone calls most of the day as I am most every day lately. I was, with all of the governors across the country, in a call with… where we were talking about a lot of the additional needs that we have to have in place before anyone can really start focusing on opening up. The government doesn’t get opened up via Twitter. It gets opened up at the state level. I’m working with my colleagues across the country to make sure that we’re thoughtful, that we are also thinking regionally. I’ve been in contact with a lot of my fellow Midwestern governors on this subject specifically because we recognize that we’ve got to have good data. We’ve got to have a good plan. We got to make sure that we avoid a second wave at all costs. That would be devastating for our economy. We’re going to make decisions based on science and having a real strategic phase in of our economy when it’s appropriate and safe to do so.
Speaker 6: (33:36)
Governor, late last month, Lee Chatfield tweeted about trusting you to do the right thing, but in the past, he’s been more outspoken about disagreeing with your decisions. How do you respond to these negative changes in the legislature’s reactions?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (33:48)
You know what? I’m not going to. I’m going to just say this. Every decision that we’re making is based on the best science, the facts that we are confronting as a state. I will say that I understand the frustration that people have. I’m frustrated, too. This is hard. This was not what any of us signed up for, frankly. The fact of the matter is this is a virus that is ravaging our state, that threatens the very ability of us to meet people’s critical healthcare needs by overrunning our hospitals. We don’t have enough PPE. I’m glad you’ve got a mask. That’s great. We don’t have enough PPE for all of our frontline healthcare professionals. We have COVID-19. There was one map. It’s a little hard to see, but it’s on the New York Times’ website if you want to check it out. It shows precisely where COVID-19 already is present across our state. We can be carrying it for days without even knowing it.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (34:44)
One person touching… I keep focusing on the gas station, on the pump. COVID-19 can remain active for 72 hours on a piece of stainless steel. You think about how many people have touched that pump over the course of three days and not even knowing if they’re carrying COVID-19. Some of those people are nurses, and doctors, and police, and fire, and grocery store workers. We want to make sure that they are able to do their jobs. The more people that are out and about, the more in danger we’re putting their lives. That’s precisely why we’ve got to continue to follow the science, be smart about the decisions we’re making, be clear about why we’re making them, and ask Michiganders to keep doing the right thing. By far and large, people are doing the right thing. That’s precisely why we’re starting to see this curve look a little flatter.
Speaker 5: (35:39)
Governor, just to be clear, you listed out the criteria you need to see before you start reengaging the economy. You’re not necessarily looking at when we hit zero deaths because of COVID-19 or zero new cases. Is there a benchmark number that you’re really interested in seeing? When we hit that, it’s like, “Yes, all right. Now we can start doing something.”
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (36:00)
I mean, obviously, Dr. Khaldun is here, and she can weigh in, too. I would just say this. We’ve got to see that cases are not climbing. We’ve got to know that we’ve got the resources in our hospitals to meet the needs that are there. Right now, we still have hospitals that are at or over capacity. We got to be able to manage what we are confronting. We have to be able to detect it, so we’ve got to have the testing measures and the ability to trace. These are all critical components that everyone from Dr. Fauci to Governor DeWine, and everyone in-between has acknowledged. These are fundamental to making sure that we are safe to start a phase-in reengagement of our economy. Dr. Khaldun, would you like to add anything?
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (36:42)
Yes. Do I use this microphone?
Speaker 7: (36:42)
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (36:45)
Yes. That’s absolutely right. There’s a mix of things. It’s not zero cases necessarily, but we need to make sure we’re testing appropriately, we’re seeing the rate of rise of increases start to go down, so there will be many things, and also making sure that our hospitals are ready if we do actually see a surge in cases once we start lifting some of these social-distancing measures. It will be a mix of many things that will contribute to how we release the measures in the state.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (37:11)
I would just add, obviously, I’m talking to Dr. Khaldun regularly. She’s helping advise all the decisions that we’re making. She’s on the phone with epidemiologists and experts from across the country, many of whom you have seen on national TV regularly, because I want to be getting information from a lot of different… asking questions and getting counsel from a lot of different experts. Also, we’ve got a couple of groups that have come together. One is focusing on the health crisis we’re confronting and others on the economic crisis who will be making recommendations, as well. These, I think, are the first most obvious factors that we need to really have our arms around, but there will be additional ones. How we ramp up and what that looks like will continue to develop. I’ll be sharing that with you in these updates.
Speaker 6: (38:04)
Governor, what are your thoughts in the idea that product services, businesses should be considered safe versus unsafe as opposed to essential versus nonessential?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (38:14)
I mean, we can start using different language, but it doesn’t, I think, make the definition any different about what activities really are important to be going on right now and what’s not. I recognize that life is very different for people than what we’d hoped we would be. Some people, that they’d be on spring break, or be planning their kid’s graduation, or going to soccer games like Dr. Khaldun was mentioning. The fact of the matter is this is a crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen. None of us has lived through anything like this before. It’s difficult. If there are different phraseology people want to adopt, that’s fine, but the fact of the matter is the virus doesn’t care what we call it. We just know that the fewer people that are out and about, the less likely it can continue to spread and threaten our lives and our economy.
Speaker 5: (39:10)
Governor, Mayor Duggan has been testing residents at nursing homes in his city. Is the state looking at doing something like that as well, doing specific tests within nursing home facilities and reporting those results in a different, more clear way so we know what’s going on in those facilities?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (39:26)
There’s a reason you see Dr. J walking toward the mic.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (39:30)
All right. Yes, absolutely. We communicate with Mayor Duggan frequently. We know he’s doing a great job there when it comes to nursing facilities. Our local health departments are actually mandated by the public health code to actually let us know at the state when they do have any respiratory diseases at those congregant care facilities. We are working to make sure we get that data out to the public as well so they know. You should be expecting that in the upcoming week. Absolutely, we’re supporting our nursing facilities, as well.
Speaker 6: (40:02)
Governor, in regards to the rally on Wednesday that people have planned, is the state doing anything to prepare for the possibility of large crowds?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (40:11)
Well, my understanding of this demonstration is that it’s going to be people are encouraged to stay in their cars, apparently. My hope was that that is precisely how it plays out so that they don’t expose themselves or any of our first responders to potential COVID-19. I would just say this. I support people’s right to demonstrate and to use their voice. I hope that as people are looking at social media, they are dispelling and taking on the dissemination of demonstrably inaccurate information. I also would just say I think this group is funded in large part by the DeVos family. I think it’s really inappropriate to, for a sitting number of the United States President’s Cabinet, to be waging political tax on any governor. Obviously, I’m me here at home. I think that they should disavow. I encourage people to stay home and be safe.
Speaker 9: (41:15)
Governor, two more rounds of questions.
Speaker 5: (41:19)
Governor, I wanted to ask you about the testing that we’re seeing for COVID-19. Now there appeared to be fewer tests conducted in the first week of April there, April 5 and 10. Then taking a look at numbers, it would appear that we’re doing less testing per capita than, let’s say, Louisiana, or New York, or Pennsylvania, and Florida. Why is that? Is there something we can do to speed that up and maybe balance that out so we get more testing?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (41:47)
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (41:48)
Yes. You are absolutely right. We have been saying from the beginning, as a country, we were late with testing. Absolutely, we’ve been working hard to expand testing in the state. I think we’ve done a great job, even the past three days, announcing 13 new testing sites and bringing on a new lab in Grand Rapids to do that testing. We’ve also relaxed our testing priority criteria. Last week, it was critical infrastructure workers. Today, it’s anyone who has even mild symptoms of COVID-19, even if they don’t need to stay in the hospital. All of those things are really important. Then we also have to really work on making sure our labs, even the ones outside of the state, are reporting accurately to us, as well.
Speaker 6: (42:37)
Governor, Enbridge submitted their permit applications for their Line 5 Tunnel last week. Will you take executive action to slow the permitting process in light of the pandemic as requested by several members of the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (42:51)
I’ll be talking with the Director of EGLE, but I know that we’ve got a lot of seat workers who are incredibly dedicated and are continuing to do the work. I guess, I would have to have the director give some counsel in terms of what makes sense in this moment. It’s hard for me to tell you precisely what the next step is there. I’m going to follow up with the Director of EGLE. I appreciate your question.
Speaker 5: (43:27)
Governor, given the expected drop in state revenue, the Senate Appropriations Committee Chair today called for nonessential state employees to be laid off. Is that something you’re considering? If not, what is your plan to make sure the books are balanced on September 30, the end of our fiscal year?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (43:42)
Yes. Well, first and foremost, I mean, this COVID-19 crisis is taking a toll on our state budget obviously, taken a toll on family budgets, business budgets. We are going to have to work together and make some tough decisions. I will say that we have already taken some bold actions to tighten our belt in state government. I’m glad to see the legislature is paying attention. I’m hopeful that they will do the same. We have a hiring freeze. We have… as we look to see, work with our congregational delegation. They’ve been great. Both sides… I think our congregational delegation has been great to work with. I will just say that we are going to get some resources from the federal government. A lot of the fundamentals that we need to do as a state are going to be very important to continue doing. We’re going to continue having an open dialogue with legislature. I look forward to seeing what other solutions they have on their budget.
Speaker 6: (44:57)
I just have one question for Mr. Donofrio. You mentioned that a lot of states are struggling with the unemployment benefits. Have you looked at other states that have been more successful or, I guess, how can you respond to that?
Jeff Donofrio: (45:13)
We’ve processed more claims than most other states and are paying out more money at this point than most other states, particularly of our size. One of the things that has been missing is sort of that state-to-state dialogue partially because we’ve had our heads down making sure that we’re working around the clock to help our individual residents and citizens. What I think we’re looking for, hopefully the Department of Labor helps us get together. We’ve started reaching out to other states, particularly in the Great Lakes. We are on the front end of really processing these pandemic unemployment insurance claims, getting those dollars out to individuals as quickly as possible. We’re working as hard as possible to make sure every Michigander gets the benefits they deserve.
Speaker 6: (45:54)
Thank you. Thank you, governor.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (45:55)
All right. Thank you.