Apr 20, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Press Conference Transcript April 20
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer held an April 20 press briefing on COVID-19. Read the full transcript here.
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
[inaudible 00:00:00] seconds [inaudible 00:00:22].
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (00:36)
All right, good afternoon. It is Monday, April 20th. I want to begin this afternoon’s conversation by acknowledging Skylar Herbert. Now, when I get up in the morning, I drink my coffee and I try to catch up on the news, and catching up on the news this morning meant reading about a five year old girl from Detroit who lost her battle with COVID-19. She was five, as I’ve mentioned, and her parents were both first responders. I’ve reached out to the family, and we’ve not connected yet, but I do know about the family, a father who has spent 18 years on the front line as a Detroit firefighter. Her mother is a Detroit police officer for 25 years. They’ve been on the frontline, and they’ve served with honor and integrity, and they did not deserve to lose their child to this virus. Nobody does.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (01:35)
Nobody deserves to lose a child, or a parent, or a grandparent, or any loved one, and that’s precisely what’s at stake today. In and every one of these, I try to pause to reflect on the lives that have been lost in this battle against a virus, but today’s was especially hard. I want to remind people that you can be carrying COVID-19 and not even know it, be asymptomatic for the whole time that you have it, and be infecting others, 41 day that turns into thousands over the next days. This is precisely why the actions that we’ve taken are so important, and we’re asking people to continue making the sacrifice. I know it’s not easy. I know that there are many prices that are being paid right now, but the price of losing your child, or your father, or mother, or any loved one, that’s what’s really at stake here.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (02:34)
Tomorrow we’ll mark the six weeks since we announced the first cases of COVID-19 here in Michigan. In that time, I’ve had to make some tough choices, closing our kid’s schools, closing bars, and directing restaurants to do carry out only, banning public gatherings, and issuing the stay at home order. These choices weigh heavily on me as I make each of them, but I’m absolutely confident as I listen to our best medical minds, that these are the right decisions right now to protect lives. It’s been aggressive, but they’re working, and we’re seeing that. The other day I got an email from a woman named Nancy who lives in Gaillard.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (03:20)
She said, “I was a child during World War II and saw what a country can do if it pulls together. In the past six weeks, we’ve seen Michiganders prove what we can do when we work together. Businesses across the state that have stepped up to manufacture hand sanitizer, and face masks, and gowns, people who have posted tutorials on how to make your own homemade mask to wear to the grocery store, individuals and businesses that have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to our local food banks to help families put food on the table and people are who are buying gift cards, and ordering takeout to support their local small businesses. The actions that I’ve seen from good people like this all over our state for the past six weeks have made me proud to be a Michigander.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (04:13)
I’ve lived here my whole life, and as you’ve heard me say, probably over and over again, it’s what makes me proudest to be a Michigander, it’s the people that call this great state home and that’s especially true today, so I want to thank you for stepping up, and doing your part.” I encourage you to continue reaching out to your friends and family to talk about more, more about what they need, and what you can do to help, because it’s the only way that we can get through this as together, so to all the people that have disagreed with the actions that I’ve taken, or feel their rights are being infringed, I want to say this, we are taking a limited action for a limited amount of time to save people’s lives. Who among us wants to be that person that unwittingly brings this virus into their household?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (05:03)
Who in this great state actually believes that they care more about jet skiing then saving the lives of the elderly, or the vulnerable? This action isn’t about our individual right to gather. It’s about our parents right to live. President Trump called this a war, and it is exactly that, so let’s act like it. In World War II, there weren’t people lining up at the Capitol to protest the fact that they had to drop everything they were doing, and build planes, or tanks, or to ration food. They rolled up their sleeves, and they got to work. We were all in this together, and it wasn’t indefinite. It was until we’d beaten the enemy. No state shined more in those days in the state of Michigan, we are called to act again.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (05:56)
It is our time to shine, to put aside our political differences, to come together, and defeat our common enemy, which is COVID-19. This is our moment to show the rest of the country the unbeatable determination and character, the strength, and fearlessness, and pride of the citizens of Michigan. Let’s talk about what’s happened since last Friday. First and foremost, I want to announce that I’m going to lead by example. I know that times are tough, and that we as a state are going to be confronting a tough budget as a result of the economic shutdown, and so, I’m going to be taking a 10% pay cut and I’ve asked my senior executive staff to do so to take a 5% pay cut during this time.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (06:44)
I want to give you an update on the PPE, the personal protection equipment. On Saturday J&B Medical, and Blue Cross Blue Shield donated 30,000K N95 masks to local health care facilities. The rotary of Washtenaw, Oakland, and McComb donated a hundred thousand N95 masks. Johnson and Johnson donated over 60,000 masks, and the hundred ventilators that Governor Cuomo of New York loaned us arrived in Lansing. Yesterday, 957,000 units of PPE were distributed statewide, including 185,000 items in support of CVS, and Walgreens testing sites. I want to highlight some of the small businesses that have begun to convert their operations to manufacture PPE here in Michigan.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (07:41)
Now, MEDC announced on Wednesday that 12 small businesses and nonprofits around our state have been awarded a total of $1 million through Pure Michigan Business Connect COVID-19 Emergency Access and Retooling Grants Program. The program is providing funding to small manufacturers to retool, and to produce critical health and human service supplies. For example, York Project in Detroit has been granted funding to manufacture surgical masks. Outerwares and Schoolcraft will be making masks and gowns. [Tenchcraft 00:08:21] Inc in Trevor city will be making medical tents, and Genemarkers in Kalamazoo will be making COVID testing products. These small businesses are really stepping up to help out their neighbors.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (08:36)
We’ve heard from thousands of volunteers who want to help DHHS in their contract tracing efforts. These volunteers will help incredibly, because they will be working to help identify those who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and ensure they stay home and stay safe. 2200 individuals have completed the MDHHS training on contact tracing, and are ready to begin aiding local health departments. This workforce will increase the speed and thoroughness of contact tracing statewide, and give Michiganders an important way to contribute to crisis response, and I want to remind people, I know a lot of you don’t answer the phone when you see an unknown caller reaching in, but I implore you to answer that call if it comes.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (09:33)
It could be a volunteer calling you to tell you, you’ve come in contact with someone who’s tested positive for CVID-19. Michigan has partnered with Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid to open each new drive through test sites across the state. DHHS is expanding its testing criteria at these sites to include all essential workers, still reporting to work in person, whether they have symptoms or not. Together these sites can serve about a thousand individuals every day. Walmart’s Southgate testing site opened on April 16th, Walgreen’s, Detroit site opened April 18th, CVS’ Dearborn site is opening tomorrow, and will serve up to 750 people a day and Rite Aid is opening in McComb, Swartz Creek, Eaton Rapids, Kentwood and Saginaw locations today and Wednesday.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (10:31)
So, go to michigan.com/coronavirus to find a testing site near you. I sent a letter to FEMA requesting cost sharing requirements for emergency work be waived for the state of Michigan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 27th, 2020 at my request, President Trump granted the state of Michigan a major disaster declaration and ordered federal assistance to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts during this pandemic. Under the Public Assistance Program, emergency work including the Direct Federal Assistance is authorized at 75% federal funding and state, tribal and local entities are responsible for the remaining 25%. I’m requesting that FEMA increase the federal cost share to 100%.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (11:28)
They are authorized to increase the federal cost share to 100% for emergency work, including Direct Federal Assistance if warranted by the needs of a disaster. That’s the language in statute. I believe that the extreme nature of the necessary COVID-19 response warrants the full resources, and support of the federal government, and that’s what we’ve asked for. We also launched a project with MDARD the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to encourage food processors and suppliers to donate food items to the food bank council. Since launching this week, we have collected over 160,000 pounds of food from Cisco, McDonald’s and Peterson farms. Thank you.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (12:17)
I know there are a lot of small business owners in Michigan who are uncertain about their futures. People have put their entire life and their savings into their business. People are terrified about what it means for the prospects of reopening. I want you to know that I’m working around the clock to get you the support that you need. We’re hoping that we can get more help from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. As of now, we’ve only gotten enough funding from the federal government to cover 55% of our eligible payrolls. We’ve moved faster and gotten into the hands faster than most states, but our reimbursement is shy of what it should be. I’m hopeful that number will increase soon so that we can ensure security for our small businesses.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (13:02)
And now, for our update on cases. As of today’s date, we have 32,000 positive cases. That’s 576 new cases as well as sadly 2,469 deaths, 77 new deaths since yesterday. Statewide the number of patients who are in the hospital with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 has declined from a high point about 10 days ago. In fact, we’ve seen a 15% reduction in the last 10 days. However, COVID related hospitalizations remain high. Hospitals have also done an amazing job to surge to meet capacity needs for ICU beds. We are grateful for their work. Utilization remains high in some places, but we do see some decreases emerging, the Region 2 South. Some regions with lower utilization have fewer beds to fill which can result in data fluctuations. We will continue to carefully monitor any.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (14:07)
As you can see in the chart, the blue line is going up, which means we are testing more, and more each day. At the same time, the yellow line is starting to go down, meaning we are getting fewer positive results each day. This is great news. We’ve significantly increased our testing capacity. We could, if we had all the supplies we needed do 11,300 tests a day with our current capacity. The reality is we’re about half of that because we need additional swabs and reagents. However, those supplies are in demand globally, and we are competing to get them, and working incredibly hard that we can ramp up to that 11,300 capacity, and hopefully, beyond.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (14:58)
I’d like to talk about PPE. Our hospitals are seeing increasing inventory for almost all PPE categories. There have been tremendous efforts for many around the world to get the needed products to our hospitals from state procurement, to federal contributions, to private donations. Our hospitals are doing their best to use PPE as efficiently and safely as possible. Future deliveries are anticipated to keep adequate inventory levels. Additional procurements from the state and hospitals themselves are ongoing as well as ongoing support from our federal partners, and private donations.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (15:36)
These efforts will continue to be important as we seek to expand testing, and other health care activities that require additional PPE. We’ve gotten some data from Google about how Michiganders are doing when it comes to staying at home, and staying safe. In terms of overall change in mobility, Michigan has decreased by 34% as compared to the last two weeks of February. This puts Michigan in ninth place amongst all United…
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (16:03)
This puts Michigan in ninth place amongst all United States and territories in terms of how well we’ve done decreasing mobility overall. Facebook ranked Michigan fourth overall when it comes to the percentage of people in the state that have actually stayed at home. That is cause for cautious optimism and precisely what is contributing to what appears to be a flattening of the curve. It shows that these aggressive actions we’ve taken are working. I just would like to acknowledge states without stay at home orders are seeing exponential increases still.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (16:37)
Meanwhile, we know that our actions are saving lives here in Michigan. We’re doing the smart thing and we’re seeing the results. Again, we’ve got to do everything we can to avoid a second peak and I know that means every single one of us. Because while we have seen some improvements and reasons for cautious optimism, we’ve also seen that some parts of the state have had an increase growth in cases. This chart will show you how quickly the virus is spreading in our state just a few weeks ago and as you can see, case growth started in Southeast Michigan.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (17:15)
We unfortunately did see best spread across many other counties as well. They also show good news. Look at how the red is going away. That means that our case growth is actually slowing in parts of our state. But we should be careful because you can see that there are places to be concerned about as well. We’re going to continue to monitor and work closely with our local health departments in these areas. I want to be clear, living in a rural part of Michigan does not mean that you are safe from the virus. Just because it’s not showing up in your community yet doesn’t mean that it’s not already there and that’s why every one of us, all 10 million Michiganders need to do our part to get through this.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (18:03)
I’ll do my part to help us avoid a second peak. As tough as right now is, that would be devastating to start to reopen and then have to come back into the stay home posture. We’ve got to avoid that at all costs and that’s what’s driving the decisions that we’re making. So I’m continuing to work with experts in labor and business and healthcare, of course, to ensure that we are making data driven decisions that will keep us safe in the workplace, mitigate the risk of an additional outbreak and keep us safe. When we do start to phase in sectors of our economy, we will work around the clock to make sure that workplaces are taking steps to protect their workers and their families and their customers.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (18:53)
These steps include things like, this is an example, I’m not announcing something. This is an example of things that we are looking at. Temperature checks, limits on visitors, frequent disinfecting and cleaning, the use of gloves or face shields when necessary, rapid testing at large workplaces and more. I’ll continue to work with a bipartisan coalition of Midwestern governors to ensure that our region does this well. I need Michigan and Michiganders to keep doing our part. Stay inside except when necessary to get supplies or to get some fresh air by walking or biking or hiking or kayaking.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (19:37)
When you do go out, wear a homemade mask, do everything you can to protect yourself and your family from this virus. Stay six feet away from others and make sure you wash your hands frequently. When we all do our part, we’ll get through this safely. I have spoken in the past about measures we’re taking to address the disparities in health. We’ve seen over the past six weeks play out here in our state and across the country. This virus has disproportionately impacted communities of color. More than 40% of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19 have been African American Michiganders, but only 14% of people in our state are African American.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (20:19)
The deep inequities people in communities of color face, like basic lack of access to healthcare or transportation or protections in the workplace, have made them more susceptible to COVID-19. We’ve seen heartbreaking stories come out of Detroit, many who have lost their parents and children and friends and neighbors. Michiganders need leaders who are going to do everything they can to lower their risk of catching this virus no matter their community, their race, or socioeconomic status. That’s why today I signed an executive order officially creating the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities within the Department of Health and Human Services.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (21:02)
The Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist will chair this task force and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun will be serving on it. The task force will consist of leaders from across state government and healthcare professionals from communities most impacted by the spread of coronavirus. These leaders will study the causes of racial disparities and the impact of COVID-19 and recommend actions to address them. They’ll recommend actions to increase transparency in reporting data regarding the racial and ethnic impact of COVID-19, removing barriers to accessing physical and mental health care, reduce the impact of medical bias in treatment and testing, mitigate environmental and infrastructure factors, contributing to increased exposure during pandemics resulting in mortality and develop improved systems for supporting longterm recovery and physical and mental health care during a pandemic.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (22:02)
Garlin Gilchrist, our Lieutenant governor, will be speaking on this in a moment. Next Thursday, April 30th is the day of the current stay home stay safe order is extended to. I’ll be working with a team of experts to determine what next steps look like, but what happens depends on how these next 10 days go. To those of you who are hopeful, we’ll be able to start loosening some restrictions. Stay home now to better make the odds that we’re able to do that in 10 days. To those of you who want to get back to work as soon as possible, stay home. To those of you who made plans for June, July, or August, and want to see them through, stay home.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (22:46)
What happens next depends on every single one of us. When faced with an unprecedented crisis like this, good people step up and do their part. They show you that they’re willing to make sacrifices to protect their family and friends and strangers they’ve never even met. The people who have spent the last six weeks doing their part are the reason we’re going to get through this. Like Nancy from Gaylord said, it’s amazing what we can do when we all pull together. Thank you and let’s keep it going and with that I’ll turn it over to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (23:25)
Thank you, Governor. I want you to take this time to give my condolences to the family of Skylar Herbert, a five-year-old, beautiful little girl who lost her battle with COVID-19 yesterday. We continue to see more cases of COVID-19 and deaths every day. Today, we announced 32,000 cases and 2,468 deaths. As the governor mentioned, we continue to see positive signs that social distancing is working. We’re seeing a plateau in cases in most areas of the state. Hospitals, particularly those in the Southeast part of the state, are now seeing lower numbers of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 and people are recovering.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (24:14)
As of this past Saturday, 3,237 people who we know tested positive for the disease have recovered from the disease 30 days after being diagnosed. These are great signs. Social distancing is working. People are recovering and there is hope. However, as the governor mentioned, we still have to watch what is happening across the entire state very carefully. There are some counties where we are starting to see a rising trend in the number of cases and this includes rural areas of the state that actually may not have as much hospital capacities as we see in Southeast Michigan.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (24:56)
We have to continue monitoring what is going on there and make sure our public health partners and our hospital systems are prepared to prevent spread of the disease and to take care of a surge in patients if that happens. We also want to make sure we see a consistent trend in the decline of cases as we think through relaxing social distancing measures. We know that relaxing these social distancing measures too soon or too abruptly could cause another peak which may be even higher than the first, meaning many more cases and deaths.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (25:34)
We’ve talked about racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths that we are seeing across the state with African Americans being more disproportionately impacted. Today, I sent a letter to our medical community to make sure they are aware of these disparities and giving them the tools they need to be able to appropriately address them. I look forward to continuing to work with the lieutenant governor and the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities to address this. We also know we have to work hard to increase testing in the state.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (26:10)
In the past few days, the state has continued to increase the number of tests done per day and that’s a good sign. We’ve done this because of great partnerships we’ve developed with private labs, hospital labs, and our medical partners, but we still have a ways to go. And while we have been limited by supplies like swabs and testing reagents, we still want anyone who needs to get a test to be able to get one done and easily. Last week, we announced that anyone who has symptoms can get a test done if that test site has the supplies to be able to do so.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (26:49)
Today, we are expanding our testing criteria even more. First responders and healthcare workers, even if you don’t have any symptoms, you can now get a test. Additionally, anyone who works in an essential job during this crisis such as in a grocery store, food service, or the transportation sector, even if they don’t have symptoms, they can also obtain a test. All you have to do is go to our website, www.michigan.gov/coronavirus, and you click on the link that says find a testing site near you to find the nearest one to your home.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (27:27)
Once someone has a positive test, identifying those individuals and their contacts is critical to the public health response. This is called contact tracing and it really helps us in the public health field understand who may be at highest risk and contact them so that we can prevent further spread of the disease. Over the past few weeks, 130 staff from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services have been supporting local health departments in Southeast Michigan with this work contacting over 12,000 people so far. Over the past few days, we’ve trained in additional 2,200 people to do this work across the state, supporting the great work of our local health departments.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (28:11)
We are excited that we can support them and build out this capacity. We also know that we have at least 243 congregate care facilities that are reporting outbreaks of respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19 and that’s very concerning. Today, we are announcing several things to address that. Starting today, every skilled nursing facility is required to report COVID-19 cases to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and by next week we expect to add even more reporting requirements for all longterm care facilities.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (28:49)
We’re also announcing the launch of the state’s COVID infection and prevention resource and assessment teams, IPRAT. These teams will include local health department, staff, epidemiologists, and clinicians who will work closely with long term care facilities to make sure they are following the best infection prevention protocols and testing residents appropriately for the disease. We also know that some nursing homes are unable to safely care for residents who have COVID-19 and we’re now working to identify regional hubs.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (29:25)
So these are places that have the infrastructure and the PPE in place to safely care for nursing home residents who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, but do not need to be in a hospital. All of these measures will help protect the wellbeing of our most vulnerable citizens and make sure that they are getting high quality care in the right setting. As the governor mentioned, we’ve made great progress because of all the work that you are doing as well as our businesses, our hospitals, our academic partners and our public health leaders.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (29:59)
We’ll continue to use every tool that we can to make sure we’re preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our state and that we are saving lives. With that, I will turn it over to lieutenant governor.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (30:16)
Thank you, Governor, and thank you, Dr. Khaldun. I want to thank everyone in the state of Michigan for being vigilant, for staying home because the action that you’re taking is helping your household, those you are connected to, our communities across the state stay safe and it is saving lives as you’ve just heard from Dr. Khaldun. I also want to take a moment to give a special and specific thank you to the brave women and men who are continuing to work to ensure that life can be protected, sustained and supported. That includes our nurses, our healthcare professionals, our nurses assistants, our doctors.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (30:54)
That includes the people who are working at the grocery store and making sure the shelves are stocked, our cashiers and our clerks. That includes the people who are working at gas stations across the state to ensure that those workers can get gas in their car to continue to go to work. The first responders, police, firefighters, EMS, the bus drivers and those who work for the public transportation systems across the state of Michigan who are enabling people to still get to where they need to go. And also the people who are working for our utility companies, making sure that our lights, our gas, our heat, electricity and internet are working so that so many people can stay home and stay safe.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (31:33)
These people are the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic response and we thank them for their service. The reality is that we still have a lot of work to do before this is over. This has shown us that there is still a lot of progress to be made in many areas, including access to health care, improving our education system, and making it more resilient, ensuring up our safety nets, like our system to cover people who are unemployed. It’s also shown us that despite the progress that has been made for-
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (32:03)
It’s also shown us that despite the progress that has been made for generations in terms of bending our arcs towards justice, we still have to build and we still have to respond to generations of racial disparities and inequity that have impacted communities of color across our state and across the country. Our administration has put in place several measures and pieces of infrastructure to try to address these disparities. Last year I initiated the Thriving Cities tour, which traveled to 19 cities across the state of Michigan, starting in my hometown of Detroit to begin to respond to how we are addressing and improving quality of life and public health issues in communities across the state. We know that many people of color choose to live in cities in Michigan. If we can improve the quality of life in cities, we can improve the quality of life for those people.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (32:52)
We took those results and then pushed that into the poverty task force that our administration announced via governor Whitmer’s executive order in December. This poverty task force is seeking to address working with all of our state agencies the many inequities and inequalities that have led to people fighting with persistent poverty in the state of Michigan across communities every single day. These inequities have persisted from generation to generation in part because there hasn’t been a clear enough focus on it from state government. And that’s why this task force exists to take action. Then in the State of the State Address this year, Governor Whitmer announced the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies initiative, which was designed to specifically respond to the racial disparity when it comes to maternal mortality, that black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications than white women. We understand that some of that is contributed to by bias in care, by medical bias in care. So, we are working to research with medical experts across the state to respond to and address this for the longterm.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (33:55)
But we need to take these measures to a higher level in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic. This disease, this infection has proven particularly deadly to black people in our state. You already heard the governor mention, but it is worth repeating. Black people make up 14% of the population in the state of Michigan and thus far we have accounted for 40% of the deaths. We only know this because the state of Michigan was one of the first and remains one of the few States to report its COVID-19 test results and deaths along racial lines. As an engineer by training from the University of Michigan, I know the importance and value of data and information and how it can contribute not only to understanding problems, but to designing solutions.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (34:42)
The data and information is very clear. There is a specific and severe racial disparity that we need to address. When communities have been impacted by racial disparities for generations, this means it is a systemic problem and a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. We know that more often than not, people of color do not have the financial luxury in the state of Michigan of being able to work from home or they are more reliant on public transportation to get groceries or to get to work. We don’t have enough money to buy hundreds of dollars of groceries at a time and have to make repeat trips. They may not have access to a primary care physician or health insurance. And their neighborhoods may be environmentally compromised because of issues in environmental justice. These dynamics have led to increased risk of exposure for communities of color across the state to this deadly virus. We’re seeing this play out in the data with black people dying at such a higher rate.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (35:39)
To put this in just a personal perspective, I’ve lost 15 people in my life to COVID-19. And have a number of others who I’m connected to either professionally, personally, or in my family who are fighting this infection or who are in the hospital right now. This is why the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities is so important and it’s why we must treat this task force a little differently. Rather than just studying the problem and making a report later, we’re assembling a team of experts that can take action in real time. Our mission and purpose is simple: to recommend actions to address the racial disparities and the mortality rate of COVID-19. We will go where the science, the facts, the information and the experiences of people take us. We’ll use that data that we will gather through the increased testing capacity that Doctor Khaldun referred to combined with best practices identified by experts in the state, and frankly around the country, about how we can move forward with solutions.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (36:38)
In order to improve on these racial disparities, we need to ensure that everyone is represented in this process. The task force, which will be chaired by myself and will include the Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon and Doctor Joneigh Khaldun, our chief medical executive. It will also have 24 of some of the greatest minds, including doctors, public health experts, scientists, epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, community organizers, academics, civil rights advocates and labor leaders. We’ll be joined by members of our lawmaking bodies in the Michigan legislature and from Congress who will be fundamental members of the team to advocate for policy changes that are necessary. We will have the full weight and power of every state agency and department working with us to bring about swift changes and this task force will also be calling on the expertise of a broad array of community action stakeholders.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (37:32)
We need to take action immediately so that we can save lives starting as soon as possible. The task force has already begun to build out a plan of action that’s separated in a few buckets that’ll help us address what we’ve identified and you’ve heard some of them referred to. The first and most important one to start with is closing the gaps in Coronavirus data on race and ethnicity. Doctor Khaldun has already been a leader on this in the state of Michigan and nationally. We’re going to continue to ensure that more providers in the state have what they need to be able to report this information and more comprehensive demographic information on a regular basis, and we’re also going to be calling on the federal government to do that as well.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (38:12)
We were working also to increase testing accessibility to better serve vulnerable communities. Specifically, we want to build on models like the really inspiring one that we’ve seen from Wayne State University in partnership with Ford that is driving tests to people where they need them and delivering them with a clinician on board. That kind of innovation we need to support and scale. We also want to deliver walkup testing in different communities as has particularly homeless rights advocates have noted that if people don’t have cars, it’s difficult for them to consume a drive through test. But by enabling people to walk to a test, this will enable greater testing accessibility in vulnerable populations.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (38:49)
We also want to recommend protocols that address people with highly and unique exposure. Again, the public transportation riders, drivers and staff members and the people who are working right now, particularly our first responders and all those that Doctor Khaldun referred to. And I want to highlight a specific example, innovation that’s been launched today in Dearborn. It is a drive through test facility for first responders where they can get a test and importantly it enables them to isolate if they test positive. When talking about Skylar’s story, what it brings to heart for me is that her parents are first responders and the first responders who are working every day have anxiety about possibly infecting people in their household due to their risk of exposure, but the city of Dearborn has stepped up to provide not just for their city but for the entirety of western Wayne County. Infrastructure for first responders to safely and confidently isolate and have what they need to recover and not put their family at risk.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (39:49)
We also, and this really speaks to the longterm implications, we want to connect people to doctors for care beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to address the fact that many people have feared getting tested, they feared going to the hospital or that we’ve had doctors who have not prescribed tests when maybe they could have, but a lot of people don’t have doctors who are living with persistent poverty. This is true in a lot of communities of color and in black communities in the city of Detroit, but we’re working with the team to figure out how we can connect people to doctors, not just so they can get the testing and treatment they need now, but so they can be connected to that care in the longterm to help deal with some of the other challenges and health issues that when mixed with COVID-19 are proving so deadly: things like high blood pressure, things like diabetes and things like asthma to help people with their treatment. Not having access to a primary care physician that may have been true before, but we can work together to make that true for less people going forward.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (40:47)
Under the governor’s leadership, the state of Michigan has been recognized as a leader in this area, not only for establishing this task force but for putting action on the ground right now. The task force will be in place throughout the crisis and we hope that we will be able to continue to make recommendations going forward about how we can address racial disparities in a broader sense. This is not something that we can solve overnight, but it’s something that we can work on every day to make a difference.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (41:13)
I want to come back to Skylar as I close. Skylar’s family lives in the 48219 zip code, which is the second most impacted zip code with 559 positive cases of COVID-19 as of yesterday. It’s a predominantly black neighborhood. She is the daughter of two first responders in the city of Detroit. After she was admitted to the hospital, she then developed a very rare complication that led to swelling of her brain and a lesion in her frontal lobe. She’s nearly the same age as my twin son and daughter Garland and Emily. Her story cuts right to the core of why we must act now. Why it’s important to follow the orders and maintain social distancing because you can carry the virus and spread it without knowing it. It’s also impossible to predict how the virus will interact with a person’s body. We have to be careful. My condolences, my prayers go to Skylar’s family, and this task force will serve in her memory to ensure that we can limit the exposure for as many people and as many families as possible. We will get through this together because we are going to work together in a way that we never had before.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: (42:22)
The irony of the social distancing that we’re practicing now is that it actually reveals how connected we all truly are, how much we need each other and rely on one another. How much the impact of our individual choices and actions, how much they have an impact on our community’s collective health and wellbeing. Once we get to the other side of this, I think we’re going to be more mindful of how we treat and spend time with one another. We’re going to call a little bit more often. We’re going to say I love you a little more forcefully. We’re going to have more meaningful interactions and conversations and that connection, that will be the legacy of this pandemic, how we came together, how we work together, how we stay together and how we stand tall for one another. So, thank you. I look forward to continuing to keep everyone updated on the efforts and work of the task force.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (43:14)
Right. With that I’m happy to open it up for a few questions from the press.
There was supposed to be a … Okay, there was supposed to be a phone call with governors and the White House today. We’re wondering what came out of that phone call and what, if anything, you asked for.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (43:39)
There was a call. We were on with the vice president. The president was not on today’s call. I think you know, the similar refrain from what we’ve heard from governors across the country and what I’ve shared with you is the desire to make sure number one, that there is some flexibility with the funds that are coming into the states. We don’t have the ability to run deficits. We have to have balanced budgets and every one of us is confronting some real strain on our budgets to put it lightly. And so acknowledging that the strain is all caused from COVID-19, it’s important that we have the ability to determine best use of those dollars at the state level for our individual states.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (44:22)
We also talked to quite a bit about the lack of these critical supplies to execute on these tests. Everyone knows the thing we got to do is robust testing. It’s one of the gating criteria in the president’s re-entry, how we can reopen the economy, but they only prescribe it for high risk health care professionals. We know according to all of the epidemiologists and scientists and Doctor Khaldun, of course, our leading medical mind here in Michigan, that robust testing is essential to have confidence about our strategies for safely reducing risk and re-engaging sectors of our economy. So, we’re all needing swabs, we’re all needing the reagents. That was a big part of the call. And then what I asked on the call was I asked the vice president if at the federal level, if they could echo our call to our citizens to stay home in order to stay safe. I acknowledge that we have a wonderful tradition in this country of being able to dissent and freedom of speech and being able to demonstrate, but we know that the stay home orders across the country are working and my request was that at the national level, they echo that call to stay home and he conveyed that that was something that they would do.
Speaker 4: (45:57)
Governor, after seeing the results and the turnout of last week’s protest, what are your thoughts on potential future protests?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (46:05)
What I was just saying to Rick with regard to my requests of the vice president is in response to that. We know that it was in the midst of a global pandemic that a virus is spreading that is so contagious, that is deadly, that there’s no cure and no vaccine for, and for which we’ve got a lot of our medical systems that are in surge mode because we’re inundated that the worst thing we could do is gather without observing all of the CDC recommendations about wearing a mask and staying six feet apart and all of the prescriptive measures that are really important. We know that that compromised health last week. We know that people came from all parts of our state and then returned to all parts of our state. There was a slide that showed we are watching different parts of rural Michigan because the numbers are going up and so every time something like this happens, it raises the risk that that is going to continue to be a problem.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (47:10)
I’ll also acknowledge that the blocking of cars and ambulances trying to get into Sparrow Hospital immediately endangered lives, but the thought that COVID-19 might spread because of a big gathering like that is real. It’s a concern. And while I respect people’s right to dissent, I am worried about the health of the people of our state. That’s what’s driving every decision that I’ve made. None of this is easy, but it’s absolutely essential to save lives. I think it’s worth noting one more item, which is none of us knows how our bodies are going to react to COVID-19. I’ve talked to people who their loved one died and they had a fever and some achy muscles. You know-
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (48:02)
… and some achy muscles, same age, both in good condition, neither had a preexisting situation, was fatal for one person in the household and the other hardly even notice that they were sick. None of us knows precisely how we are going to react. Some would say kids are largely immune, and yet we shared a story of a five year old who passed away. I really hope that people don’t continue to have these types of demonstrations. I respect the First Amendment and the right to speak your truth and dissent and criticize your government, that’s fine. But doing so in a way that is irresponsible and endangers others is not.
Speaker 5: (48:52)
Governor, you initially requested the state of emergency be extended an additional 70 days, that state of emergency is set to expire on April 30th. At this point, based on what you know now, do you see a need to extend that state of emergency passed April 30th? Are you concerned that any critics in the Republican legislature might push back on extending that state of emergency?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (49:17)
I’m glad you asked that question. I think that this is an important moment to differentiate between two things, that people understandably confuse. I appreciate you teeing this up for me because I think it’s really important that we acknowledge, a state of emergency is a posture that we are in that gives us the ability to do a lot of things that we don’t usually have the ability to do. First and foremost, we’ve extended protections for everyone who is on the front line from liability. I mean that’s one thing that happens under the state of emergency. We’re trying to draw more people into the frontline and so we’ve made it easier for people to join up and we’ve given them protection for doing that, for doing their jobs. Staying in a state of emergency simply so that our health care frontline workers have the protections that they need is absolutely essential. Now the stay-at-home order, which now expires on that same date, is very different. That is the order to not engage in certain activities, to stay at home and lessons for a life-sustaining activity.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (50:23)
The state of emergency will last a lot longer, and it should. We were in a state of emergency during the Flint water crisis. We were in a state of emergency during a sinkhole in McComb County. All right? States of emergency are things that governments do when they need powers to take unusual actions to protect people. The stay-at-home order is something that is different and that people are confusing and that’s why I’m glad you asked the question so I could explain the difference. We will need to extend the state of emergency.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (50:55)
My powers come from a couple of different parts of the statute and so I believe that, regardless of what the legislature does, I still retain those powers; but I would like for them to be partners in this. We have worked very well together on a number of fronts. We need to continue working together because this is not a partisan issue.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (51:15)
The stay-at-home order will be, another 10 days will go by between now and when we are confronting what the next phase is that we are going through. But the one thing I can say with all certainty is we won’t just resume life like it was pre-COVID-19. It will take phases. It’s going to be slow, but it’s going to be data driven, mitigating risk and making sure that it’s safe for workers and customers of businesses that do ramp up. All those protections will be in there.
Speaker 6: (51:50)
Governor, you now have communications from the House and Senate Republican leaders on ramping up economic activity and people going out. What’s your reaction to those respective plans?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (52:05)
Yeah, I think there’s some good ideas there. I think that there’s some good ideas in what the federal government sent. I think that there are good ideas from different segments of our economy that are people that are sharing their thoughts about best practices. All of these will be taken into consideration as I make determinations about what the next steps are going to be. We’re going through a rigorous process and we’ll share more with you as the week goes on, but we’re going through a rigorous process using the best data, listening to the best medical minds and really trying to make sure that the course that we chart will keep people safe and will preclude us from having a second wave.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (52:48)
I think that’s something that I hope people will take the time to really understand the high risk of that. Singapore was known as the gold standard when it came to a stay-home order, but then they just dropped the protections and went right back to life and now they have a second wave that is devastating. That’s what we need to avoid, so that’s why the slow, methodical ramping up of different segments of our economy over time is essential.
Speaker 7: (53:20)
Governor, the Michigan Petroleum Association and Association of Convenient stores says it’s unlikely that COVID-19 can be spread by touching gas pump handles. They said Friday those that imply motorists can get COVID-19 from a fuel dispenser nozzle are needlessly spreading fear. They didn’t mention you by name, but it is something that you have talked about. What is your response to this?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (53:39)
To the service station dealers, certainly there was no intent to scare people. The intent was to simply use an example so that people understand how when we’re out and about, we’re necessarily overlapping in ways that we might not even be obvious to us. There was a story recently of a man who went to go visit Donald Trump, a guy from Michigan who said that the only thing he could think of was that when he gassed up. This is not to disparage our service stations. It’s not to create fear. A lot of them are taking Herculean efforts to keep everything sanitary and we’re going to work with them as we’re going forward because it’s in all of our interests to make sure that people can have confidence in the safety of going to gas up because everyone’s going to need to. They do a great job. It was not a criticism of the industry. It was simply an example to show we overlap in ways that we don’t even think about every single day.
Speaker 8: (54:41)
Governor, as you and your administration look to gradually reopening the economy in the coming weeks, does the state plan on shifting to a regional approach? Will there be any regions of the state where a stay-at-home order or some restrictions would remain in place? If so, how would the administration police that and potentially restrict travel to regions that are experiencing higher rates of COVID-19?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (55:10)
Yeah, so let’s talk a little bit about policing, right? I think that’s a question that’s come up frequently about how do we enforce all of this.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (55:19)
Here’s the good news, the vast majority of businesses and people in our state are doing the right thing. The vast majority. That’s why we see our curve flattening. That’s why we see our hospitalizations flattening. Our death toll is still very high. We are the 10th largest state in the nation and we’ve got the third highest death toll. That tells you we’ve got a uniquely tough problem that we are confronting. I showed you the map that showed kind of how the hotspots have changed over the course of the last few weeks. That’s precisely why we are looking regionally. They’re going to be unique challenges.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (55:53)
If, for instance, in Petoskey there is an outbreak, their medical system is a wonderful medical system, but it is not equipped to handle a major outbreak of COVID-19 that can spread wildly and would need an incredible amount of support. That’s precisely why they’re saying, “Let’s keep the stay-at-home order. Everyone stay where you are, do what you’re doing and let’s watch this pass.”
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (56:21)
The regional question is something that we are looking to. There are different types of business in our economy that are inherently more risky or inherently less risky. There are certain parts of our state in which it’s less risky at the moment, but no one’s necessarily out of the potential for risk. Each of these are factors that are being considered. As we get to Wednesday and then Friday, I think you’ll have a lot more information to understand kind of the thought process.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (56:51)
This is a rigorous undertaken. We are creating a plan in a matter of weeks that is going to have impact on every one of us in this state, and so we’re working with some of the best minds in healthcare, the best minds in business. We’re working with some of the greatest leaders in labor and so all of these pieces are important. It’s not one group, it is a group that’s come together that is going to be a part of the advice that I am seeking and receiving and taking into account, as are the other items that others have created.
Speaker 9: (57:30)
We only have [inaudible 00:57:30] minutes left, so probably the last question.
Speaker 10: (57:37)
This is a question for Dr. Khaldoon, at least I think. We know that the curve is flattening, that the recovery rates are improving. What can we discern from that fact?
Dr. Khaldoon: (57:50)
Right? It’s important that we talk about what we mean by recovered. To be honest, there is no official guidance on what it means to recover that comes down from the CDC. What our team has done is basically look at the day you were diagnosed and we have that test in our system and then we look out 30 days and the people who are still, I hate to say it, but alive at 30 days, we would assume, based on how the disease progresses, that you have recovered.
Dr. Khaldoon: (58:15)
It’s a really good thing that we’re seeing more and more people recover. Those numbers are going up so quickly because, if you recall, in the beginning we only had a handful of cases. Then as the weeks went on, we saw hundreds of cases every day, so that’s why we’re seeing that big bump. It’s a good thing that people are recovering.
Speaker 10: (58:32)
But the higher recovery rate seems to be associated with then the higher infection rate.
Dr. Khaldoon: (58:40)
I would say we have to be careful with how we think about the data. We’re doing more and more testing, but we’re also expanding our criteria for who can get a test. If you only test those who are in the hospital, really sick on a ventilator, by definition, you’re going to have a higher percentage of people who are tested who are positive. As we’ve expanded our criteria, so people with mild symptoms, people who don’t have symptoms at all, they’re actually less likely by definition to have a positive test; but that doesn’t mean that the virus itself is less infectious. It’s just a matter of who we’re actually testing.
Speaker 9: (59:16)
We’re just out of time.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (59:16)
Speaker 9: (59:16)
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (59:16)
Dr. Khaldoon: (59:17)
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (59:17)