Aug 14, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Press Conference Transcript August 14
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s August 14 press conference. She announced a program that will “give 4 million masks to Michigan residents who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19”. Read the full transcript of her news briefing speech here.
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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (05:35)
Good morning. Today is Friday, August 14th. Thank you for paying attention and tuning in. We appreciate it. I’m joined today by our Lieutenant Governor, Garlin Gilchrist, our Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Robert Gordon, the Director of DHHS, and Jim Hackett, the CEO of Ford. I want to congratulate Jim on his upcoming retirement. I appreciate his leadership and his years of dedication to ensuring that Michigan remains the automotive capital of the world. We’re excited to be here with Ford, and you’ll see why, shortly.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (06:10)
Michiganders have now been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic for over five months. We took one of the most aggressive approaches in the nation against this virus. Because we’ve taken this so seriously, we’re doing much better than other states, states like Florida and Texas who are continuing to struggle, and closed later, and reopened earlier than we did, who are now seeing historic surges in cases.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (06:36)
MLive reported yesterday that despite being one of the hardest hit states early on, our state currently ranks 40th in the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases per capita and in the 40th percent, testing positive on coronavirus diagnostic tests. These are wonderful pieces of information compared to what’s happening across the country. Our average infection rate for the last month was half that of Ohio, and Indiana, and Wisconsin. This slide shows Michigan’s daily cases per million compared to other Midwest states.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (07:20)
MLive also reported that states across the country that did not take this virus seriously are now seeing record numbers in terms of daily coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Georgia was the first state in the country to reopen its economy and is now averaging five times the number of new cases of coronavirus in a day, five times more than the state of Michigan. While states like Georgia, and Florida, and Texas reported hundreds of new deaths last week, Michigan had 43. Our percent positivity rate is also far below our Midwestern neighbors. We have continued to ramp up testing over the past few months.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (08:06)
There’s a wonderful Twitter thread by Dr. Ashish Jha that talks about testing and positivity rates. I think it’s worth your time to look if you happen to be on Twitter. This virus demands to be taken seriously. Youth will not protect you from this virus. Your political affiliation will not protect you from this virus. This virus will not go away just because we’re tired of dealing with it. The only way we can put a stop to this pandemic, an end to this pandemic, is to take it seriously, do our part to protect one another, and do what we know works.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (08:43)
My mask says, “I wear this for you,” and it is true. When we wear masks, and we wear it properly so it covers our nose and mouth, when we practice social distancing, and when we go out to get tested when it’s necessary, when we do these things, we put our whole state in a stronger position to send our kids back to school safely. Wearing a homemade mask is simple, and it shows your commitment to protecting yourself, your family, and your fellow Michiganders from this virus.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (09:17)
To make it easier for those who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and who need help securing masks today, we’re announcing the MI Mask Aid project. This project is a partnership, a partnership involving the state of Michigan, FEMA, and the Ford Motor Company. It’s a result of the hard work of the Michigan COVID-19 Task Force on Racial Disparities, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (09:44)
We will provide four million free masks to people who need them most. It’s a really incredible donation that Ford is working with us to make sure that we’re able to do this. One million of the face coverings from FEMA, 1.5 million from Ford will go to low-income schools, the city of Detroit, federally qualified health centers, some COVID-19 testing sites, and to many organizations helping to reach vulnerable populations, including minority residents who have been affected by the public health crisis as a result of historic racism. Anyone interested in receiving a free mask can find a distribution location by calling the COVID-19 hotline at 888-535-6136 or looking up their local community action agency online.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (10:41)
I want to thank Jim Hackett and Ford for their partnership in this project. This partnership is going to save lives. Wearing a mask has been proven to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 by about 70%. According to one estimate, if 95% of Americans wore masks between now and December 1st, it would save 66,000 American lives. According to one estimate, if 95% of Americans do this, we can make our economy stronger and save one another’s lives. That’s 66,000 people who are parents, or grandparent or children, siblings, friends. It could be saved by the simple act of wearing a mask when you go to the grocery store, or pharmacy, or when you’re out and about. As a parent, I know the number one thing on everyone’s mind is whether and how their kids are going to return to school this fall. Parents across Michigan are anxiously awaiting their school districts to decide how they’re going to safely educate our kids, whether it’s by remote learning or implementing the strict safety measures I outlined in the MI Safe Schools Reopening in June. After a rise in COVID cases in July and early August, our case numbers have begun to plateau. We’re not out of the woods. This crisis is far from over, but we appear to have stopped the incline. We’re now plateaued, and we want to see that become a decline.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (12:12)
To get through this and to ensure the safety of our kids, educators, and support staff this fall, everyone’s got to continue to do their part. We also need the Trump administration and Congress to step up and provide additional support to states like Michigan so we can send more resources to our classrooms to keep our kids, and our educators, and all of their families safe.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (12:35)
I want to end by thanking the thousands of Michiganders on the front lines of this crisis. While people everywhere have made tremendous sacrifices to protect their families from this virus, those on the front lines have put their own health at risk to take care of the rest of us every day for the past five months, grueling stressful work. If you’ve ever listened to This American Life on NPR, they’ve highlighted some stories of people on the front line in Detroit, and you might want to check it out. I was proud, but also, it was an eyeopener. I hope maybe you might listen.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (13:13)
Nurses and doctors working 18-hour shifts and giving up time with their families to keep them safe, who stood by the side of a bed where someone lost their battle with COVID-19, and their family couldn’t be there. Grocery store workers, especially in the beginning of this pandemic, worked around the clock to keep our shelves stocked, to ensure people could buy groceries safely. Childcare workers who’ve been instrumental in helping our frontline workers save lives every day… These are truly the real heroes of this crisis. Truck drivers and mail carriers, the people who mask up every day for hours on end to ensure our safety… They deserve our gratitude and respect, and the best way we can show it is by masking up. With that, I want to say thank you to all of those who I’ve just described who have stayed on the front lines.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (14:03)
I want to say thank you to all of those who I’ve just described who’ve stayed on the front lines. I want to encourage everyone in our state to keep doing our part, to stay smart and to mask up. And with that, I’ll introduce the Lieutenant Governor, Garlin Gilchrist.
Robert Gordon: (14:21)
Thank you, Governor. And good morning, everyone. I also would like to acknowledge Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, our Chief Medical Executive, Director Robert Gordon from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. And Mr. Jim Hackett, the Chief Executive Officer for Ford. Thank you for being such a titan in industry and leadership.
Robert Gordon: (14:38)
The coronavirus pandemic has proven that there is still a lot of work to do, but it has also shown what’s possible when we work together to ensure that all of our collective wellbeing can be taken care of. That is why I’m proud to stand here alongside these tremendous leaders as we announced the MI Mask Aid Project to give 4 million masks to Michigan residents who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Robert Gordon: (15:07)
When we formed the Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, we knew COVID-19 was disproportionately impacting people of color and the black community in Michigan in particular, but it wasn’t necessarily clear why. However, it did quickly become clear that more often than not, it is people of color who don’t have the financial luxury of working from home, who take public transportation to get groceries and other services, who don’t have access to quality healthcare in a consistent way and whose neighbors may be environmentally jeopardized due to other factors. All of these dynamics have left people of color, overly exposed to this deadly virus. And we’ve been seeing that play out in the data, with black people still dying at higher rates.
Robert Gordon: (15:53)
As of yesterday, we’ve lost 6,289 lives to COVID-19. 2, 457 of those are black Michiganders. And these are people. These are not statistics and numbers. They have stories. They have legacies, families. These lives were cut short and it was long overdue that we did something about it. So we got to work immediately to do something about this.
Robert Gordon: (16:20)
We assembled 24 of the strongest and most conscientious minds in our state, doctors, public health experts, scientists, community leaders, faith leaders, academics, civil rights advocates, labor leaders, parents, young people, all coming together for the task force. And it’s been working hard for nearly four months to provide real solutions, not just recommendations and the MI Mask Aid Project is one of the results of that work.
Robert Gordon: (16:46)
I would like to take a step back and to not only thank the taskforce members for their continued engagement, but also to highlight much of the work that’s been done to this point. One of the first actions was helping to support a letter from Dr. Joneigh Khaldun to medical practitioners as a reminder that medical bias can be interjected every time a decision is made about care and to be mindful of that.
Robert Gordon: (17:07)
We worked with taskforce member Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence to specifically and explicitly request federal funding to expand a mobile testing pilot program in partnership with Ford Motor Company. And Jim, I want to thank you for that partnership. We expanded drive through and walk up testing for the nearly 30% of Detroiters who don’t have access to their own private vehicle, and therefore can’t take full advantage of things like drive through testing.
Robert Gordon: (17:34)
We encouraged regions to create their own racial disparities task force to address specific challenges in their communities and are proud of operations like the ones in Flint and in Calhoun County and in other parts of the state. We made sure that civil rights protections were available for people of color who made the responsible decision to wear a mask or a face covering in the beginning.
Robert Gordon: (17:55)
We expanded the mobile testing partnership with Ford and Wayne State University to serve people in the right neighborhoods, inside and outside of their homes. We capitalized on the interactions between residents and healthcare providers to connect people with doctors that they otherwise may not have had access to and to connect them with longterm primary care and other services. We’ve directed the Department of Health and Human Services to develop implicit bias training that will be required as a part of the renewal of medical licenses and registrations of health professionals in the state of Michigan.
Robert Gordon: (18:26)
We took the much needed and necessary step of declaring racism a public health crisis, which made Michigan just one of the few states to make that declaration alongside the states of Nevada and Wisconsin, according to the American Public Health Association.
Robert Gordon: (18:40)
And last but not least, we stood here last week to announce the creation of the Black Leadership Advisory Council, a first of its kind body that will recognize the important role and elevate the leadership of black leaders across different sectors in our community and our economy.
Robert Gordon: (18:56)
Each action that we’ve taken on the task force has sought to make an immediate impact as well as a longterm impact for the people in our communities. But the most immediate thing all of us can do right now is wear a mask to slow the spread of this deadly virus. The MI Mask Aid Project was a natural next step for the task force to ensure that these lifesaving resources are available for everyone. Remember people of color were disproportionately impacted by the virus because they didn’t have the luxury to do these things like working from home or not being able to forego trips to the grocery store and things like that.
Robert Gordon: (19:32)
Since the first executive order at the end of April, that required face coverings for symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, we’ve wanted to make sure that there were civil rights protections for mask wearers and also do everything we can to make sure that masks are available. And by delivering 4 million masks to these communities, we can provide this proven device to make sure that people are able to get through this pandemic. Our partners at Ford, at FEMA, DHHS all deserve our thanks, my thanks and our state’s thanks for making this a reality.
Robert Gordon: (20:04)
Ultimately, I believe that there is a great irony in this pandemic and in our response to it. The irony of all of the physical distancing that’s been required for us to be safe and to stay safe is that it reminds us how truly connected to one another we are. It shows us just how much we need one another to be successful and how much we rely on one another to be safe and to be healthy. The individual actions that we take, the individual choices that we make, they impact our collective wellbeing. And that’s why it is so important that we all make the decisions that are in, not only our own best interests or the interests of our families and our households, but in the interest of our communities, of our state and of our country.
Robert Gordon: (20:47)
On the other side of this, I think we’re going to be a better connected people and better connected community. I think when it’s safe and when we’re in person, we’re going to value that time more. We’re going to hug each other a little tighter. We’re going to check in on people more often via phone or via text, and maybe we’ll still keep a Zoom call or two. That’s going to make sure that we are all making sure that our people are okay and that’s going to lead to stronger, safer, and better connected communities. And that is a future that I look forward to on the other side of this pandemic. Thank you so much. And everyone in Michigan, please continue to mask up for all of our sakes. With that, I’d like to turn the microphone over to our Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (21:35)
Thank you, Governor and Lieutenant Governor. Yesterday we announced 90,392 cases and 6,289 total deaths due to COVID-19 in the state. Overall, we believe we’re seeing a plateau in cases after cases increased in June and July. We continue to be cautiously optimistic that we are trending in the right direction as a state, but the spread of COVID-19 continues to look differently by region.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (22:05)
The Detroit region is at about 50 cases per million people per day, with 4.1% of those tests coming back positive. But I want to focus a little bit more on the Detroit region, which includes the city of Detroit, but also those surrounding Southeast Michigan counties. So much of the elevation in cases and percent positivity is related to the counties surrounding the city of Detroit. Detroit has a case rate of 26 cases per million people per day, with the positivity rate of 2.6%. However, Wayne, Monroe and Oakland counties all have over 40 cases per million people per day and a positivity rate over 4%. Macomb County has the highest numbers in the region with a case rate of 82 cases per million people per day and a positivity rate of 7.4%. This is why it’s so important that businesses, schools and others work very closely with their local health departments to implement strategies to fight this disease at the local level.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (23:08)
Let me talk a little bit more about the other regions in the state. The Saginaw region has a case rate of 50 cases per million people per day, with a positivity rate of 3.7%. The Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Upper Peninsula regions are all at 30 to 40 cases per million people per day with declining rates for the past one to three weeks and positivity under 3%. The Jackson region is at just under 30 cases per million people per day with positivity just over 2%. And the Lansing and Traverse City regions are under 20 cases per million people per day… excuse me, and also have positivity under 2%.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (23:52)
We also continue to focus on our testing. Last week we reached our highest number of tests yet at over 38,000 tests in one day. And overall, the percent of those tests that are positive is at about 3.2%. And we also continue to see a low level of deaths. These are all good signs, and we continue to monitor these metrics.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (24:14)
It’s also important to note that we are not only looking at one day of cases that are reported, but trends over time. That’s very important. And what we also know is that even if the trend is stabilizing, it only takes a few people to create an outbreak and have the disease spread rapidly in a community.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (24:32)
We’re still seeing outbreaks across the state in every region. And these are occurring in many different settings. The top categories for these continuing outbreaks are skilled nursing and longterm care facilities, social gatherings, agricultural and food processing facilities, childcare and youth programs, manufacturing, healthcare, restaurants, schools and colleges. And what these outbreaks mean is that the virus is still very present among us, and we must remain vigilant.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (25:06)
One of the most important things everyone can do is wear a mask. Masks work, and they prevent the spread of the disease. I work in an emergency department and I wear an N95 mask for my entire shift every time. My three school aged children wear a mask and they will wear them if they go back to school in person. This includes my youngest child, who’s going into the second grade.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (25:31)
Even younger children can and should be taught to wear a mask when they are indoors or if they’re going to be within six feet of someone else. And I encourage every school superintendent who is developing plans for in-person instruction to mandate masks for children of all ages, even in a classroom setting.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (25:51)
I’m excited that we are announcing the MI Mask Aid partnership to make over 4 million masks available for free to Michigan residents, including those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. And I’m grateful for the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist and MDHHS Director, Robert Gordon, as well as Ford Motor Company for working to make this project possible. No one should have to worry about where to get a mask or how they will afford one, and that’s why we were making masks easily accessible for those who are the most vulnerable.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (26:24)
Finally, I want to know that August is National Immunization Awareness Month. We know that we saw a significant decline in immunizations because of the pandemic and people have been hesitant to seek important medical services. But please, especially parents, reach out to your child’s doctor to ask about immunizations and to make sure that they are up to date. Our medical professionals have opened their offices back up and they have important procedures in place so that they can take care of you and your family safely. There’s not currently a vaccine approved for COVID, but there are many safe and effective vaccines for things like measles, mumps, hepatitis, meningitis and the flu. So make sure you and your family are up to date on these critical and often life saving vaccines.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (27:15)
I know it’s been hard and people are tired. There’s uncertainty about how the virus will spread in this state, but we all simply have to focus on the things that we can control. We can all wear a mask. We can all wash our hands. We can keep our distance from others. We can pick up our phones if someone from the health department calls, and we can make sure our families are up to date on their vaccinations. Please do these simple things. If we all do this, we will see COVID-19 cases continue to decline, and we will beat this virus. With that, I’ll turn it over to Robert Gordon, MDHHS Director.
Robert Gordon: (28:00)
Thank you, Dr. Khaldun. And thank you for your extraordinary.
Robert Gordon: (28:03)
Thank you Dr. Khaldun and thank you for your extraordinary leadership of the department’s response and the state’s response. Thank you Governor Whitmer and Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist for your leadership. I’m going to talk a little bit more about the evidence around masks. There is so much we still do not know about coronavirus. But one thing we do know with certainty is that masks help prevent COVID spread.
Robert Gordon: (28:25)
States that required masks early as Michigan did on April 24th had less growth in COVID than states that didn’t. Countries with norms around wearing masks had less growth than those that did not. Governor Whitmer talked about wearing a mask to protect others. And that is critical because when you wear a mask if you have COVID and you could have it without realizing it, it prevents you from spreading the disease.
Robert Gordon: (28:52)
At the same time, there is also growing evidence that when you wear a mask, it can protect yourself. That’s because it can prevent you from getting the disease in its most severe form. Even if the mask doesn’t block all droplets from getting to you, it can block some of them. And that can make the difference between getting COVID asymptomatically and getting COVID and ending up in the ICU.
Robert Gordon: (29:18)
Most Michiganders have done their part back in May a YouGov survey found that Michiganders were more likely than most Americans to wear masks. New York Times survey in July also found us doing well compared to our neighbors. For months now, Governor Whitmer has said that, “While we as Americans are proud of our choices in most of our lives, wearing a mask is a personal responsibility and a requirement to protect our fellow Michiganders.”
Robert Gordon: (29:47)
But it should be as easy as possible to exercise that responsibility. We should never have to wonder if we can afford a mask or find one. And as was so much surrounding COVID, there are real disparities in access and affordability, including racial disparities and we need to tackle those disparities head on that. Is why today’s initiative is so important. four million masks statewide, most delivered directly to communities where cost and access are likely to be challenges. Many of them being held at MDHHS offices.
Robert Gordon: (30:24)
I want to do a shout out to our thousands of staff many of whom have continued their critical work from home under these conditions, delivering benefits regularly on time in spite of all the challenges. Some have continued throughout the crisis to go into their offices because they are essential there. And we will make masks available at our offices for folks who need them as Governor Whitmer said, “If you don’t know where to find an office or find a mask, you can call the COVID-19 hotline at 888-535-6136.”
Robert Gordon: (30:58)
Little detail about the mask distribution. Already today, we have distributed more than 1.4 million masks statewide. These include 500,000 to our critical partners at community action agencies that quietly do so much heroic work supporting residents in need. Another 500,000 for other community organizations and our offices. 235,000 masks for homeless shelters and smaller distributions to tribal organizations, area agencies on the aging and pay center serving seniors. In community health centers where people get tests.
Robert Gordon: (31:38)
With the additional masks that are coming in, we’ll be making deliveries targeted at schools, including masks of different sizes and I want to reiterate Dr. Calhoun’s point that even young children can and should be wearing masks. And through this distribution, we will help to make that easier. We’ll also support people who are visiting community test sites, grocery stores, including Hispanic grocery stores that serve migrant workers. And especially across the city of Detroit.
Robert Gordon: (32:07)
As Lieutenant Gillcrest said, “The Racial Disparities Task Force played a central role in developing these plans” and I’m very grateful to them. This is just one more important way to make it easy for each Michigander to do their part and make all of us safer. And with that, I want to introduce the CEO of Ford Motor Company, Mr. Hackett.
Jim Hackett: (32:28)
What an honor it is to be here today. Thank you, Governor Whitmer, Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist, Dr. Khaldun and Director Gordon. The governor made reference to the tragedy of this pandemic crisis and the heroes that emerged. And I’m proud to tell you that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants from Ford Motor Company in UAW, who since March had been working diligently building PPE. We’ve produced over 72 million pieces, tip for lifesaving support. And that’s in addition to the million five masks that we’re talking about donating today.
Jim Hackett: (33:24)
At Ford, our priority has always been to see the role that we play in society, in addition to the opportunity to produce profit. Throughout history, Ford has stepped up in times when there was significant need. For example, we built iron lungs when polio was reaching crisis levels back in history or the World War II initiative, where we built bomber planes at Willow run.
Jim Hackett: (33:53)
So this is a moment when our country needs us and we’re stepping up. What’s also proud to tell you about is in the spirit of innovation, our people have been able to take componentry from inside our supply chain like in building these special respirators that people wear. We’ve been using materials from inside our car seats that are used for cooling or from airbags making gowns when there was no supply chain for those. It’s a really proud moment because the team members inside Ford do this without any regard for credit, and they see their role in supporting our community as a primary reason why we’re all proud to work at Ford Motor Company.
Jim Hackett: (34:36)
We also have an extensive dealer network that is helping us. And in this case, they’re going to be part of helping us distribute masks. As we gear up to build more, our suppliers of course have been helping. And it really just makes sense to invest in our state and in our country. In fact, the Ford Fund, which has existed for years is quietly been filling needs in communities, including distributing food to first responders and helping distribute PPE to healthcare workers.
Jim Hackett: (35:05)
And we’re working with nonprofits in Michigan around the world to keep them with resources. But you know what? We couldn’t do this alone. So I’m proud, governor of your initiative in leading this. And it’s times like these, where we need to pull together as a group and to listen to Director Gordon and understand the power of what masking can do to save lives. So thank you. I’d like to now turn it over to Governor Whitmer. Thank you.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (35:33)
Thanks. Wonderful. Well, this is great. And these Ford masks are really cool because they got the Ford symbol on it, which is neat. With that, I’d be happy to open it up. I know that members of the press have some questions and I’ll do my best to answer them or Dr. J or Director Gordon or the Lieutenant Governor will jump in when it makes sense. So let’s get started.
Speaker 5: (36:03)
All right, governor, the first question will come from Eric Lloyd with TV 9&10.
Eric Lloyd: (36:10)
Hello Governor. I was just wondering today, you’ve been saying a lot over time that we’ve been following the most accurate data and science, and that’s been what you’re making your decisions behind. But we all know statistics can be used to make any argument and it seems like people can pick and choose what they want to follow to make their arguments.
Eric Lloyd: (36:33)
So I was just wondering, what is your response to when someone comes back with a different number or different statistic that fits their argument that goes against kind of the numbers you are following and making your decisions with?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (36:46)
Well, I’ll answer that. And then I’m going to ask Dr. J to talk a little bit about data and the efficacy of the numbers that we’re using that we are sharing, that we’ve made a very available to anyone who wants to go on the state website and understand what’s happening in a particular region.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (37:01)
I’ll say this. We’ve made every decision along the way and some of them have been very tough decisions based on the best epidemiological advice, the best public health counsel, understanding the numbers and what we’re seeing in Michigan to try to push those numbers down. People might have not always agreed with the decisions that were made, but the facts are that we have pushed that curve down. We’ve saved thousands of lives in the state of Michigan. We are doing better than other states in the Midwest and the Midwest is stronger than most other places in the country.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (37:39)
So we should feel very proud about what we have done and we should have confidence that the way that we’ve made decisions in the data that we’re using is really borne out to the benefit of people, our health first and foremost, but also our economy. I don’t think anyone in Florida would question that. It would be better to be a Michigander right now than a Floridian because of the stronger position that we’re in, the lives that we’ve saved and the crisis that they are still in the midst of.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (38:08)
The numbers that we use are collected through our partnerships with the hospitals and local departments of public health. Sometimes we have to update the numbers because maybe one area was slower to come in over the weekend. Sometimes the reporting lags. But I would say our numbers have been consistently shared, that we’ve been transparent about some of the inherent issues that we have to correct along the way. And I think that the outcome speaks for itself. And with that, I’d like to bring Dr. J up just to talk a little bit more about data.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (38:53)
Yeah, that’s a great question. So I think one of the challenges is that we do not have a national testing strategy. There are not national testing guidelines around what numbers should you look at. So what ends up happening is that us at Michigan and I talked to a lot of my colleagues across the country, we’re all trying to develop these protocols in these metrics all at the same time while we’re fighting the disease.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (39:16)
I think it’s also important to note that while different states may track things just a little bit differently, we also look at trends over time. We look at positivity, not just today, but we look at it over weeks. We look at not the number of tests. We don’t focus on the number of tests from a lab that comes in on any particular day, but we go back and we look at for all those positive cases, when did they start having symptoms?
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (39:41)
And we look at those cases as well over time. We’re not making decisions based on one or two percentages of positivity that change in one day. We look at it over time and we compare ourselves others as well. So that’s how we’re using the data.
Speaker 5: (40:00)
Okay, governor, the next question comes from Rick Albin with TV 8.
Rick Albin: (40:07)
Governor, you and Lieutenant Governor, and the doctor have all talked about the importance of the social distancing and wearing mask. I got a question from a viewer this morning, her children go to Kenowa Hills High School and she is concerned because she believes it is impossible to social distance when kids go back to school, just because of the physical limitations.
Rick Albin: (40:29)
And on the other end of the spectrum, expecting a seven-year-old to wear a mask for seven hours a day as the father one, I think that’s kind of a tough task. How sure are you that we can open school safely?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (40:41)
So I think that what our task is to do the best we can with the information that’s available. What we recognize is that we have over 800 school districts in the state of Michigan and each district has their own challenges, but also their own resources and opportunities. Some schools have a much bigger footprint where they are in an easier position of spacing kids out. Others have a built-in system that is already existing with regard to distance learning through technology, the use of technology.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (41:13)
And so a one size fits all determination coming out of Lansing was really not going to be the wisest way to proceed. And that’s why we put together the task force who promulgated best practices, depending on whether regions in phase three, phase four or phase five. And it’s the school boards in conjunction with their teachers and their teachers unions, as well as the parents that need to fashion what is going to make sense in a particular district.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (41:39)
I should have the same concerns as a parent of a child still in our public schools, but more importantly maybe not more importantly, but just as importantly. I am the governor of one and half million Michigan kids who need an education. And that’s why we wanted to promulgate strict protocols depending on which phase that a particular area is in. But these are decisions that are-
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (42:03)
… that particular area is in, but these are decisions that are going to need to be made at the local level. Michigan is in stride with other states that are navigating this very same thing. It doesn’t make it easier, but the fact of the matter is, parents have to be a part of the conversation that is happening at that school board level and with the superintendents. I would add this. You know, Rick, I understand you are concerned as a dad of a seven year old. I am concerned about teenagers, the fidelity to mask wearing. Yet we know, if you look around the world, other countries are doing this. Kids of all ages are adapting.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (42:40)
So the most important thing that we as adults can do is to show our kids through our own actions that this is the expectation and that it’s doable. To show me the other kids around the world who are doing it. Who’ve resumed in-person instruction and done so safely because they’re universally masked up, and try to get the stigma away from it. I know that our kids aren’t hampered by the politics around it, but we can do this. My communications director has a three year old. He got a PAW Patrol mask for his child. She loves that mask. So I think it’s really important for us to figure out how we can work with our children to help them keep themselves safe, but also everyone in your household safe too.
Speaker 5: (43:22)
Great. Governor, the next question comes from Emily Lawler with MLive.
Emily Lawler: (43:31)
Hi governor. Thanks for taking my question. Teachers are afraid of being exposed to larger groups of children in classrooms. I talked to an epidemiologist who says those fears are valid. Why are you limiting other gatherings to 10 people, but not schools, and what science is that based on?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (43:51)
I might pull Dr. J in to be a part of this discussion because Dr. J was helping to advise the task force on schools. But here’s what we know. Our kids need to get an education, and schools that are able to do distance learning many of them are going to pursue that this fall, at least for a time being, and to see where things go. My daughter, for instance, goes to school here in town and they’re going to be at distance at least until the end of September. The fact of the matter is, the more people that are in a room the higher the risk of the spread of COVID-19, and that’s why we’re doing this remotely.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (44:32)
I’m protecting your health, members of the press who maybe aren’t thrilled about not being in the room together, but that’s what this is about, following the orders and keeping you safe. With regard to our teachers, I understand the concern. I’ve had a very heartfelt conversation with a teacher who is worried about this. We know that if we can observe the distancing and the masking, we have the protocols about who’s coming in, we have the ability to assess who is at risk and do the testing, and where our numbers are now, we’ve got confidence we can do this safely. With that, maybe Dr. J’ll come up and share a little bit more.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (45:20)
Yes. It was an honor to be a part of the Return to Learn task force. One of the things that was really important to the task force, myself as well as a parent, is that we do everything we can to get our kids back in school, and ideally in person. When it comes to the risk of COVID-19, of course we look at the number of people in a room, and the smaller the number the lower the risk is that one of those people will have COVID-19 and they will spread it to someone else.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (45:44)
But there’s other factors that contribute to whether or not someone would potentially get the disease. We’re talking about wearing masks, and why it’s so important to wear a mask, and we’re making them available to students across the state. We talk about social distancing. We talk about washing hands, and not just limiting the number of people in a classroom if you can, and I know not all schools can do that, but also cohorting the students.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (46:08)
So even if you are in that class, you’re not spreading it across the entire school, and you’re staying with that group of children alone as much as possible to make sure the disease spreads in a limited way if it is going to spread at all, and that contact tracing is as simple as possible. These were really tough decisions, but we thought that making it easy for teachers to teach in a classroom with the limitations of the physical distance and space within the classrooms, this was appropriate.
Speaker 5: (46:41)
The next question comes from Kim Russell with TV-7.
Eric Lloyd: (46:46)
Thanks for taking my question governor. We have been hearing a lot from the legislature about having two-tiered funding systems for schools that are offering virtual and in-person learning. Will you approve anything that would lower the funding levels for schools that are choosing virtual, and also any message you have for teachers considering striking because of safety concerns?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (47:08)
Well, as the districts have been promulgating their plan, which they are all due today and we’ll have an opportunity to scrutinize them starting next week, they are supposed to be working with their teachers unions. These are subjects of collective bargaining, and they’ve got to uphold those agreements, and that’s really important. I’d also add that we are I think in the midst of conversation with the legislature about a few things that were not addressed in the executive order, and we’ve not finalized it. I would anticipate that we’ll be able to have some understanding over the next 24 hours. I believe the senate is planning to be in tomorrow to do their part, but the agreement’s not completed yet.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (47:53)
But with regard to funding, we need to put more resources into our education system. Period. Not to utilize this crisis to start to starve districts from funding if they make a choice based on what is in the best health and safety of their students. And so what we recognize is that in a normal summer there’s learning loss. There’s learning loss from the last day of school in June to the first day of school in September generally. That learning loss is much more pronounced for kids who are in higher poverty. This level of learning loss, having been out of school, although we’ve done our best to keep kids engaged from March until whenever it is that that in-person instruction resumes, is going to create a lot of challenges.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (48:41)
We’re going to need to get our kids, the kind of wraparound supports that they need to be successful. That is going to require more resources, not less, and that’s precisely why I’m hopeful that on the federal level, they get this fourth supplemental done. Because time is of the essence, and the most important things at risk are our public education, and safety, and health. Three, arguably, of the most important things that we do in the midst of the global pandemic that is still not under control, for which there is still not a national strategy, and for which there still isn’t I think just accurate information simply being disseminated from the federal government. That’s precisely why we need to do more on this front not less.
Speaker 5: (49:25)
Okay governor, we have time for one last question, and that will come from Andrew LaCombe with TV-6 in the UP.
Robert Gordon: (49:34)
Hi governor. I’m going to ask about masks in schools again, because we heard Dr. Khaldun say she’d encourage all superintendents to make sure their students are required to wear masks, but we know that at least one district in the UP that is not requiring it. Do you think you’d consider a change to require districts to wear masks?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (49:54)
At this juncture we’re not anticipating an additional order on that front. I would just say that we have required masks for a certain age and up. We strongly encourage masks for everyone though. I hope that parents, and students, and teachers, and administrators alike, are hearing this. We know that mask wearing is a cultural change that we have to make. It’s not easy to make it quickly, but the cost of this pandemic is necessitating that we do. The fact of the matter is that this pandemic has ravaged the United States worse than any other country.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: (50:38)
The fact of the matter is, we are dealing with the largest recession since the Great Depression. Economic calamity because we never as a country got our arms around this crisis. And we’re having a 911 loss of life every other day in the United States. Masking is a simple, it’s simple. It might be annoying. It might be for some people you can’t do it, but the vast majority of us can do it, and when we do it we create an opportunity for us to stay safe and keep our economy moving forward. That’s, I hope, important to every single one of us. Thank you everybody. Mask up.
Speaker 5: (51:25)
Thank you governor. Thank you everybody. If there are any followup questions, please feel free to follow up with our press team.