Jun 30, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Press Conference Transcript June 30
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Tuesday, June 30 press conference. Whitmer unveiled a plan for schools to return to in-person learning this fall, and said she won’t move Michigan to Phase 5 of coronavirus reopening plan anytime soon. Read the full transcript of her news briefing speech here.
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Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (00:22)
Good afternoon. Today is Tuesday, June 30. I am pleased to be joined by of course Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, our chief medical executive. Tanya Allen, the president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation and chair of the Return to Learn Advisory Council, Paula Herbart, the president of the Michigan Education Association. Nicole Britten, the public health officer for Berrien County, [Dominic Gonzalez 00:00:47] a student at DPSCD, and Bob Shaner, the superintendent of Rochester Community Schools. Right now, Michigan is still in good shape in our fight against COVID-19. We’re in a stronger position than many other states that are seeing a major resurgence. A lot of states in the country are watching cases grow exponentially and worrying that theIr ICUs are filling up. We are not in that position but our numbers are not as strong today as they were a couple of weeks ago so we must keep up our guard.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (01:27)
Over the past week, we have seen some examples of what can happen when we drop our guard, when Michiganders don’t wear a mask or don’t practice social distancing. We’ve seen one crowded bar in East Lansing lead to over 100 cases of COVID-19 so far. The Detroit Free Press published a story over the weekend about someone who went to this establishment and then went home to a party in Grosse Pointe and spread the virus there. Now I want to be clear this is not unique to this establishment. It’s not unique to East Lansing, it’s not unique to Michigan. This is happening across the country, but we have to learn from this instance here in Michigan.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (02:12)
This graph shows a spike in cases amongst 20 to 29-year-olds. Just in the month of June you can see how dramatically COVID-19 has changed in terms of population in our state, and this map shows that after the spread of COVID-19 at Harpers, the Lansing area has become a high risk region. So we’ve got to be smart, we’ve got to keep our wits about us and we’ve got to continue to do what we know prevents the spread of COVID-19. Because just one person who lets their guard down can infect countless others. After three months of hard work and real sacrifice, to bend the curve and to protect families from this virus, we have seen preventable spread in areas across our state. We can’t let our guard down. We can and we must get this under control now.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (03:15)
As the weather improves and summer holidays approach, we cannot play fast and loose with the rules. I am hopeful that this weekend, Michiganders will choose to celebrate the Fourth of July safely with regard for their neighbors and their families. Take it easy this year. Avoid a crowded sandbar if you’re on the boat up north. Grill up some burgers and hot dogs with a small close group of family or friends. Have a beer with your neighbor, just do it safely. We can still celebrate but we have to be extra mindful this year. Because COVID-19 is still very present in the state of Michigan. The virus has not changed. What has changed is our knowledge and our ability to make decisions that prevent the spread of COVID-19 but it’s on every single one of us to do our part to protect one another, to protect the gains that we have made as a state, and to strengthen our ability to get our economy back on track.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (04:19)
I want to just take one second here and thank people like Mitt Romney and Vice President Pence and Dick Cheney, all of whom have been sporting masks. We got to take the politics out of mask wearing in this country and it starts here in Michigan. It is incumbent on every one of us to do what we can to prevent the spread. Despite the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 and what it’s had on our state budget, Republican legislative leaders, the Democratic legislative leaders and I have worked together on a bipartisan budget agreement that reflects our values as Michiganders. The agreement includes adjustments in the 2020 budget and allocation of our coronavirus relief fund dollars. The budget agreement includes modest reductions in current year funding but also provides CARES Act funding for Michigan’s schools and educators, universities and community colleges and local governments to address the significant COVID-19 costs they are facing. These commitments will help us ensure our kids and educators have much needed support heading into the next year and they’ll help us continue to keep communities safe.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (05:39)
This agreement proves that in times of crisis, we can come together and build a budget that reflects a bipartisan commitment to the things we value most as Michiganders. We worked together on a strong budget that supports our students, educators and families, and I know we all share a commitment to address the remaining shortfalls in next year’s budget. We still need help from the federal government to find the bipartisanship that we have found here in Michigan on the national level. If we’re going to address the significant budget shortfalls that COVID-19 has caused to our state and across this country, it’s crucial for Congress to pass the additional financial supports for states like Michigan so we can maintain essential services that our families and our small businesses rely on every day as we recover from this crisis.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (06:37)
Yesterday I also proposed several more policies to reform policing in Michigan. The four-pronged plan which was developed in partnership with community leaders, activists and law enforcement organizations will make significant reforms in policy, personnel, participation and community engagement and prevention and accountability to address racial disparities and how law enforcement is applied toward communities of color. I announced my administration’s support for legislation that would ban chokeholds and windpipe blockage, further limit the use of no-knock warrants, require duty to intervene policies, classify false racially motivated 911 calls as hate crimes, and require in-service training for all licensed law enforcement officers to maintain licensure. I also announced my support for MCOLES to audit law enforcement agencies to ensure they are accurately reporting violations of law or improper use of force and establish penalties for agencies who don’t comply with reporting. I directed the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Mental Health Diversion Council to make some recommendations on best practices and training for police departments when responding to situations involving persons with mental illness. Making real reforms will require that leaders in government, activists, leaders in law enforcement and communities work together.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (08:19)
I know we can make this happen. I will work with leaders everywhere who want to enact real change in our law enforcement agencies and I believe that together, we can make Michigan a leader. I am hopeful to work with leaders in law enforcement to provide incentive programs for law enforcement agencies to hire and retain officers to live where they work and require retention of disciplinary records resulting from violations of law or improper use of force and my administration will work to promote community engagement strategies first. Investing in programming in communities around the state that connect local police and community leaders to build relationships and invest in expanding existing community relationship programs to break down barriers between police and communities around our state. This is going to take a lot of work. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I am absolutely committed to getting this done and ensuring that every Michigander is treated with humanity and respect under the law.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (09:26)
This morning, I signed an executive order to rename the state-owned Lewis Cass Building in Downtown Lansing to now being called the Elliott-Larsen Building honoring the legislators who sponsored Michigan’s landmark civil rights act. They are bipartisan leaders, and this was about living our values. The legislation that was introduced by Representative Melvin Larsen, Republican, and Representative Daisy Elliott, Democrat, in 1976 was signed into law by Governor William Milliken in January of 1977. This change marked the first time in Michigan history that a state building is named after an African-American woman. The names we elevate express our values to the workers who enter those halls every day and to the public who those workers serve. No one can deny the important role that Lewis Cass played in Michigan in the nation’s early history, but the names we elevate express our values. Lewis Cass owned a slave, defended a system that would permit the expansion of slavery, and implemented a policy that forcibly removed Native communities from their tribal lands. Today’s order is a small but meaningful step forward. There’s so much work to do, and as I stand here on the last day of Pride Month in Michigan, I want to again call on the legislature to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect members of the LGBTQ+ community and make Michigan a state where more people want to move to for opportunity.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (11:15)
We’ve seen landmark change across this country. I hope that Michigan is ready to get on the right side of history. We need to continue working together to build a state where everyone is treated with respect no matter your sexual orientation or gender identity. So we are here today to talk about one of the most important components of MI Safe Start, the safe reopening of our schools for in-person instruction. As we consider how to safely bring students back and school staff back into school buildings, it is critical to acknowledge that the coronavirus is still very much alive in Michigan, so thanks to the collective efforts of local government, the private sector, and citizens of Michigan who have taken this seriously, and subscribe to the medical recommendations of our public health experts, Michigan is faring better than almost any other state on key public health indicators including positive rates, daily hospitalizations and ICU capacity. As we look towards September, we cannot let our guard down. We’ve got to remain vigilant. As Dr. Ashesh Shah has said numerous times recently and certainly Dr. Khaldun has been saying this for a long time, we have to stay vigilant. Wearing a mask today increases the odds we can resume in-person instruction in the fall and that’s what we’re preparing for, so keep please doing your part.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (12:47)
We have to look no further than the rising cases in states across the country for inspiration. Over the last month, the Return to School Advisory Council and the COVID-19 task force on education has worked tirelessly to present recommendations for a safe and equitable return to in-person instruction. The advisory council included teachers, parents, principals, superintendents, school board members, a special education expert, a school counselor, local public health officers, a pediatrician, a mental health expert and of course a student. Each member brought their expertise and genuine passion to provide recommendations to best serve Michigan’s children, our educators, school staff and all of their families. Their efforts proved to be a source of strength and inspiration in a time of uncertainty and we are truly grateful for their leadership and willingness to serve. Several members are here with me today so that they can share their perspective. Getting back to classroom learning and remaining in school buildings will require us to make changes to how school usually looks. We must all continue to put safety first and leverage data and science and public health evidence to inform decisions that we make, to serve each and every student in Michigan.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (14:09)
Today I sign an executive order requiring every school district to develop and adopt a plan based on various public health scenarios. As I shared a couple wees ago, if we are in Phase IV or V in-person instruction can resume, and today I released the MI Safe Schools Return to School roadmap, a comprehensive document to help districts create local plans for in-person learning in the fall. The roadmap outlines a number of safety protocols for schools to implement in each phase of the MI Safe Start plan. The safety protocols detail in the MI Safe Schools roadmap includes guidance on the use of PPE, good hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting, spacing in classrooms, screening for symptoms, athletics, and more. Every school district must develop three plans.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (15:03)
Every school district must develop three plans, a phase three plan that is fully remote, a phase four plan with a very strict and required protocols. And phase five plan with a more relaxed protocols and additional flexibility. The MI Safe Schools Roadmap will provide significant detail on what is required and what is strongly recommended in each phase. We cannot predict precisely how this virus will change in the weeks or months ahead, but we are going to do everything we can to increase the likelihood that we start and stay in a phase of the pandemic that enables in-person instruction. These requirements and recommendations will not always be easy to implement, but they’re absolutely necessary. These measures are designed to increase the likelihood of keeping Michigan schools open. We know that they will cost money and to support school planning and implementation efforts, I’m also announcing the $256 million in new funding for COVID-19 relief as part of the bipartisan budget agreement that we struck with the Senate majority leader, the speaker and the democratic leaders, that agreement that we announced yesterday.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (16:20)
These funds will be used to help schools buy PPE, to disinfect supplies, to hire additional staff, to focus on providing health and wellness services to our students and the purchase of technology to help students learn from home when they need to stay home to stay safe. Nothing is more important than keeping our kids and our educators and all of their families safe. We all want our kids to return to school safely in the fall. My daughter is going to start her senior year of high school this year. And I know firsthand that the last thing any parent wants is to cancel another round of graduations and milestones next spring. We all want to feel confident that we can go to work, go to the grocery store, eat at our favorite restaurant safely. In order to do that, we’ve all got to keep doing our part.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (17:10)
We must make decisions every day to protect our families, our friends, our neighbors, our businesses. This year has been hard on every one of us. We’re all eager for some semblance of normalcy, but while we’re still waiting for a vaccine, we must all work together to protect one another. We have to remember, this is ultimately a brief moment in our history. One that requires humanity and consideration for our neighbors. We must continue the hard work that we began three months ago and protect one another. We got to stay smart. Don’t go to packed crowded areas. If you have symptoms or work outside the home, get a COVID-19 test. And for pete’s sake, please wear a mask when you’re outside of your home. Masks can reduce the chance of spreading COVID by 70% or greater, if both people are wearing the mask, it’s not about comfort. It’s not about politics. It’s not about vanity.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (18:13)
It’s about doing what we need to do to get through this moment together. And keeping people safe. Wearing a mask is a sign of respect, respect for the people who are working at the places that you are going to. Respect for your neighbors and respect for the people you live with in your own household. It’s how we can reduce the chance of a second wave and keep reopening our economy safely and get our kids back in school. We can only contain this virus and keep Michigan open if everyone stays careful and masks up when you leave the house whether you feel sick or not. Stay smart and stay safe, COVID-19 is still a part of our reality. Let’s do what we know to be the right thing and get it under control and keep it there.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (19:01)
If we’re going to send our kids back to school safely in the fall, it’s on all of us to keep doing our part. And with that, I’m happy to hand it over to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.
Joneigh Khaldun: (19:15)
Thank you, Governor. So we now have 63,497 confirmed cases and 5,947 deaths due to COVID-19 here in the state of Michigan. As the Governor mentioned, after several weeks of declining cases and a plateau, we’re now seeing an increase in cases in every region of the state. Now these increases look different depending on the region. So the Lansing region has seen an increase in new cases to over 40 cases per million people per day, which is one of our cutoffs, but their percent of tests that are positive remains low at two point eight percent. The Grand Rapids region has also seen increasing numbers of cases over the past two weeks, and is now seeing over 20 new cases per million people per day. The percent of tests that are positive in the Grand Rapids area is also increasing and is currently at three point four percent. This is concerning. The Detroit, Kalamazoo, Saginaw and Jackson regions have seen increases in cases over the past week, but they all remain under 20 cases per million people per day.
Joneigh Khaldun: (20:25)
And these regions also have a low percent of tests that are positive below three percent. The Traverse City and Upper Peninsula regions have also had increased case counts in the past week, but they continue to overall have low cases and a low percentage of tests that are coming back positive. So there are several reasons for the increase in cases that we are seeing across the state. Some are associated with workplaces, such as farms, others are associated with individual parties, such as weddings or other celebrations. And we know of an outbreak, as the Governor mentioned with a bar in the East Lansing region. And we are seeing some cases still in nursing homes. There’s also evidence, however, that there is likely community spread going on in some areas of the state. And I really want to take the time to commend our local health departments for quickly identifying and responding to these outbreaks across the state.
Joneigh Khaldun: (21:21)
Hospital utilization, and the state has remained steady with about 80% of total inpatient beds across the state occupies. That includes both COVID patients and non-COVID patients. And we continue to monitor hospital bed capacity across the state. It’s also important to note, as the Governor mentioned, we’re also looking at a changing age distribution of cases in the state. So early in the outbreak, most new cases were occurring in people who are under the age of 50, but in June that changed. The rate of new cases is now higher for people under the age of 50. And in the past two weeks, the rate of new cases is highest in people ages 20 to 29. 23% of cases in the month of June were in this age group, 20 to 29. So this is very important. Everyone, including young people, need to understand that they are not immune to this disease.
Joneigh Khaldun: (22:17)
Not only can they spread it to others who are older, may have underlying medical conditions, or are likely to get very ill from the disease, but young people themselves can still get very sick from COVID-19 and they can even die from COVID- 19. So I implore everyone, please take this seriously, socially distance, wear a mask, avoid large crowds, take responsibility for your own health and the health of your community. This is not a joke. As we reengage more sectors of the economy, Michigan is also continuing its work to expand testing access and encouraging Michiganders to get tested. So over the past week, our average number of daily tests has risen to nearly 16,000 tests per day. We want anyone who needs a test to get tested. So if you feel sick, if someone close to you is sick or has symptoms, if you work outside the home, please get tested.
Joneigh Khaldun: (23:12)
We have also developed tools to make it easier to get a test. There are dozens of test sites in Michigan that offer testing at no cost, test people who don’t have symptoms, or they do not require a doctor’s order in order to get tested. So you can go to our website, www.michigan.gov/coronavirustest to easily identify one that fits your needs. You can also call our COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-535-6136 for help finding a test site. We have a new partnership with Michigan 211 and anyone who calls the hotline and presses one will be transferred to a 211 operator who can help find a testing site. And for certain sites, they can even help you schedule an appointment. So please do utilize these resources. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to get tested so that we are better able to contain the virus.
Joneigh Khaldun: (24:10)
So along with testing, as we’ve talked about a lot, contact tracing is another critical aspect of our state’s response to COVID-19. So in this process, state and local public health staff are reaching out to those who have tested positive for the virus and identifying who they have been in close contact with. We are seeing the average number of contacts per positive case rise. Earlier in May, the number of cases with contacts was about three on average. So today that number is four. As the economy more fully reopens, we expect confirmed cases to have larger numbers of contacts. So we need everyone to do their part to make sure that contact tracing works and that we can notify everyone who may have been exposed. So when you see a phone call from a state or local public health staff, please pick up the phone. We won’t ask for any social security numbers or banking information, but it’s really, really important that we get the names and information of people that you may have been in contact with if you tested positive.
Joneigh Khaldun: (25:13)
And we may also be calling to tell you that you came in close contact with someone who has the disease. So this is the bread and butter public health work that simply has to happen if we’re going to effectively contain COVID-19. So please do answer the phone. And if we give you guidance on needing to quarantine or self isolate, please do your part and follow the guidance. We all have a role to play in saving lives. I was honored to play a part in developing the MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap that the Governor announced today. As part of the Return to Learn Advisory Council, I myself have three school aged children, and I want nothing more than for them to be able to have in-person learning in the fall in the safest environment possible. But for them to be able to do that, as the Governor mentioned, we all have to do our part.
Joneigh Khaldun: (26:04)
We have to get this right. Just one person can spread the disease to many more. The disease can spread like wildfire in our communities. And what we saw happen in the spring, when our hospitals were at capacity and deaths were high, is something that none of us wants. But we still have time to avoid a surge in cases. So I implore everyone again to please take this seriously, wear your mask, socially distance, and be responsible. We still have a long road ahead of us in fighting COVID-19 and we must remain vigilant. And with that, I will turn it over to Tonya Allen.
Tonya Allen: (26:46)
Thank you, Dr. Khaldun and I’d like to thank the Governor. Good afternoon, my name is Tonya Allen. I serve as the president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, which awards grants to nonprofits and schools on behalf of children. And I have the privilege of serving the Governor and the citizens of the great state of Michigan by chairing the Michigan Return to School Advisory Council. The council represents a cross section of educators, public health experts, and citizens who have provided consultation to the Governor, so that she can reopen schools in the fall and do it safely. I’d like to thank the 25 members of the council, the dozens of volunteers serving on committees and the state representatives and senators who informed our work. They spent countless hours making sure that the recommendations were grounded in science, that we can preserve the safety inside of school buildings, and that students are properly attended to.
Tonya Allen: (27:45)
Science, safety and students became our mantra. And the Michigan Return to School Roadmap is rooted in our desire to return to face-to-face instruction, prevent any future COVID-19 outbreaks and to keep schools open and averting further disruption to our children’s education. It is our hope that when school restarts, we will be in phase five of the Michigan Safe Start Plan. The Return to School Roadmap is aligned with that plan and phase five is the least restrictive as you know. It offers highly recommended practices that if implemented by schools will protect students and educators. It recognizes that there is no one size fit all solution, and it retains flexibilities for local districts to manage according to their particular needs and conditions. Especially to address any inequities that exist for children who live in communities that have low tax basis or have special learning considerations. It should be everyone’s collective ambition to stay in phase five. We need to do everything we can to preserve these liberties while protecting the students and staff in our school buildings. If we do not, then the schools will have to adopt more restrictive measures in phase four.
Tonya Allen: (29:07)
This is not ideal for anyone nor is it good for our economy. The council understands the gravity of these recommendations and of the task set before us. We took and take our responsibility and assignment seriously. We understand the outsize impact of schools in our recovery, their importance to a semblance of normalcy and the complexity of the issues and the actors needed to effectively address the needs of students and staff, and honor public health recommendations. Therefore, we must all do our part to navigate these unchartered times. And there are five things that we can practically do. First, we need schools to abide by the Michigan Return to School Roadmap. It provides sensible mandates and best practice recommendations. The Roadmap provides clear guardrails as well as directions on how to-
Tonya Allen: (30:03)
…Clear guardrails, as well as directions on how to restart schools and keep students and educators safe. Second, we need to activate local leadership and ownership, by engaging school boards to adopt these plans that prepare for the realities of the pandemic and recognizes the need for local decision making and accountability based on the local context. Ann, I left my extra pages. Okay, thank you. Third, provide a supportive state response. That includes the proper financial resources and policy flexibility that allows schools to operate during the pandemic and does not weaken the foundation of our school districts post the pandemic. And we are grateful that this need was addressed yesterday in the supplemental budget announcement.
Tonya Allen: (30:55)
Fourth, we need to support educators, who have already heroically responded to emergency circumstances with schools closing. We need them to retain their spirit of collaboration and innovation. And we are asking more of educators in this moment, because the circumstances require it. We are asking them to educate our students, to help them recover from the disruption of last year, to pay attention to students and their mental health, and implement public health protocols.
Tonya Allen: (31:28)
And lastly, we need all Michiganders to unify and answer to a higher calling, expressly to support our children and youth. This means that, like the governor said many times, we all have to do our parts. We cannot afford to be divided or politicized. We need everyone to pitch in, and there are lots of ways for us to do it. For example, we, the community, can include PPE and thermometers in our school donations to support schools. And we, the parents, can commit to check our children’s temperatures daily and keep them home if they are symptomatic. And we, the citizens, can support our local school boards and administrators by abiding by their rules and offering grace in very difficult times. If we all pull together, our children and educators will be safe. If we all pull together, our schools and school children will thrive and be strong. If we all pull together, our state will be resilient with an eye towards the future. If we remove the if, and if we just pull together, both out of necessity and out of choice, we will return to school safely. And now I’m going to turn it over to Paula Herbart, president of Michigan Education Association.
Paula Herbart: (33:11)
Good afternoon. My name is Paula Herbart, and I’m the president of the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest school employee union. I appreciate being invited here today, and for being included in the council’s critical work. Throughout the pandemic, Governor Whitmer and her administration have actively engaged with frontline educators to get input about important decisions. I am pleased that that has continued through this council’s discussions, with several educators serving as important voices in this group. Just as we needed the expertise of public health officials during the crisis, the expertise of Michigan’s educators must be part of any successful return to in-person learning this fall. In developing the minimum guidelines being presented today, members of this council were united in two key beliefs. First, that we are dedicated to protecting the health and well being of Michigan students, families, and school employees. And second, that returning to in-person learning was important for our students academically, physically, and emotionally. We recognize that accomplishing both those things will not be easy and will require sacrifice. While today’s minimum steps provide a roadmap back to in-person learning, things are not quote returning to normal. It will not be perfect. There will be curves in the road ahead. But we owe our students and the educators who serve them the greatest measure of clarity and consistency we can manage in an unprecedented situation.
Paula Herbart: (35:03)
In May, MEA received 15,000 survey responses from all of its members, who said in large majorities that we need a clear, consistent, and transparent standard for how to operate amidst the pandemic, that we needed decisions about safety measures to be based on advice from health professionals. While many school districts will doubtlessly go beyond the minimum guidelines presented here today, they are an important starting point for all of us. From there, school districts must work together with their employees to make in-person learning a safe and productive reality. The collective expertise and creativity of educators have been a part of local decisions to meet student needs and help them reach their academic potential. Now it is no different.
Paula Herbart: (35:59)
At the state level, through the work of this council, a strong example was set that we can and must work together to make this happen. Now at the local level, we must build on that example. Together, teachers, school support staff, administrators, school boards, parents, and communities, we can implement plans to safely educate our students this fall and beyond. I know MEA and our members are committed to make that happen. Thank you for your time.
Nicki Britten: (36:32)
Hello. My name is Nicki Britten, and I am the health officer for the Berrien County Health Department. It has been an honor to represent Berrien County, as well as health officers across the state of Michigan, as part of the Return to Schools Advisory Council. I am grateful that the governor sought the viewpoints, experiences, and expertise of a wide range of educational and public health professional [inaudible 00:37:09] stakeholders throughout the development of the My Safe Schools Roadmap. It is only with diverse voices and divergent opinions at the table that we can make the best decisions for the collective health of our great state.
Nicki Britten: (37:21)
The Return to Schools Advisory Council prioritized what the scientific data tells us about both reducing COVID transmission risk and the holistic needs of our children for their social, emotional, and intellectual growth, which are typically met in school. This led the council to prioritize face-to-face instruction for the upcoming school year, while taking measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, protecting both staff and students. Many facets of potential mitigation strategies were thought through from all areas of impact, including health, financial, developmental, educational quality, feasibility, and community acceptance. While there are no simple solutions to the deeply complex challenges presented by COVID-19, the roadmap represents the best path forward for schools, given the reality that we face.
Nicki Britten: (38:14)
There is no one size fits all for how to conduct face-to-face education in this pandemic, and local communities will have the opportunity to tailor how they implement the roadmap to the special, specific needs of their students. Local health departments like mine will be working very closely with school leadership to implement the best plans for students, school staff, and broader communities. Health departments and schools already work together to respond to infectious diseases. This year, that work will be more important than ever, as we all prioritize keeping schools open for face-to-face instruction.
Nicki Britten: (38:51)
But it is not just the local health departments and schools that must work towards what is best for our students. We are dependent on the collective action of our communities to remain vigilant with the protective measures necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing, wearing a face covering, and excellent hand hygiene are keys to keeping transmission low, and low transmission levels will make it much easier to keep students in school, learning face-to-face alongside their peers. COVID-19 has repeatedly shown us that what happens to a few of us has an impact on all of us. And we need to remember that our health is made through collective action. Keep your distance. Wear your face covering. Wash your hands, for you, for our school staff, and for our students. Thank you.
Dominic Gonzalez: (39:56)
Hello. Good morning. My name is Dominic Gonzalez. I’m a student in Detroit Public Schools Community District, and as a student and having multiple conversations with many educators and students around me surrounding the importance of the returning to school in the upcoming months, I do believe it is a great sacrifice that students and teachers will make by practicing safe procedures and safe measures to ensure a safe environment for all students to learn.
Dominic Gonzalez: (40:24)
And as a student, we all know that the return to school won’t be to the normality we are used to, and certain things are adopted to ensure that we are able to learn in a great environment and be helped by an instructor in person, opposed to a screen, if a student had internet access, as many students don’t. The ability of in-person with the proper procedures provides a great environment and the capability of maintaining safe hygiene, safe distance, and also having a great education that we deserve. Thank you for your time.
Speaker 2: (41:04)
Thanks, Dominic. Great job.
Dr. Robert Shaner: (41:21)
Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Robert Shaner, superintendent for the Rochester Community School District. We will quite often talk about our compelling why, and I think Dominic just was a glaring example of why we do what we do. Well done, young man. As a father, former teacher, principal, police officer, and United States Marine, my commitment to ensuring that all children have access to a high quality public education extends beyond the walls of my district’s classrooms to include the entire state.
Dr. Robert Shaner: (41:48)
I’m truly honored to serve as a member of the governor’s Return to School Advisory Council, and the complexities associated with developing a plan that enables Michigan’s 1.5 million children to safely return to school in the fall has been one of the most challenging undertakings I’ve experienced in my 35 years of public service. From transportation, to food service, to classroom instruction, maintenance and custodial operations, to serving special populations, the high degree of complexity that the current environment presents is extensive. Developing a plan for in-person instruction requires our creativity, our patience, our understanding, our support, and our resolve. Public schools are the foundation of our democracy, pillars with our communities, beacons of hope, inspiration, and love for our children and our families. Now more than ever, the current learning environment has turned a spotlight on our schools and shown the greater population what we’ve always known, that our teachers, our counselors, our administrators, our support staff are our everyday heroes. Over the past few months, our teams have excelled in areas beyond their training and experience, and they have prepared them to do so. And we’re deeply grateful for the enduring love and commitment that our educational team have shown the children of our state.
Dr. Robert Shaner: (43:11)
I’d also like to thank Governor Whitmer and her team, along with our legislature, under the leadership of Senator Shirkey and Speaker Chatfield, for their bipartisan commitment to ensure school districts had the financial support to meet the challenges associated with returning our students to school in the fall. You know, a trusted mentor of mine once told me to, “Always keep the main thing the main thing.” Public education, education in the state of Michigan, is about our children. As we look to the future, the plans and processes will continue and evolve, but our focus, our priority, remains on ensuring the safety and well being of our students, staff, and families. Thank you, Governor Whitmer, for your commitment to keeping all Michiganders safe. Thank you.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (43:59)
Wonderful. Well, thank you all. I am so grateful for your leadership. We had over 1500 people apply to be on this council, and we couldn’t put every phenomenal thought leader in our seat on it, but we certainly, I think, have seen an example of the kind of caliber people that were a part of this. So thank you so much for your leadership, and Tanya, I wanted to start clapping when you were done. That was great.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (44:34)
So with that, I’d like to open it up, answer a few questions. I know we don’t have a ton of time, but go ahead. [inaudible 00:44:39], I told you before we were done last time, I’d call on you first this time.
Governor, the face mask requirement seems like it’s going to be the toughest part of this plan, to get every 6th through 12th grader to wear a mask throughout the day. Is the state aid going to help pay for masks? How do you see this playing out, trying to organize that in every single school across the state?
… organize that in every single school across the state?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (45:04)
Well I appreciate the question and you’ll have to tell me where you got your mask, at some point, Chad. But I know that the council had a lot of deliberation around this. Talking with our public health experts. Talking about what it’s going to take to get increased compliance. This is a culture change that we’re going through and it’s not just happening here in Michigan, it’s happening around the world. We are learning and we’ve come to understand how absolutely essential face coverings are for keeping the spread of COVID down.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (45:34)
We know as kids come from home, and congregate in school, and then go back home it’s going to be really important that children, of a certain age, we create an expectation that they can. There will be some who can’t, we recognize that. But the expectation is that in phase 4, which is inherently riskier phase, that facial coverings are worn by staff at all times, except for meals; facial coverings are worn pre-K to 12 students, staff, and bus drivers during transportation, when they’ve congregated; facial coverings are worn in hallways and common areas by pre-K to 12 students in the building, so as they’re transitioning; and that they are worn all day in classrooms by staff and students 6th to 12th grade.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (46:19)
As we get into phase 5 these are still things that we will strongly recommend but they won’t be required. It’ll be up to the school district to adopt protocols. We’ve given them some more flexibility in phase 5 because it’s inherently less risky, but we recognize this is a challenge. It’s also an opportunity for us to create a culture change that is necessary in this moment and maybe for the long-term. There are reports of other potential diseases that could create pandemics, so this is an opportunity for us to learn, for us to grow. We know that there are kids this young, and younger, who are wearing masks in other parts of the world and so it’s on us adults, and leaders, and people they look up to, to model the behavior, to reinforce the behavior, and to encourage practicing this behavior before we get back into the classroom.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (47:13)
And I didn’t know if anyone wants anything to add anything? You’re good? Okay.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (47:17)
Given that the cases are starting to creep back up is there going to be any going backwards on some of the restrictions, including mask requirements?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (47:17)
Yeah, so I am not announcing any changes today, but we are constantly looking at the data. I had said, when Michigan was that green beacon in a sea of red across the country, that my hope was that we would be into phase 5 by the Fourth of July. That’s not going to happen. So I just think we need to take that off the table right now. The numbers that we’re seeing are increasing across the state. Does it mean that we have to rethink, and reanalyze, and perhaps take a more conservative approach? Maybe, but I’m not announcing that today. We are conferring with our … Obviously with Dr. Khaldun, DHHS, The University of Michigan: School of Public Health. And I would anticipate being able to give you more clarity on what our next steps are in the next 24 to 48 hours.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (48:22)
Speaker 3: (48:23)
What is the cost per student in the different phases? And what’s the shortfall that you still need in assistance, compared to what is being put towards it right now?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (48:33)
That’s a great question. I don’t have a specific answer for you because, of course, it depends in the district what the cost associated is going to be and what phase that they are in. What I can tell you is that we have allocated $256 million in this most recent supplemental, that we agreed on bipartisan, to enhance the ability for districts to meet the needs of their students. I anticipate that there will be continuing need on that front, and that’s why I remain hopeful, and I believe we’re likely to see a fourth supplemental come out of Washington D.C. They are on break until after the Fourth but it is my great hope that we, as a bipartisan group here in Michigan, can bring our voices in support of getting that done. Getting it to the president’s desk and hopeful that the president signs it. There have been indication that’s likely, but we know that there are going to be ongoing needs.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (49:26)
We also know we have learned an incredible amount of COVID-19 in the last three months. Three months from know we could have additional knowledge that would create the need to enhance what we know to be best practices today. And so I think being nimble in this moment, being smart, and being very clear with each step we take why we’re taking it, and what it’s going to take to stay safe is going to remain important until we get to that vaccine moment and that’s a long ways off.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (49:58)
I hear that you haven’t talked one-on-one with the Senate majority leader in weeks. Can you explain why that is?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (50:08)
No. I mean we’ve had a lot of conversations. We’ve talked as a group, as a quadrant but-
But one-on-one you haven’t.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (50:14)
He’s not called me and I’ve not not returned a phone call, so I … I’m always happy to get on the phone. I have put phone calls in and they’ve not always been returned. I don’t know what’s going on there, but I’m always happy to have a conversation with the Senate majority leader, the Senate minority leader, whomever it is. I think it’s … We’ve made great ground this week. Our staffs … And I will give high compliments to the legislative staff as well as the state budget director, and the SBO, and Jen Flood from my team, they’ve worked really hard. The leaders in appropriations as well. And so we’ve been making a lot of progress, so I’m not quite sure what … If there’s a criticism there or not but-
Oh no, just a comment.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (50:56)
I just wanted to see what was going on here-
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (50:59)
How often do we talk? I mean [crosstalk 00:51:01] I … How often do we talk?
Yeah because I hear you … The relationship’s frosty. I mean is that a good way to put it?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (51:07)
Not on my part. I think he’s a great guy. I’d love to talk to him even more.
Speaker 4: (51:10)
[crosstalk 00:51:10] We’ll take a couple more.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (51:11)
Okay yeah? Yeah?
… how are you planning to accomplish the social distancing requirements in classrooms, school buses? And maybe sort of related to youth, decided that athletics can proceed as long it’s phase 4 and up? Can you address the social distancing piece and the athletics?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (51:29)
Sure. So we’ll talk about sports first. So the MI Safe Schools Roadmap outlines protocols for athletics in different phases of the MI Safe Start Plan. We thought it was important to attach different expectations based on what the phase the region is in. So for example in phase 4 students, teachers, and staff have to use proper hygiene techniques before and after every practice, event, or other gathering. Every participant needs to confirm that they’re healthy and without any symptoms prior to the event. All equipment needs to be disinfected before and after use. Spectators are allowed to take part, provided that facial coverings are used and that they observe six feet of social distancing at all times. There are additional things but that’s an example.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (52:19)
The Michigan High School Athletic Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations are continuing to develop guidance for how sports can be played safely. And so we’re calling on schools to follow that guidance. And I’m also calling on the Michigan High School Athletic Association to consider postponing fall sports that have the impossibility of social distancing as a part of them, consider moving those to the spring and running some of the more individualized sports like track and field, or tennis, or golf to the fall. And I anticipate a decision coming from them somewhere around July 20th to 25th, is what they’ve indicated. MHSAA is a private organization that regulates high school and our school sports, and I think this is an idea that I hope they really consider.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (53:17)
I think it’s important that we have the ability to give our kids some semblance of normalcy. I recognize how important a lot of athletics are to kids’ future as well and we want to make sure that we proceed safely.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (53:33)
Zach you asked a second part of the question, what was it again?
Class size and school buses with social distancing [inaudible 00:53:39]?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (53:40)
Yeah. So I’m going to ask Tonya Allen to talk a little bit about the conversation that was had at the council level, so that you can benefit from the thought process.
Tonya Allen: (53:55)
Thank you Governor. So the council looked at multiple measures that would actually mitigate the transmission of the disease and we decided that of all of the mitigation strategies the most powerful one was a mask. And second, we had to pay attention to what are the constraints of our school districts?
Tonya Allen: (54:19)
As you can imagine there are constraints in classrooms and there are constraints in public areas inside of those facilities, and so we wanted to make sure that we recommend that schools use a six foot distance but it is not mandated. But what is mandated in phase 4 is a mask. The mask is the most important way that we can prevent the transmission of the disease.
Tonya Allen: (54:45)
And then the second thing I would add to that is that we are really focused on making sure that schools use cohorting as a model, keeping kids together in the same spaces so that we know that we are actually preventing them from having exposure in other parts of the building or with other students. And as well, if there was ever a breakout we could track that as a way to make sure that the school community is safe.
Tonya Allen: (55:11)
So that’s how we’ve looked at social distancing. It’s highly recommended but it is not mandated.
Speaker 4: (55:18)
Great. We’ll take two more.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (55:21)
Great. [inaudible 00:55:21].
Speaker 5: (55:23)
Governor you said your not making any changes today, as far as moving any regions backwards. We’re seeing some of the regions increase in cases so what would need to happen for you to move those regions back?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (55:34)
I think obviously, as we’ve talked about this, we’re always looking at the number of tests performed, the rate of positivity, where our hospitalizations are. We’re doing the public health overlay of what is the context. You see the Lansing region heating up by virtue of Harper’s, what happened at the establishment. The Ingham County Department of Public Health has done an amazing job doing the tracing. I think it’s one of the things that as governor to see these dedicated public servants on the local level who are doing incredible work, this is how we keep from having uncontrolled community spread, is this tracing. And that’s why, as Dr. J says, “If the public health department’s calling you, answer the phone because they’re calling to tell you you may have been exposed and you’ve got to go get a test.”
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (56:26)
But because of this we want to get a little bit more data. We want to have another modeling call this evening, and I’ll be making some decisions then and in the next day or two as we go into the holiday weekend. But we just wanted to reinforce, today, for people to see COVID-19 is spreading. That our numbers are up all across the state of Michigan. And while they’re much better compared to the rest of the country, and in large swaths of the rest of the country, it’s still concerning. And so if we see a sustained spike or … That’s precisely what would take us back to a phase 3. It’s not something I’m announcing. It’s not necessarily a conversation that we’re having right now. But I’ve always said we’re going to stay nimble. This is a dial. If we’re safe we’ll dial it up, if we see risk we’re going to dial it back, and that’s just how it’s going to be.
Speaker 6: (57:21)
I believe I saw a study from the U of M that said that there’s up to 1/3 of parents who may not be sending their kids back to school in the fall. A hit like that, what would that have on this plan? I’ve got to believe it’s a major involvement drop.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (57:32)
So this is a study I think that is reflective of parents’ questions about what does school even look like. Legitimately parents are concerned. I’m concerned. I’ve got a child that’s supposed to be off to college in the fall and one that’s entering her last year of school. I think once parents have the opportunity to weigh in, and as Tonya Allen said, it’s incumbent on parents to weigh in with their school boards to make sure that they’re familiar with the plan, that they help inform the plan. There are decisions that are made at the local level and so I think when parents see that they will have greater confidence in the plan, and how it’s going to keep their children safe.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (58:11)
But, of course, to the extent that there are parents who choose not to send their kids it will have impacts on both the learning needs of the child as well as the district. And that’s something that we will navigate as we get closer. But I think right now this plan has just come out and parents have a lot of questions, and it’s understandable, and justifiable, and I think when they see how much work and data has gone into this we’ll see a greater confidence in sending kids to school.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (58:40)
That study also was parents in three states. And I think it’s indicative of the work and how important it is we get this right.
Speaker 4: (58:49)
All right, thank you Governor.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (58:51)
[crosstalk 00:58:51] Yeah. Okay. Thanks everybody. Have a safe Fourth of July. Please continue to mask up and just stay safe. Thanks everybody.