May 11, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Press Conference Transcript May 11
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer held a Monday, May 11 press conference on COVID-19. Read the full transcript of her news briefing speech here.
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Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (00:00)
A lot of people have asked, “If no one in my social circle has been sick or had any symptoms, why can’t we get together and socialize in person if we’re all feeling well and none of us has been sick?” So the answer is this. Every one of us responds to this virus differently. You could be carrying COVID-19 and not even know it. In fact, a lot of people are completely asymptomatic while they have COVID-19, and that goes for everyone in your social circle. Just one person who’s carrying this could impact all the people around them, up to 40 people a day and in turn thousands in days.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (00:44)
The most important tool that we have to fight this virus is social distancing. Until we have a vaccine, until we can do more to keep people safe, social distancing is still the best tool that we have, and we’re all safer at home. So make use of Zoom or Microsoft Teams or whatever you have, use of FaceTime to see your friends, to keep socializing, stay connected and support one another, but please do it at home because you are safer at home.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (01:17)
Richard from Northern Michigan asks, “Why can’t we just allow regions with the lowest amount of cases to go without restrictions or stay home orders?” I appreciate the sentiment of the question and want to reiterate something that I shared with you during my last press conference. COVID-19 is still present in 79 out of 83 counties. It is still a real presence all across our state and accordingly it is still a threat. Like I said minutes ago, just one person carrying COVID-19 can infect tens and thousands in a matter of days, and that’s why it’s important that we still continue to observe the safer at home order right now so that we decrease the chance of a second wave.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (02:03)
Now the Michigan Economic Recovery Council and I have looked at ways that we could consider phasing things in terms of region. Two weeks ago, members of the MERC discussed the eight regions that they’ve divided our state into based on our natural labor sheds, which is where you work and live, that’s your labor shed, with an overlay of the geography of our healthcare systems. We’re looking at this epidemic to ensure that the density and trajectory is in the right path so that we can consider some perhaps regional differences. So there is a chance that some regions will re-engage at different paces than others, but at this juncture we’ve taken a few bold steps we have to measure, continue to build out our public health system, and then we’ll have a better understanding of if we can maybe make some decisions based on regional experiences with COVID-19 and an ability to combat it.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (03:03)
The number one question that our constituent services office has gotten is what updates do we have on the state unemployment system and do we have enough money in the UIA fund? So our latest numbers show that we have provided more than 1.1 million Michiganders, unemployed Michigan workers, with more than $4 billion of benefits. We are committed to working until every eligible worker in Michigan who applies for unemployment benefits gets them. Michigan remains near the top of states that have been impacted in terms of claims filed and percent of our workforce affected. Most of the remaining workers who have not received benefits will be eligible in the coming weeks once they complete the federal requirement to certify their claim. Michigan was one of the first states to begin the additional $600 federal payments and to allow self-employed workers to file.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (04:01)
We’ve extended our call center times. We’ve quintupled the number of customer facing staff so that we can assist with hundreds more in the pipeline. To ensure that everyone receives their benefits, claims are backdated and reflect the date on which the worker was laid off regardless of how much time has passed, so you will not be penalized for taking you a little while to get through. Now I know that some people have had long waits and despite this record number that we have helped, that’s cold comfort if you’re still trying to navigate the system, and it can be frustrating, and we will continue to work to improve, but I want everyone who to know if you are eligible, you’re going to get your benefits.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (04:46)
Now in terms of the UIA fund, Michigan is positioned in better shape than most states. In fact, with a poor 4.5, I’m sorry, 4.6 billion in the trust fund prior to this pandemic, we had the third highest trust fund balance in the nation, also third highest in terms of solvency. So for comparison, at this time during the great recession there was less than $40 million in that trust fund. So we’re in a much stronger position to help people. There are a lot of unknowns that will ultimately determine how we draw down the trust fund, how many people will have to file and for how long, and what additional federal assistance may be provided. As we begin to reopen our economy, more people will be going back to work and off of unemployment. So if necessary, we may need to borrow and we will do that if it’s necessary. We’ll borrow interest free from the federal government through the end of the year if it becomes necessary, but at this moment it is not because of the strength that we are in.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (05:57)
So another question, people have asked, “Do I have to report back to work if I’m too scared to do so? My work is recalling me back and I’m scared for my family and my health.” Well, this is a important question. I’ve signed an executive order stating that business cannot punish you if you say home because you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, if you’re experiencing symptoms or have come in contact with someone who has. We need to ensure that employees who are sick or have someone sick at home, stay at home. And if you’re one of those people that is going back to work, we need you to be scrupulous about best practices inside and outside of the workplace. At work, they should have protocols to keep you safe. When you’re not at work, you need to be scrupulous yourself about observing those protocols to keep yourself safe, so neither you nor your coworkers nor your family gets sick.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (06:53)
The order that I signed last week requires manufacturing facilities to send, potentially expose individuals home upon identification of a positive case in the facility and I know that Michiganders are eager to get back to work. I know our businesses are eager to start up again, and I can tell you I am eager for that as well, but it’s absolutely crucial that we all are smart, that we stay smart. If you think you’re experiencing symptoms, go home. Find your nearest test site at michigan.gov/coronavirustest and get tested. One worker carrying this virus can infect 40 and in turn thousands. I know you’ve heard me say that many times, but it’s worth repeating.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (07:41)
We’ve gotten questions on what we were doing to make sure prisoners are safe, and whether we’re releasing nonviolent offenders on parole. So the department of corrections has taken a number of measures to protect people serving time, to expand testing protocols and expedite paroles. Last week the parole board paroled 225 people. This week they have 273 projected paroles. Next week they project 253 and the week of May 25th they project 303. That would likely be the highest number of paroles in one week. We are also expanding our testing in prisons. Michigan has tested more prisoners than any state in the country.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (08:29)
I want to repeat that. Michigan has tested more prisoners than any state in the country. As of yesterday, we tested 12,208 people in our prisons, 2,152 were positive, 6,162 are negative and 3,894 are still pending. Last week, the Michigan National Guard helped us in the Upper Peninsula and we tested all six prisons. They tested 7,400 prisoners in five days. We’ve gotten back about half of the results so far and every test has come back negative. Today as we speak, they’re assisting us with testing in four different facilities. We’re doing both swab testing and antibody testing. We’re also taking measures to protect more people in our prisons from the spread of this virus. My administration has also have frequently asked questions document that people can find at michigan.gov/coronavirus, along with the most up to date data on COVID-19 in Michigan.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (09:34)
Here’s another question from Kayla in the Upper Peninsula. As you’re going to close down … “Oh, are you going to close down state parks and campgrounds as it gets warmer out?” Well, I know that as it gets warmer out, it’s tempting to head out to the park or get outside of your house and your neighborhood, and I ask that if you choose to do that, please scrupulously maintain that six foot apart rule. Our state parks are currently open for recreational activities. My team and I will continue to monitor daily the data and reports that are coming out of our state parks and I’ll continue to make decisions based on what’s best for overall health and safety in terms of what our trajectory looks like and what our capabilities are if we do have a COVID outbreak.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (10:24)
Today my chief operations officer, Trish Foster, will provide an update on our state’s testing capacity, because another frequently asked question is how much testing needs to be done around the state before we feel safe from COVID-19. So until there is a vaccine, social distancing is really the best and only tool that we have to prevent spread, but we know that that can’t be tolerated in perpetuity. Accordingly, widespread testing is critical, tracing and safety protocols are essential. Right now Michigan is increasing our testing capacity, our tracing capacity, and our support for people who are infected by the virus. In just two weeks, Michigan has gone from 4,000 tests a day to 14,000.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (11:16)
We’ve done this through partnerships with businesses like Rite Aid and CVS and Walgreens, with the help of our partners in business and the non profit sector and our partners in the federal government. Our goal is to test 450,000 Michiganders in the month of may. In a moment, Trish will talk about how we are planning to meet that goal. Tomorrow marks nine weeks since this virus first appeared in Michigan, nine weeks of canceled plans and holiday dinners over Zoom. Nine weeks inside with our families and roommates. This crisis has taken an unprecedented tool on families everywhere, but our hard work is truly paying off. Michigan is leading the country. We’ve taken aggressive action to fight this virus. Millions have done their part by staying safe at home, serving on the front lines, donating money or supplies to our healthcare workers and first responders.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (12:22)
Michigan, I wanted to show you this slide I had CNN on earlier and I saw this story of these women who went to go serenade their grandmother for mother’s day. I love that because it shows that we are connected even though we have to be apart. Also representative Cynthia Neeley has taken it upon herself to challenge her constituents to mask up, do your part by encouraging others to as well please, because your actions are working. Two weeks ago we reopened lawn care and landscaping. On Thursday, workers and construction and real estate went back to work, and today …
Speaker 2: (13:03)
… [inaudible 00:13:00] workers in construction and real estate went back to work and today our manufacturing facilities are beginning to phase in. I’ll continue to closely monitor the data and confer with experts in healthcare, epidemiology, business, labor, and education as we continue to reengage sectors of our economy. To those of you who are watching at home, please keep doing your part. We will get through this together. And with that, I’ll ask Dr. Khaldun to address you.
Dr. Khaldun: (13:40)
Thank you, governor. Today we announced 47,552 cases total of COVID-19 in Michigan and 4,584 total deaths. Importantly, the rate of increase in new cases is continuing to slow, meaning the rate of new infections has dropped. It’s dropped in fact, 25% in the past seven days statewide. This is very encouraging. However, we are still seeing many cases a day across the state and each new infection has potential to spread to many other people as the governor mentioned. So it’s important that the total number of new cases each day continues to go down. We also continue to ramp up testing. Since the start of COVID-19 in our state, we have tested over 290,000 people.
Dr. Khaldun: (14:31)
We are close to reaching our goal of 15,000 tests per day, and on Thursday, we had 14,221 tests, our highest number so far. The good news is that as our testing volume increases in communities, the percent positive, the percent of those tests that are positive continues to go down and we had a 7% positivity last Friday, we are definitely on the right trajectory. But what we also know, it’s not enough to increase the amount of testing alone. We also have to make sure that people who test positive are interviewed, that those close contacts are identified, and that there’s appropriate followup, including for medical treatment, isolation, and quarantine where appropriate.
Dr. Khaldun: (15:14)
This is called contact tracing, and it’s very important and it’s hard work. Local health departments today, right now have over 300 staff that are doing this contact tracing. At the same time, there are 100 state staff that are conducting these case investigations together with the local health departments. It will be ramping up further to create an army of contact tracers, both paid staff and volunteers. We already have plans to hire up to 1000 paid staff in partnership with local health departments and we can go even higher if we need to. Aggressive testing, contact tracing, and isolation will be the only way that we will get ahead of this disease.
Dr. Khaldun: (15:59)
We also know that COVID-19 affects people of all ages. The age range for COVID-19 deaths here in Michigan is all the way from age five to 107. So far, we’ve been fortunate in seeing relatively few numbers of cases of COVID-19 among children when you compare to adults. The most recent data we have here in Michigan shows that only about 2% of all cases in Michigan are in people age 18 and younger. Nevertheless, I’m still concerned about the recently reported cases of a rare multi-system inflammatory disease in children that may be associated with COVID-19. Many of you may have heard about this mysterious illness that was reported out of New York City, but we are also seeing signs that it may be present here in the state of Michigan.
Dr. Khaldun: (16:47)
Children may present with signs that are similar to what we know in medicine as Kawasaki disease. So they may have symptoms like fever, rash, red eyes, or red lips, and they may or may not test positive for COVID-19. On Friday, we issued a health alert network notice for all of our physicians in this state for them to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of this disease in children. We also want parents who think that their children or their child may have symptoms like this to seek out guidance from their medical provider. This is a situation that we will watch very closely here in Michigan, but it also really illustrates that we are still learning more about COVID-19 every day and we must remain vigilant as we seek to contain it.
Dr. Khaldun: (17:36)
While we know there is no approved treatment for COVID-19, the FDA has also granted an emergency use authorization for the experimental medication, Remdesivir, and Michigan was one of the states to receive a very small amount of this medication over the past weekend to distribute across the state. To be clear, while we do not know yet if this medication definitely works and we don’t yet know the full safety profile, we do want any potential treatments to be accessible to patients in Michigan as they battle this disease. This past Saturday, we received 40 cases of the medication and successfully shipped it out to a subset of hospitals across the state that have seen the largest burden of deaths from this disease and the sickest patients.
Dr. Khaldun: (18:25)
Unfortunately, we did not receive enough from the federal government to be able to send this medication to every hospital in the state and we hope that we will soon receive more. However, this is definitely one potential therapy that we are glad to make available to some patients here in Michigan. No one is immune to this disease. There’s no vaccine and there is no scientifically proven treatment. It can infect people of all ages and scientists and doctors are still learning about both the short and the longterm impacts of this disease. So this is very, very serious, and I know it’s hard. I have children and they’re getting pretty stir crazy. And I know many people are out of work. They’ve seen a decrease in pay, or they’re struggling trying to figure out how to continue educating their children.
Dr. Khaldun: (19:17)
But at the same time, people continue to die. Several people who have played a critical role in my life have died from this disease, medical professionals who helped to train me, people who I’ve had the honor of working alongside in public health clinics. And I know many other people who have lost loved ones and family members to this disease. And so we must stay the course. We can not ease up too soon. People will unnecessarily die. We must continue adhering to these social distancing measures and wearing masks while in public. Please don’t gather in groups. Continue doing things like washing your hands frequently with soap and water and not going out unless you absolutely must.
Dr. Khaldun: (20:03)
We’re making progress, but please do not become complacent. We must all do our part to prevent the spread of this disease and to save lives. And with that, I will turn it over to our chief operating officer, Tricia Foster.
Tricia Foster: (20:26)
Thank you, governor and Dr. Jay. As indicated, my name is Trish Foster and I have the privilege of serving as the state’s chief operating officer during this very difficult time. However, I’m excited to share some encouraging news about where we stand with our statewide testing. Michigan’s COVID-19 strategy has been operationalized just like our pursuit of PPE. When we were looking at the numbers a month or so ago, it was clear that our testing was not matching what our capacity could be. As you can see on this chart, for a while, we were only able to test 5,000 people per day.
Tricia Foster: (21:08)
Between the protocols that were implemented by Dr. Jay and her team, as well as the work of our leads team to make sure that we operationalized the pursuit of testing, we were able to match labs with supplies with people in order to implement a plan that would allow us to improve our goal significantly. Our original goal was to improve and meet our current testing capacity. Between commercial labs, hospitals, and our own state laboratory, we are able to test 15,000 people per day. Clearly 5,000 is not enough. So by mapping out supplies, people, strike teams and focusing on vulnerable populations, we have been able to move over the past month to almost 15,000 tests.
Tricia Foster: (22:08)
In addition, about two weeks ago, I was able to have a conversation with our friends and partners at the federal government and we implemented the plan because of them. We told them what we were going to do and how the supplies were going to be utilized. What we know just like with PPE, whether it’s reagents, whether it’s testing supplies, whether it’s swabs or whether it’s capacity, there’s a shortage. So what we did is we put the puzzle piece together, we matched up people with labs. We’ve got about 30 labs that we’re working with in the state of Michigan. Those 30 labs can manage anywhere from less than 50 tests per day, to more than 7,000 tests per day.
Tricia Foster: (22:53)
What we did is we targeted our vulnerable populations in addition to all of the symptomatic and asymptomatic first responders or critical workforce. You mentioned earlier, governor, about our prison testing and jail testing that commenced over a week ago in the UP, we have Title 32 units from the National Guard. They are three person medic units, and they are doing that testing for us. There’s about 25 teams currently testing prisons, jails, and longterm care facilities. In addition, veterans homes. What we’re also doing is we’ve got 35 teams in the lower peninsula. They’re following the same protocol, prisons, jails, longterm care facilities, and adult care facilities along with our veterans home, veterans locations, and the homeless population.
Tricia Foster: (23:44)
We’re also focusing on immigrant farm workers. What this means is you have to have a plan in order to succeed. We can’t do this without our friends in the private sector. We can’t do this without our partnership with the feds. I am pleased to say that the federal government indicated that they were going to be matching our need to go from 15,000 tests per day to 30,000 tests per day on a call on Friday. We got that first shipment in today of 83,000 swabs and 86,000 supplies. And that means that we have our first week’s supply to be able to achieve this goal and objective. What this really means as you can see, we had a pretty flat line until about the 18th of April. We implemented this process about two weeks ago, and you can see we’re nearing 15,000.
Tricia Foster: (24:37)
With these new supplies and deploying them accordingly and matching up our testing capacity, our next goal over the next 30 days as the governor indicated is 30,000 tests per day. I believe we will achieve our goal. In addition, I think it’s important to know where we stand in the overall spectrum. A few weeks ago, these numbers weren’t that good. They’re much better today. You see our population and you see how many daily tests we’re improving to, mind you, a month ago, it was 5,000. And what we really need to work on is our daily tests per million. What the experts say, Dr. Jay, the CDC, and everybody is that you need to be testing one to 2% of your population on a weekly basis.
Tricia Foster: (25:21)
Getting to 30,000 tests per day, by having a strategy and making sure that we go to the populations that need us most, we will achieve that goal and objective. As Dr. Jay indicated as well, the number of daily samples and positives now is flattening. It’s getting better. But look at our testing, it’s improving considerably. This is one key step in the overall process for us to be able to return to work slowly and methodically. And it is one key piece in the plan that we need to keep pushing on as we lead into more testing, isolation, and containment strategies overall. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (26:00)
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (26:09)
All right, with that I am happy to open it up for some questions.
Speaker 4: (26:21)
Governor Whitmer, armed militia members are now pledging to block police from enforcing the closure of the Owosso barbershop that is open in defiance of the stay at home owner. What are your thoughts on this and those doubting your authority to enforce these orders?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (26:37)
Thanks for the question. I first want to start by saying, I know how frustrating this can be and tough this can be for people across our state, people that are self-isolating, people that are doing all of the right things and contributed to this decline that we’ve seen. I also know a lot of people that could use a haircut, yours truly included as well as my husband, frankly.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (27:03)
But what matters most here is that we are on a trajectory where we have saved lives, where the most crucial thing is that business owners have customers who will come to them and employees that think … know it’s safe to show up to work. What we need to do is continue what we have done. It’s working And for people that want to voice their frustration, that’s fine. But I expect people to follow the law. These executive orders are not a suggestion. They’re not optional. They’re not helpful hints. This is an order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is a deadly virus, so that we can save lives. And I expect all Michiganders to comply with the law, unless and until a court decides to the contrary. That is my expectation.
Speaker 4: (28:05)
Following up on that though, governor, there are several businesses and people who are operating in clear violation of the stay at home order. At what point does the administration start enforcing some of these things or compelling local law enforcement to do so? There are several local law enforcement members who have said they don’t plan on enforcing this.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (28:27)
I’ve been very clear. These executive orders have the force of law, and we expect people to abide by them. Most businesses in the state have a license that is granted from the state and they’re putting themselves at risk by putting their customers and themselves at risk by opening prematurely. We know right now in Shiawassee County, we’ve got quite a few COVID-19 cases. We know that the hospital system is concerned, as are hospital systems across our state. We have a strategic re-engagement plan. The plans that we have executed have worked. We need to stay the course and do this in a smart way and everyone needs to continue doing their part. The devastation from a second wave could dwarf the hardship that we’ve already encountered. We’ve made these sacrifices. Let’s not make them in vain. Let’s everyone continue to do their part so that we can move onto the next phase and then the next phase, and get back to a new normal here in this state and get more people reengaged.
Speaker 5: (29:33)
Governor, we’ve seen that there have been over a dozen death threats facing you on social media, Facebook groups. What is your reaction to this?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (29:47)
Well, I’ll just say this. As I said, many times, I know that people are frustrated. And I am very disappointed that the Capitol Commission didn’t take action today to keep legislators safe. We’ve heard a lot of stories of legislators who are very fearful of going to work after scenes that we’ve seen play out here. I’m concerned about the safety of people who continue to demonstrate and congregate without wearing masks and without best practices. And I’m increasingly concerned about the violent nature of the extreme comments that are being made around these organizations and groups that are coming together. The violent, racist, extreme rhetoric that has already been connected to Thursday’s rally, and that was reported in the Metro Times today, I think is … concerning isn’t a strong enough word. And yet this could be avoided if Republican leadership in the legislature would step up and denounce that kind of activity. If there was anyone on the other side of the aisle that would do that. People can have any opinion they want, but to threaten someone else is beyond the pale and it is not right and it is contrary to the principles that have founded this great country of ours. And I would appreciate it if others would do their part to try to lower the heat. There are a lot of hot tempers right now, and I understand that. In America, we respect people’s right to speak out. Their freedom of speech is something that I respect, but they have a duty to do it in a way that doesn’t compromise others or threaten others or compromise our first responders. And so if you choose to demonstrate, I ask that you wear a mask. I ask that you stay six feet apart from others. I ask that you drive safely so that you don’t have to get pulled over or create an accident where first responders have to intervene. And I ask that people be respectful of their fellow Michiganders. And I ask that anyone with an office or a title or a platform uses it to help bring down the heat in our state. We’re making progress. We have a six phase re-engagement strategy. We’re at phase three. The numbers are improving. Let’s keep our wits about us and do the next right thing, which is continue to be safer at home and to be respectful as we have this debate.
Speaker 4: (32:34)
Mayor Duggan said today Detroiters could potentially expect to enter phase four within the next few weeks. Do you have a clearer timeline at this point as to when the state at large will be able to move into phase four?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (32:48)
Well, we are obviously looking at the data. We’re obviously sharing it with the city of Detroit as we are municipalities across Michigan. We know that COVID-19 generally has about a 14-day period that you … so when we engage a sector, you want to measure, you want to continue testing and see, are we going to get a spike? If we’re going to get a spike, can we contain it quickly enough so that it doesn’t have mass community spread? And so the cadence of a couple of weeks is about right, but we recognize there may be instances where we move a little faster. There may be instances where we have to move a little slower. The thing that you can’t plot on a calendar is human behavior. And that’s why it’s so important that everyone continues to do their part. That’s how we continue to turn this dial and take the next step into the next phase.
Speaker 6: (33:40)
Governor, some nursing homes in the state have been designated as COVID-19 regional care hubs, and there has been the placing of COVID positive patients in the nursing homes with negative patients that are supposed to be separated. This is a policy that New York has recently changed. So the question is, are you, like New York, willing to make changes to Michigan’s policy regarding this, and is the state planning to take additional steps to protect those residents?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (34:06)
So I may ask Dr. J to come back to the microphone and talk to you a little bit about this.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (34:15)
So you’re so you’re absolutely right. We are very concerned about our residents who are living in these congregate care facilities, including our nursing homes. We’re revving up, as Tricia Foster said, to be able to test people in nursing homes across the state, similar to like we’re doing in our prison population. It’s a good move, it was a good step to make these regional hubs. And I think as we move forward, we have to look at making sure we’re really implementing best practices, looking at other best practices across the state as well, making sure these nursing facilities and these regional hubs have enough PPE and that they’re really implementing the right protocols to keep nursing residents safe. We’ve already got our local health departments, these strike teams that are a combination of CDC staff, state staff, local department staff, that are providing technical assistance as well. But you’re absolutely right. We have to continue to be concerned about our most vulnerable in these nursing facilities.
Speaker 4: (35:08)
A couple of questions about the fields that have already been cleared to open or are anticipating reopening soon. Can you elaborate on the data and science that got the fields that have reopened the all clear? What metrics did they meet that got them the green light, and for those that are going to be reopening in the coming weeks, how does your administration plan to enforce new health measures that keep the social distancing and other measures that your administration suggested?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (35:41)
Yeah. So I’ll start with this. The data, if anyone has not had an opportunity to go look at the state website, it is … there’s an incredible amount of data on the site that we are updating regularly that has been used to drive the decisions that we’ve made. I had a couple of people from the Michigan Economic Recovery Council up here with me a couple of weeks ago, walked through how the assessment was done in terms of assessing risk inherent to different sectors of our economy. Obviously, there are a lot of questions that go into that assessment that we shared that day. And there was a bubble chart that I used last Thursday to show which parts of the risk assessment, certain sectors of our economy, fell into so that people could see what is likely next and how that six phases came about.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (36:38)
We also have promulgated best practices in each of these sectors that were driven by industry. It’s not the state coming in and saying, “We know your business better than you.” It’s actually business people that were at the table that helped develop those protocols to make their employees safer. The thing about this moment and re-engagement is that business is absolutely aligned with government in that we want, when people go back to work, to say safe at work, that we want employees to have confidence they’re going to be safe there and for customers to have confidence that they’ll be able to stay safe going in. And that’s why we’ve created this cadence monitoring, of course, all the things in terms of the testing, the number of positives, the number of beds that are filled in our hospitals, what our capabilities are to trace.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (37:31)
Those go into the public health side of the equation while the work of releasing the least risky to most risky sectors with protocols is in combination. And that’s how we’re proceeding. So we’ve walked through this on a number of these press conferences that there’s a lot of the data is online, so people can see how we are making decisions. And that one slide from last week that I know is all over social media I think from the six phases and the category … the things that we watched to see if we can move are all in one picture. And I think that’s really the best way for people to digest all the complicated work that went into this
Speaker 5: (38:12)
Governor, there have been concerns about the state budget projections and shortfalls. A U of M economics professor projects a $2.6 billion deficit for the current year and more than 3 billion over the next two years. Where will that money come from if the federal government chooses not to help?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (38:30)
Well, let’s hope that that’s not the case. We know that the feds are debating a fourth supplemental. We’ve already gotten some … quite a bit of money from the CARES Act, although it came with a lot of strings attached and we’re not able to make decisions on how it’s spent. And we’ve got a shortfall, it’s probably about a $3 billion shortfall. We’ll have a better idea of what that number is on Friday when the revenue estimating conference is convened. So once that happens, I think we’ll have to start …
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (39:03)
So once that happens, I think we’ll have to start doing the hard work with the legislature to make these budgets balance. We’ve not got a lot of time left in this fiscal year. So we’re going to have to make some tough decisions. Even if we get, for a supplemental that gives us the flexibility we want. And is the resources that we need, we’re still going to be in a position where we’re going to have to make a lot of tough decisions. And so we’re trying to mitigate that as much as possible by working with the congressional delegation, on both sides of the aisle, as well as my fellow governors across the country who are confronting much the same situation in each of their states, too.
Speaker 7: (39:44)
We have questions now.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (39:44)
Speaker 8: (39:47)
So a few of our readers have asked us why Michigan’s fatality rate for COVID-19 is higher than some comparable states. And I wondered if either you or the doctor could go into some of the factors that relate to Michigan’s fatality rate, and why we’re looking at some higher death numbers than perhaps other states.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (40:08)
I appreciate that question. I think it’s an important one and I’m glad so many of your readers are asking it too. I’ll just acknowledge this. And then I’m going to hand it over to Doctor [J 00:40:16] as she is the medical doctor on the stage. I’ll just say this, Michigan has the tenth largest population in the country, and we still have the third highest number of deaths. For a long time, we were the third highest number of positive cases. Our actions to stay home and stay safe, have made a difference, not because of the orders, but because of the people of our state, who’ve done the right thing. We’ve saved a lot of lives. We’ll never know precisely how many, but it’s been working. And really understanding why our death numbers are so high is something that is going to take a lot of study. I know that Doctor J has been doing a lot of the hard work of understanding the numbers and asking the questions. And I want to ask her to share as much as she can with you at this juncture.
Dr. Khaldun: (41:13)
So thank you for that question. So I think there’s probably a couple of things going on. One, our state epidemiology team is really doing an awesome job and we’ve talked to people across the country. So what we do is we actually take the death numbers from County records, but we also go back. So you may notice that about three times a week, we go back. And you see the numbers increase a little bit for those three days. And that’s because we’re actually going back and double checking, sometimes manually, death records so that if there are any that might’ve been missed, or maybe the doctor didn’t put down that they died because of COVID-19, but they still had a positive test in our system. We go back and track that. And so we actually have a very accurate count of the deaths in our state.
Dr. Khaldun: (41:55)
What I’ll also say that we know we’re seeing a lot of disparities, particularly among the African American community. So we know that about 40% of the deaths are in African Americans, and there are various reasons for that, including disparities, and poverty, and people having to come out for essential work. So I think that’s part of it as well, but to the governor’s point, we really have to dig into the data a lot more to be able to understand why we are seeing that difference.
Speaker 8: (42:22)
Dr. Khaldun: (42:22)
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (42:22)
Thank you, everybody.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (42:22)