May 18, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Press Conference Transcript May 18
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Wednesday, May 18 press conference on COVID-19. She cleared some businesses in Northern Michigan to reopen on Friday, and slammed anti-lockdown protesters. Read the full transcript of her news briefing speech here.
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Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (00:18)
Good afternoon. Today is Monday, May 18th. I am joined today by, of course, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, our Chief Medical Executive for the state of Michigan. Jim Fitterling, the CEO of Dow. Traverse City Mayor, Jim Carruthers. Stacie Bytwork, the Chair of the Northern Michigan Alliance. And Justin Winslow, the President and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association. We have a lot on our agenda today, so I will get right to it.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (00:44)
Today, I have signed an executive order to further protect our workers as we begin to reengage sectors of our economy. I want to give my continued thanks to the Michigan Economic Recovery Council, which has done a lot of work to advise as we are taking these steps to reengage sectors of our economy. Because we continue to fight this virus, nobody in Michigan should feel unsafe when they go back to work and nobody should be worried about their family member or loved one while they’re at work. As we move forward, I’m going to continue to closely monitor the data and work with my partners in business and labor to ensure the safety of our workforce.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (01:25)
Under this executive order, businesses that resume in-person work must, among other things, develop a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan and submit that to the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity by June 1st. Businesses need to make these plans ready and available for their workers so they can review them and have confidence in their workplace safety. And they must provide COVID-19 training to workers that covers a number of things, but at a minimum covers the workplace infection control practices, the proper use of PPE, steps that workers must take to notify the business or operation of any symptoms of COVID-19 or a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, and so that employees know how to report unsafe working conditions. They must ensure that all workers have proper PPE and keep everyone on the premises at least six feet apart from each other to the maximum extent possible.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (02:28)
These are just a few protections that we have put in place under this order. Going to work is going to feel different for a little while. These are big changes and we’re all adapting to them, but they’re absolutely necessary for the continued protection of our families. And they’re crucial as we continue to face in sectors of our economy in regions across Michigan. To help ensure that this process runs smoothly, I’ve signed an executive directive calling for the appointment of a Director of COVID- 19 Worker Safety in the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. Each department and agency within state government that is responsible for enforcing workplace health and safety standards will monitor workplaces to ensure that they are in compliance with the rules that I just mentioned. Our departments will help ensure that businesses have all the information they need so that they can protect their employees. And they’ll work around the clock to ensure that everyone is following the rules.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (03:29)
These rules are not optional. They will be enforced. Businesses that begin operating again need to take these steps to protect their workers, their clients, and their families. Everyone returning to work deserves peace of mind that their employers are doing everything in their power to protect them. And we know that our employers want to get this right. And so we want to make sure that we continue this partnership to empower you to have the information and the best practices so we stay safe and we can continue to move forward as a state.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (04:01)
My team and I have been closely monitoring the data and we are confident that we can take another step forward today. We’re confident that in some regions of the state, they’ve just not been hit as hard with COVID-19 and they are in a better position to begin phasing in sectors of their economy and enter the improving phase of the MI Safe Start Plan. That would be phase four. So today, I signed an executive order that loosens some restrictions in MERC regions six and eight, also known as the Upper Peninsula and the greater Traverse City area. Starting this Friday, people in those regions, starting Friday at 12:01 AM to be exact, people in those regions can reopen retail businesses, restaurants, and bars with limited seating. So this is a new way of dining, but we’re going to be very careful and we’re going to engage slowly. Office work that cannot be done remotely. And I want to be very clear that these businesses have got to adhere to the worker safety requirements that I mentioned before.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (05:07)
The choice of whether these regions fully engage these sectors of their economy also depends on their local governments. If they want to take a more cautious course, they’re free to limit the operation of restaurants or bars within their jurisdiction, including restricting such establishments to outdoor seating. So the data shows that it’s safer than indoor seating to be outside, and we should take full advantage of springtime weather. And that’s what we’re hoping to do here.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (05:38)
Now, this is a big step and it’s right before the holiday weekend. We know Memorial Day weekend is coming up a week from now. And so I want to encourage everyone to stay smart and to stay safe, keep your wits about you. Let’s not all go rushing out and force a closure eventually. What we want to do is keep moving forward. And so everyone needs to be a part of this and to do your part. So if you’re in Northern Michigan or the Upper Peninsula and you want to go out to eat with your family, just make sure you do everything in your power to protect yourself from the virus. That means wearing the mask, unless you are about to take part in your meal. It means washing your hands and staying six feet away from others.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (06:23)
And if you don’t live in these regions, region six and region eight, please think long and hard before you take a trip into them. We’re still seeing positive cases of COVID-19 across the state of Michigan. We still have COVID-19 present in the vast majority of our counties. And we’re still losing family members and loved ones to this virus. So please be smart. Let’s take this step. The whole state’s watching to make sure we get this right. If we get this right, we will be able to take the next step, and the next. But it’s dependent on all of us doing our part. The data has shown in these regions of our state that we can phase more sectors into re-engagement of our economy. When it comes to new cases per million percent of positive tests and deaths, these regions are far below the statewide average. And as we continue to ramp up our testing, one of the most crucial things that we have in this fight against COVID-19, we’re also seeing evidence that it is safe to take this next step at this time. We are counting on regions six and eight to get it right. So we are removing barriers to testing in Michigan because it’s critical that we continue to ramp up our testing. Daily tests in the last seven days are officially over 15,000 tests per day, which is on average, we’re about 16.5 per day if you average out the week last week. That’s a dramatic improvement from where we were just one week ago.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (08:03)
In the past week, Michigan ranked number six in total daily tests and number seven in daily tests per million. That means in our nation. That’s our ranking. We’re doing well in this regard, but we want to keep doing better. Just a week ago, we were seven and fifteen, respectively. So that’s a big jump. In many locations, if you need a test, the test is free. You do not need insurance. You do not need to have a doctor you see regularly write you a prescription. Those with mild symptoms are eligible for a test. And those who leave home for work are eligible for a test. Be sure to contact the testing site ahead of time to make sure the location fits your individual needs and to schedule your appointment.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (08:50)
Michigan has more than 250 testing locations now. So go to michigan.gov/coronavirustest to find a drive thru pharmacy site that is near you. You don’t need to see the doctor in advance. You don’t have to pay anything. And I strongly encourage anyone who needs to, to go get a test. The more people that get tested, the more confidence we can have that we know where COVID-19 is present in Michigan. And the more likely we can contain it so we can continue to move forward. So please, go get a test if you fall into any of these categories.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (09:29)
To everyone who has been doing their part to flatten the curve, thank you. Thank you for doing your part. Please keep staying safer at home. If we keep doing what we have been and protecting ourselves and our families from this virus, we can begin thinking about re-engaging sectors in the lower parts of our state. We’re hopeful that we can announce even more re-engagement later this week ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. I will continue to remain flexible and I will continue to watch the data, to work alongside experts here in Michigan and across the country. And I will continue to do everything in my power to lower the chance of a second wave.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (10:09)
My number one priority, as always, is the health and safety of the people of our state. That’s why we’re expanding worker protections today. And that’s why I’ll continue working around the clock on behalf of the people and businesses of our state. Today you’ll hear leaders from business, labor, and local government on what steps they are taking to keep people safe, whether it’s employees coming back to work or it’s the people of Traverse City preparing for Memorial Day weekend, we will all get through this so long as we protect ourselves and one another. Remember, we’re all Michiganders first, and we’re going to get through this together. And with that, I’ll welcome Dr. Khaldun to the podium.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun: (10:54)
Thank you, Governor. So today we will announce 51,915 cases and 4,915 deaths due to COVID-19. Case and death trends continue to improve overall as a state. And importantly, people are recovering. As of Friday, May 15th, there were over 28,000 people who have recovered from COVID-19 across the state. Based on what we have seen in the upper part of the lower peninsula and the upper peninsula, we are able to move forward with the next phase of reopening in those areas. Both of those regions, as the Governor mentioned, have sustained a low incidence of cases per day, have seen a steady decrease in positivity rates for tests that have been completed, and they have a low average number of deaths each day when you compare them to the state average. We are continuing to monitor other areas of the state where case numbers are declining, but they are not quite ready to move to stage four. The Detroit Metro region continues to see improvements in the decline in cases, but they still have a relatively high rate-
Dr. Khaldun: (12:03)
… and the decline in cases, but they still have a relatively high rate at 27 cases per million people per day. This area has also seen an increase over the past week in the percent of tests that are positive. The Grand Rapids region has seen cases declining over the past two weeks, but is still at a high case rate of 51 cases per million people per day. We’re going to continue to monitor each region in this way, as we cautiously move towards reopening the economy. We’re also making great strides in increasing our testing capacity as the governor mentioned. As of last Friday, our seven day rolling average for tests was over 16,500 per day. That is a state record. We will continue to expand testing around the state, removing barriers to access and focusing on testing and vulnerable populations. And as we move slowly to reopen areas of this state, I still want to remind people that we continue to need to take important precautions.
Dr. Khaldun: (13:06)
This virus is still a threat, no matter what area of the state you live in. Please remain cautious. Wear a mask when you’re out in public. Stay home if you are sick or if you have been exposed to someone who has symptoms or has been diagnosed with COVID-19, maintain a six foot distance from others, do not gather in large groups and continue to wash your hands frequently. These are things that will remain incredibly important as we move to reopen the economy. May is also older Americans month. As we support and recognize the needs of older Americans. I like to especially urge those who are over the age of 60 to remain vigilant. Almost 40% of cases and 87% of deaths due to COVID-19 have been in people over the age of 60. This means that while COVID-19 can infect and kill people of all ages, it is especially dangerous for older adults.
Dr. Khaldun: (14:11)
It’s also more dangerous for people who have chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and weakened immune systems. I still caution people in these groups to not go out unless you absolutely have to and to remain vigilant. Michigan’s Aging and Adult Services Agency led by Dr. Alexis Travis has launched a number of special initiatives in response to the pandemic and partnership with local area agencies on aging. This includes working with the food bank council of Michigan, Gleaners Food Bank and the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation to distribute 10,000 quarantine boxes to home bound adults, age 60 and over throughout the state. We’ve also partnered with the USDA farmers to families, Food Box program, Van Eerden food service, and the Gracile brothers produce to provide home bound older Michiganders with fresh food and vegetable boxes every week. Anyone age 60 and over who is seeking support or more information about these programs may contact your local area agency on aging, or sign up for services at www.michigan.gov/aasa.
Dr. Khaldun: (15:26)
During this time, I also want to thank caregivers of older adults, both paid and unpaid. I have an elderly grandmother in Detroit and my family is very lucky to be able to have family members who helped to take care of her and manage her day to day needs. Caregivers make it possible for older adults, like my grandmother to remain healthy and safe in home settings and we remain grateful for the work that you do. We also know that many of our most vulnerable are in nursing homes and it’s important that we make sure our elderly residents are protected from COVID-19 in these settings. We continue to work to increase compliance with our reporting requirements. And as a Friday, at least 95% of facilities have reported at least once into our system. The number of COVID positive residents in nursing homes has fallen over the last week and currently stands at approximately 2,670 individuals. We expect with targeted testing efforts. That, that number will be increasing as we expect to find more cases.
Dr. Khaldun: (16:30)
This is important because testing will allow us to appropriately isolate residents and prevent the disease from spreading. This week, we also intend to make a number of changes with regard to reporting from these facilities, including aligning with new federal reporting requirements and expanding these requirements for adults foster care facilities, assisted living facilities and homes for the agent. I’m glad that we can take these measured steps forward with reopening the economy. We can move forward because of all the work Michiganders have done in remaining vigilant and following the governors stay home, stay safe orders. It has worked and thousands of lives have been saved. Let’s all continue to use caution so that we do not see a second wave of cases and deaths. Thank you.
Jim Fitterling: (17:33)
Thank you, Governor Whitmer for inviting me to speak today. I’m Jim Fitterling, Chairman and CEO of Dow and a member of the Governor’s Michigan Economic Recovery Council. First Governor, I want to thank you and Dr. Khaldun for your leadership for navigating the state through this unprecedented public health emergency. We understand that there are no easy answers during an emergency and we can appreciate the tough decisions that you have been with. There are no perfect answers. We have to do the best we can with the data at hand. And thank you for convening the Michigan Economic Recovery Council. Collaboration is more important than ever as we work to safely reopened. The business health, academic and labor leaders who make up the council have done tremendous work building best practices for getting folks back to work safely. Thank you to Jerry Anderson and Nancy Schlichting for their work and leading the MERC.
Jim Fitterling: (18:26)
And lastly, thank you to the members of team Dow who have been reporting to work and keeping our plants operating safely. Now as the largest chemical company in North Americ, in total we operate 109 manufacturing sites in 31 countries, including here in Michigan. Dow manufacturers a wide variety of chemicals and materials that go into virtually every type of manufactured good in the region and the world ranging from disinfectants and cleaners to food and medical packaging. Many of our products are essential to everyday life and fighting the virus. That is why Dow operations are considered essential, critical infrastructure in every region where we operate, including some of the country’s most significantly impacted by COVID-19. Given that designation, our production facilities and laboratories have continued to operate globally. Despite in many cases, difficult local conditions and we have done so safely. Here in Michigan, we have 5,000 employees. Close to 500 or 10% of our workforce have been reporting to work in person every day.
Jim Fitterling: (19:32)
We have had one case of COVID and that employee has recovered. Globally more than 14,000 of our 37,000 total employees are reporting to our sites. In total, globally, we have had 70 positive COVID-19 cases with 61 recovered. None of them to the best of our knowledge, contracted the virus while on the job at a Dow facility. From the outset, we implemented a series of strict safety procedures to protect against COVID-19. In addition to the rigorous safety practices that are already part of our daily operations, our enhanced safety procedures do work. As the COVID-19 pandemic enters a new phase, Dow developed a coordinated plan to safely guide our employees and contractors who have been working from home back to the workplace. Dow’s return to the workplace playbook was created from a set of guiding principles, corporate standards, best practices, and key learnings that form a comprehensive approach to returning to our workplaces in a safe, reliable, and thoughtful manner.
Jim Fitterling: (20:40)
The plan is based on key standards that can be adapted across all industries. For example, all Dow employees, contractors, and visitors must wear a facial covering while at Dow while in common areas, in any workspace where physical distancing guidelines of six feet can’t be met, or if a specific site or a facility requires one to wear a facial covering. Every person entering a Dow site must complete a health questionnaire and agree to a temperature screening prior to entry every time they enter a facility. We have put in place strong disinfecting and hygiene practices, especially in common areas. We follow the CDC recommendations on physical distancing. We provide consistent communication and training about safe work practices and virus transmission for employees prior to returning the workplace. All of this while maintaining our inclusive culture through all of our behaviors and actions. We know that an effective plan must be flexible and tailored for implementation at the regional and local level.
Jim Fitterling: (21:47)
A one size fits all approach is not the best way to develop a safe and practical way back to the workplace. Dow’s plan is multi-phase and risk-based and was developed by listening to internal and external experts and ensuring that we remain focused on science and data to drive decision making. We have incorporated the following measures into site and regional return to workplace plans. Physical distancing: meetings with large groups are to be avoided, food service will be grab and go, conference rooms, auditoriums and gathering places will only be used when physical distancing is possible. Alternative methods for shift changes and or alternative work schedules will be used to enhance physical distancing and manage gate traffic. Additionally, medical and health system capabilities and capacity for treatment testing and contact tracing are adequate to manage the increase in workforce. We’re also addressing personnel readiness for return to the workplace. Consideration for individuals that may be at elevated risk, addressing any questions and concerns prior to the return to work, providing flexibility in work arrangements to accommodate caregiving, at risk personnel, advising on consideration of risk to personnel using public transportation, traveling to and from the workplace.
Jim Fitterling: (23:17)
We have had travel restrictions in place since the onset of the pandemic and travel for any purpose will continue to be discouraged. Visitors to sites should continue to be limited only to those deemed business critical. Dow’s returned to the workplace playbook incorporates all the elements that I’ve mentioned and all of our best practices from around the world. We have been sharing it with governments and trade associations and other businesses, schools, and organizations in hopes that it can inform their safety practices. We’ve also made it available on dow.com for anyone who wants to download it. We’re proactively offering it to help other Michigan manufacturers and businesses as they prepare to return to work. And I’ll close by-
Jim Fitterling: (24:03)
… businesses as they prepare to return to work. And I’ll close by mentioning that a safe workplace requires active participation by all employees and contractors, and is based on trust between the employer and the employee. We depend on the Dow team to be transparent about any symptoms that they may be experiencing. There is no penalty or harm that comes to an employee who is sent home because of COVID-19 symptoms. They continue to be paid and they’re provided the resources needed to make a full recovery. We’re all in this together, and together we’re going to get through it. Thank you and stay safe.
Speaker 4: (24:53)
Good afternoon. I also would like to thank Governor Whitmer and Dr. Khaldun for their strong, measured, and fact-based response and leadership in during this crisis for the state of Michigan. We’re lucky to have you in leadership roles, and we’re proud to stand with you and stand behind you to support our state and all of our regions as we move forward. As has been reported, COVID-19 does not discriminate. It has reached all corners of the state of Michigan. Yes, our numbers are smaller up north, but our geographic area is much larger. Our medical and healthcare systems and our hospitals are fewer and have less bed space and the ability to help with this, even though they’ve done their parts. So we’re happy to have been part of the original state at home, stay safe order to get people to really realize we need to flatten this curve.
Speaker 4: (25:57)
And I think we’ve done so, as the numbers have shown. I receive calls pretty regularly about opening up Michigan, especially northern Michigan. Like the governor, the mission of Traverse City and many of the mayors up North is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. And that’s what we set out to do from day one, by following the leadership of our governor and all the professionals here at Lansing. It’s pained me this entire time to say, “No, please don’t come to Traverse City right now. We need to figure this out.” It’s not an easy job to answer phone calls from people who want to come back to their cottages or come to their second homes or have their parents come back from points south. But now, because we’ve done our part and we followed the orders and we followed the direction coming from the governor’s office, we’re doing our jobs. So now, with the new order we can hopefully open up and be successful, and be a model for the rest of the state.
Speaker 4: (27:07)
Cherry blossoms are just about to explode there. That’s our signature to welcome to Traverse City. Summer is here. Our welcome mat is out there. We want to be measured, as the governor has said, about how we invite people back and how we open our businesses. The economic challenges up North have been very, very frustrating. Driving down Front Street Traverse City, it’s horrible to see all the shops and restaurants and businesses closed. That’s not Traverse City. Traverse City is a place that relies on all the good people from across Michigan and the entire country to come and enjoy themselves for a wonderful vacation or spending time with family, enjoying the natural resources that we pride in that you see on pure Michigan and all the advertising. National Cherry Festival has been canceled. The Traverse City Film Festival has been canceled. Interlochen arts Academy has been closed.
Speaker 4: (28:06)
Most festivals, the beer and wine festivals, most of the regional festivals have been canceled. That pains myself, all the mayors up north. It’s a challenge for us. Those are our economic engines. Those are what drive the economy for us. And we really don’t like seeing that happen, but we need to make sure we protect the safety and welfare of our citizens. So we’ve made the move to cancel those. So thankfully, the governor is providing us with opportunities to slowly open up again, and we will be working diligently with our city staff, our County representatives, to do just that. Our city manager, our chief of police, our [GVA 00:28:51] CEO, all the staff in Traverse City have been working around the clock at trying to keep operations going, keep our city safe, keep things moving. Now we want to actively promote policy and guidance around how we can slowly open up our communities.
Speaker 4: (29:11)
Right now, we’ve been working on opening up our farmer’s markets and providing social distancing opportunities by allowing people to come down to market as long as they stand six feet apart. We’re in the process of considering closing down Front Street to automobile and truck traffic and make it a pedestrian zone for the entire summer so we can actually hopefully open up more of the restaurants and shops and allow them more space to have people come down to and not be on top of each other. We still must practice social distancing. We must wear our masks. We must be mindful of this virus, that it’s still spreading. But if we do our part as a community, as an estate, we could stop this. We’ve been a fine example. We keep going down the list. We’re not up in the top anymore, we’re slowly moving down. Our numbers are high, but we’re flattening that curve.
Speaker 4: (30:05)
So in Traverse City, we welcome you to come, but we want you to be safe. We still want you to be careful when you travel here. We’re encouraging the 14-day stay at home until you know you don’t have symptoms. We want to protect our frontline and essential workers, and a big shout out to our nurses and a big shout out to our grocery store clerks and all the people that are still at work supporting everyday people in Traverse City. It’s not easy, and we will do whatever we can to support these efforts to open up again, but slowly. But we need the help of our citizenry to wear their masks, to be socially distant, and not to just treat Traverse City as it’s summer vacation, everything’s normal, let’s have fun. We want you to come have fun, but we want you to be wise and safe, and protect yourselves as well as all of our citizens. I’ll end by saying today’s Traverse City’s 125th birthday. We were incorporated 125 years ago, and it’s been very frustrating for us in Traverse City to have to not be able to celebrate in the streets and enjoy this time. But we’re doing it virtually. We’ve had bingo, and we’ve had chalk drawings, and we’ve had virtual things going, and we’re going to keep on celebrating because that’s what Traverse City is. Traverse City is a place to come and enjoy, be with family, surround yourself in the natural resources that make Michigan so great, and to just be happy. And that’s what we want everybody to do. So please support the governor and her measures to help us continue to flatten the curve and continue to hopefully open up the entire state so we can all go back to normal. It will take some time, but I think we’re doing a pretty darn good job out of it here in the States.
Speaker 4: (31:54)
So please wear your masks. Be socially distant. Come enjoy Traverse City, come enjoy Petoskey, Charlevoix, Harbor Springs, Luddington, all the areas that we all love along the coast, but please be mindful that we’re small towns with limited abilities to take care of you if you should get sick. We will do our best, we’ll do our part, but everybody needs to be mindful. So do what’s right, and put on your mask, and come and enjoy yourselves. So thank you. And thank you again.
Stacie Bytwork: (32:35)
Good afternoon. Thank you, Governor. And thank you, Dr. Khaldun, for having me. Good afternoon. My name is Stacie Bytwork. I am the chair of the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance and the president of the Manistee area chamber of commerce. The Alliance is a coalition of chambers and economic development organizations all across the Northern Michigan lower peninsula and up to Marquette. On behalf of over 7,000 member businesses that we represent, we are thankful for the governor’s swift actions to slow the spread and for the cooperation of our rural Northern Michigan communities and companies for implementing safeguards to keep our residents healthy. The governor’s regional plan recognizes there is no one size fits all approach, and northern Michigan is ready to lead by example and open safely.
Stacie Bytwork: (33:19)
Our communities in region six and eight are committed to implementing clear guidelines for safe operating practices, including expanded health screening and testing, use of PPE, and employing modified social distancing practices and comprehensive cleaning procedures to avoid future spikes. Our businesses will take these protocols seriously. Their livelihood is on the line. We’re prepared to get back to work serving our communities, and we ask that our communities be patient with our businesses and their employees so that they can resume operation in the safest way possible. We are thankful for the opportunity to show that northern Michigan can reopen safely. Thank you.
Justin Winslow: (34:13)
Well, good afternoon. My name is Justin Winslow, President and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association. It’s a big day. It’s an important day for restaurants in Michigan. I want to first Thank governor Whitmer and her administration for their leadership and for the trust that she has placed in this industry to operate safely for their guests and for their employees. I want to thank Jim [Finderling 00:34:34] for the work done on the council. The guidance has provided a lot of the work necessary for our industry to start moving its way back, and for the creativity of Mayor Carruthers and the local chambers in the northern region that have given us the guidance and the support that this industry is going to need as we take that first critical step to reintegrating restaurants into the fabric of our daily lives.
Justin Winslow: (34:57)
And restaurateurs are creative. They’re smart, they’re definitely resilient, but they are also safe. Our reputation depends on it. Safety is what we do. It’s what we are certified to maintain. But like everyone else, we find ourselves in a new reality with new expectations and new regulations. Some of the new expectations will no doubt be daunting for this industry to meet. But what I have heard over and over again, almost by the hour from our membership, is, “Just give me a shot. Afforded me that opportunity to do what I do best, to serve people and to put a smile on their face, and I will meet or exceed any expectation.” So as we head into Memorial Day weekend, restaurants in the vast upper peninsula and in the northern lower peninsula will have that opportunity. And for those in our industry listening or watching right now, I implore you to set the example for the rest of us. Wear the masks. Distance your tables. Sanitize and then re-sanitize all of those surfaces. Conduct the requisite health screenings of your staff before every shift. There are a lot of restaurateurs-
Justin Winslow: (36:03)
… of your staff before every shift. There are a lot of restaurant tours due south of you hoping to reopen in their own right and their livelihood is tied to how well you execute in the coming days. If you need help, the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association is here for you. You can download our step-by-step guide for reopening your restaurant that follows the content in the governor’s executive orders and meets or exceeds best practices, and you can find it at mrla.org/open.
Justin Winslow: (36:28)
If you have questions, call us, we’ll walk you through it. That’s why we’re here. Again, I want to thank Governor Whitmer and her entire team for their support. And I look forward to getting back to the business of hospitality in Pure Michigan. Thank you.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (36:47)
Excellent. Well, thank you. I did not realize today was Traverse City’s 125th birthday. It’s fitting that their mayor is wearing a cheery mask today. So happy birthday to Traverse City. Happy to open it up for some questions.
Speaker 6: (37:02)
You mentioned that region six and eight will be partially reopening, but how does overnight lodging factor into that? Will campgrounds and rentals be opening up in those regions as well?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (37:16)
So at this juncture, this is the small step forward that we’re taking and we’ve articulated that today. We are not prepared to take additional steps, but we are poised to do that when we believe that the numbers have shown that taking this one hasn’t created another spike. And so at this juncture, no.
Speaker 6: (37:36)
And well childcare reopened in those regions as well for those workers who don’t have a place to send their kids when they’re going back to work?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (37:43)
Well, so we’ve permitted childcare for essential workers. So childcare to the extent that it is meeting the needs of workforces that are being reengaged is permitted, yes.
Speaker 6: (37:55)
So even somebody who’s a waiter or waitress in those regions could?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (37:58)
We want to make sure that people have that access and so we’ll clarify that in the coming days. This order doesn’t go into effect until 12:01 on Friday morning. And so there are additional questions that we will make sure that we’ve given guidance on between now and then.
Speaker 6: (38:12)
Speaker 7: (38:15)
Now in the past, you’ve been vague on the timeline for good reason, I guess. But then has this been, I guess, on pace to what was expected are we ahead of schedule, is Michigan doing better than you expected or maybe a little slower?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (38:28)
So aren’t you glad you’re here today?
Speaker 7: (38:29)
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (38:29)
This is all about the region you car. So I think that this shows that people of Michigan are doing their part and they’re taking this seriously. The fact that we haven’t seen a huge influx of COVID-19 in region six and eight shows that when we ask people not to go to second homes in the early days that people listened and they didn’t. We’ve been able to maintain and contain COVID-19 in these regions.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (38:54)
Now our big fear of course is that Memorial Day weekend, we know lots of people love to go North. It’s understandable. Everyone loves to go north, especially if you have the ability to and the weather’s starting to get warm, that’s a predictable. But we also know that it’s really going to be important that everyone continues to do their part there. I know that Mayor Carruthers has talked to the head of the hospital system up in Traverse City.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (39:18)
There’s reason for optimism here. A small spike could really could put that hospital system in dire straits pretty quickly. And that’s precisely why we are asking everyone to continue doing their part. Don’t descend on Traverse C from all regions of the state. If you are going north to, if you’re fortunate enough to have a place up north and you’re headed there, bring your groceries with you and try not to go out unnecessarily.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (39:48)
You can hit a local restaurant, but only it’s a small group of people that they’re serving, you’re able to maintain that distancing. And so it’s really important that everyone continues to do their part. We’re pleased that we’re at this stage at this point in time.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (40:02)
Honestly, wasn’t quite sure how to game it out exactly when we would see these numbers, but these numbers give us reason to have confidence we can take this action. We’re all watching region six and eight though. And as Justin said, we’re counting on them to get it right, so we can emulate that and we can all move forward in the next steps.
Speaker 8: (40:23)
Governor, you mentioned that these two regions will go into phase four. If I’m remember correctly, phase five, I think had in-person dining at bars and restaurants. Why did you decide to, I guess, kind of leapfrog that process? What makes you comfortable with bars and restaurants?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (40:39)
Five is considering all of the inside dining. This is a much more restrictive step and this is a step we feel like we can take in these particular regions because of the numbers that we’re seeing. By and large, this is an outdoor dining experience with some limitations, some inside, but this is not a wholesale re-engagement of indoor dining. This is a step forward. I think it’s a good step forward. We’re going to really work with the restaurants to make sure that they’ve got all the right protocols and the association’s been great to work with. They’ve been very helpful with the MERC process as well.
Speaker 6: (41:20)
You’ve said, step-by-step that you’re relying on data to make these decisions that you’re making. How does that square with your comments last week that there are numeric thresholds or a set of numbers that you can look at to reopen sectors of the economy?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (41:35)
It squares very well because we’re looking at the data, but we’re also asking the questions about context. And then I think that was the answer that you’re referring to. When the question was, can we see a specific number and know that it’s safe? No, we have to ask the questions. All right? So a 25 case spike in an area, if it is countywide, that’s concerning. That’s community spread. If it is in one facility and it can be contained, that’s a very different situation.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (42:01)
And so that’s why we shared this data with you so you can see what we’re looking at, but we’re also doing all of the work with the locals to ensure that we understand the context of what we’re seeing and that we have confidence in it. We still need to do more testing. We absolutely need to continue ramping up our testing numbers, particularly in region six.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (42:20)
We’ve done quite a bit of testing in region eight, but we want to do more testing in region six. And that’s why to the extent that there are people who live in region six who think that they should get tested, we encourage them to do that. Because that’s what gives us additional data and context, but you have to do both.
Speaker 6: (42:38)
Speaker 7: (42:41)
And then to go along with the data and the context, how much with other States that are reopening at different speeds, how much are you watching them and using kind of how it’s working in other States to make your plan moving forward on what we can do?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (42:55)
I think one of the challenges is of course that there is generally a two-week period of time between an action is taken and when you see what the result might be in terms of COVID-19 numbers. We are watching what other States are doing. We have to craft a plan that’s right for Michigan though. We’ve had a uniquely tough experience with COVID-19. I think we’re still at the fourth highest number of deaths in the country. We were number three for weeks and weeks on end.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (43:22)
We’re the 10th largest population and that tells you it’s hit us really hard. And that’s why we’ve got to have a Michigan-centric plan. We’re of course, taking in information from experts around the country. I am talking to my fellow governors across the country, as we’ve watched kind of what’s happened in other States. We know that having the confidence of the population is really important in that re-engagement and as well.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (43:46)
And that’s why a thorough data-driven process was really important and a rigorous effort to make sure that the phase in is absolutely informed by all of the data and the expertise in the individual sectors of our economy so that we’re getting it right.
Speaker 9: (44:05)
Governor, this will be the last question.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (44:07)
Speaker 10: (44:11)
Governor, the state got the revised budget numbers on Friday. Is it risky to count on the federal government to come forward with billions of dollars to balance the budget? And secondly, have you started proposing cuts to the legislator or do you expect them to counter propose and start the process with their own cuts?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (44:31)
Well, fortunately we saw the US House of Representatives take a step forward last week and I’m grateful for the leadership that has supported that, that wrote that and got it over the finish line in terms of the one chamber of the US Congress. It is my fervent hope that the United States Senate takes action and that the Trump administration embraces it.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (44:51)
Every state in the nation is confronting a budget crisis, every single one of us. This is not about politics. This is a fact of COVID-19 has ravaged our economies and every state in the nation is confronting this. This is why I’m working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to get Congress to complete this. We need flexibility and we need additional resources. The last thing we would want to do in the midst of a global pandemic is to cut healthcare, to cut public safety or to cut education.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (45:25)
These are the things that we’re going to really rely on to get us out of COVID-19. It would be an incredible shame if the people who stayed on the frontline to help everyone else stay home, paid the price for what’s happened with COVID-19. And so I am hopeful that the feds will take some action and I am hopeful that the Trump administration will support this.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (45:47)
And I’m also hopeful that anyone who gets to spend some time with the president on Thursday when he’s here in Michigan will ask for that same kind of support as well.
Speaker 9: (45:58)
Thank you, governor.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (45:59)
Nice try, David. Thank you.