May 21, 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Press Conference Transcript May 21
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Thursday, May 21 press conference on COVID-19. She said all retailers are allowed to open by appointment only, and gatherings of 10 or less are now allowed. Read the full transcript of her news briefing speech here.
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Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (02:39)
Good morning. Today is Thursday, May 21st. I am joined by a number of people today, but Dr. J is not by my side as usual. She had another commitment that she had to attend to, but I am still accompanied a medical professional, Dr. Bobby Mukkamala from the Michigan State Medical Society. Doug North, who’s not a doctor, but is the President of North Brothers Ford. Ralph Shaheen, the President of Shaheen Chevrolet and Shaheen Cadillac. And Patty Roberts, the owner of Once Upon a Child.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (03:17)
I’ll begin today’s remarks by giving you an update on the emergency situation in Midland County. Over the past 48 hours, I’ve been working closely with Midland County elected officials, the local emergency operation center, the Michigan National Guard, the Michigan state police, the DNR and Eagle departments, and the federal government to ensure that Midland County families who have been impacted by the flooding have the support that they need.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (03:47)
I want to start by thanking our first responders who did heroic work in the late hours in the midst of a global pandemic to get people out and to keep them safe. 10,000 people were evacuated. And it is truly a testament to the people of the area, but also the first responders. I want to thank people on the ground who have been helping one another. When I toured the shelter yesterday, it was incredible to see the spirit of the community and the volunteering and the attitude that they’re all in this together. We truly are. And thank you for inspiring me in these challenging days. And I want to thank our urban search and rescue teams. They’ve been working incredibly hard to make sure that we are keeping people out of harm’s way.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (04:35)
Last night, I sent a letter to President Trump requesting a federal emergency declaration to ensure that we have the support we need to protect Midland area residents. I’m hopeful that as he is coming to our state today, I think it would be great if he signed that emergency declaration while he’s here in Michigan today. And that is my fervent hope. I’ve traveled to see the impacted areas yesterday and to survey the damage. And I can tell you, I’ve used this phrase many times over the last 10 weeks, but this is unlike anything we’ve seen before. The damage is truly devastating to see how high the water levels are, to see roofs barely visible in parts of Midland, and to see a lake that’s been drained in another part. It’s truly remarkable how much damage we have sustained. But I think the most remarkable thing that I saw yesterday was people that were stepping up to help one another and take care of one another.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (05:31)
If you know someone who lives in the impacted area, please reach out. Please make sure they’re safe. Someone shared a story with me yesterday that there was a family that had recently moved into the area and didn’t know people around. Their home was in the flood zone. And another person said, “I have a place that I’m not using up north. Maybe they could use that.” It’s generosity like this in these times of great need that truly inspires everyone else around, and me included. So if you know someone who has been impacted, please reach out.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (06:09)
We’re all Michiganders and it’s more important than ever that we remember that first and foremost, and that we take care of one another, because this is truly a crisis in the middle of a crisis. If you are one of the residents in the impacted area, especially if you’re in a shelter, please take precautions to protect yourself and continue to wear masks, stay six feet apart, wash your hands. We don’t want the spread of COVID-19 to grow, especially in a region where we’ve had to move people around so much. So ask that you continue to take care of yourselves and seek the help that you need. There’s a lot available.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (06:48)
Yesterday, DTMB released Michigan’s April unemployment numbers. And to say they’re high is an understatement. This virus has devastated families across our state and put a lot of hardworking Michiganders out of work. I will continue to work around the clock to ensure that everyone who qualifies for unemployment benefits receives them. But this isn’t just a problem here in Michigan. Families across our country need help. We’re counting on the federal government to work together to provide additional flexibility for states like Michigan and states all across the country to continue being able to support essential services like healthcare and education and police and fire, public safety so we can all get through this together.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (07:40)
On Monday, I announced that the UP and the Traverse City regions may open retail businesses, restaurants with limited capacity and strict observation of best practices, and office work that can’t be done remotely. These regions stand apart from the rest of the state in terms of COVID-19 health indicators. They show the lowest cases per capita by a wide margin. They have extremely low deaths per capita, low and declining cases of COVID-19, low and declining need for hospital case loads, and deaths per day of four or fewer. As I make future determinations about other regions in the state, these are the types of data points that my team and I are looking at. And as Dr. J said the other day, context, as well. There are a lot of different assessments that go into determining the level of risk and how safely we can continue to move forward.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (08:41)
Today, I signed a number of executive orders that will phase in additional sectors of our economy. The data has shown that all regions of Michigan are ready for us to take this small step forward. We’re doing this incrementally, as I’ve said on multiple occasions. This is like a dial we’re turning, not a switch that we just flip. Today’s actions include a repeal of the rule-
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (09:03)
These actions include a repeal of the rule requiring non essential medical and dental services to be temporarily delayed. We are repealing that. The statewide reopening of auto showrooms will be permitted by appointment only, allowing retail statewide, but on appointment only basis provided that the store is limited to 10 customers at any one time. The congregation of people inside is what’s so dangerous, and that’s why appointment only gives us the ability to start to reengage the sector of our economy. And also all of you pet owners, the return of veterinarian services. If your dogs are shaggy like my little boy, Kevin, I know that that’s welcome news to some of you.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (09:48)
The orders also allow gatherings of 10 people or less, as long as people continue to practice social distancing. Wear your mask. These new provisions are effective immediately. As with previous announcements, businesses that reopen must adhere to safe, strict measures to protect employees, customers, clients, and patients. So this is another positive step forward in the re-engagement. We’ve taken significant steps forward to reengage our Academy safely and responsibly over the past few weeks. Now, we’re going to need to take some time to ensure that these new measures are working. We know that COVID-19 takes about two weeks to really see the impact of changes in our behavior. And that’s why we’re counting on everyone to keep doing your part.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (10:42)
We want to continue turning this dial, but we are going to stay tethered to the data and the epidemiology to know when it is safe to do that. So please, as you are re-engaging in some of these activities, be smart, continue to do your part. We can’t drop our guard and run the risk of a second wave. So this also means we will have another short term temporary extension of the safer at home order will likely be necessary, and you’ll hear more about that in the coming days. What we are announcing today is good news, and the most important thing right now is to listen to the experts and follow the medical science. This will not look like business as usual, though it will start to look a little more normal. Employees will have to wear personal protection equipment and maintain social distancing to the best of their abilities. We all know Memorial Day is approaching fast, and I want to remind everyone to be safe. You can take the boat out, you can have a beer and grill some burgers, or have a water balloon fight with your children, but please remember to stay safe. This virus is still present in Michigan. So when you’re celebrating, do it wisely. I’ll have more to say in the coming days about what Michiganders can do to celebrate Memorial Day weekend, safely.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (12:01)
All of us know the importance of getting back to work and getting the economy moving again. We’ve already loosened some restrictions on construction, manufacturing, and lawn care. What we don’t want to do is simply drop all of our guard. What we don’t want to do is to just simply re-engage as though nothing’s changed. Life has changed, and it’s important that we change along with it. So we can safely get back to some normalcy.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (12:32)
The real heroes of this crisis are our medical workers, our first responders, the sanitation workers, our daycare providers, our energy workers, those who are keeping our utilities on and running, our grocery store workers. There’s no shortage of people that are continuing to step up. Later today, I’ll go over to a school locally and help distribute food. Our educators are working nonstop. We owe it to all of them to do our part, to keep them safe and to keep our families safe. So mask up Michigan, keep your guard up. I hope that you have a safe holiday weekend. And with that, I just ask that you remember to be smart and remember that you’re safer at home. With that, I’d like to ask Dr. Mukkamala to come and join me and speak with units. Thank you.
Dr. Mukkamala: (13:31)
Governor, thank you for having me here today, and thank you for your service to Michigan during these unprecedented times. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to be here on behalf of Michigan’s Physician Community, because to put it plainly, we would like to get back to taking care of our patients and catching up on a lot of work that has been put on hold. For many of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought life as we know it to a standstill, and Michigan’s healthcare community has been in a unique position during this time.
Dr. Mukkamala: (14:02)
Many of my colleagues throughout the State have been on the front lines of treating patients with COVID-19. For them, the hours have been long and exhausting with great risk to their own health and safety, yet they rose to meet these needs of very sick patients. Many of my other physician colleagues however, like much of our State, have been staying at home, trying to take care of their patients with telemedicine, using technology like FaceTime, Zoom, and the good old fashioned telephone, talking to patients on a screen, doing their best to make accurate diagnoses without the benefit of a physical exam, postponing procedures, and worrying about their patients, as well as the future of their practices.
Dr. Mukkamala: (14:48)
Physicians, nurses, dentists, and others throughout our healthcare system have answered the call in helping the sickest of the sick. Now with this announcement that allows us to resume taking care of our patients in ways that are much more effective at healing them, we are ready to get Michigan healthy and well again. The physician patient relationship is a crucial one, it is built on openness, trust and care. And right now many people are rightly worried about COVID-19 and how it may affect them. They are also worried about their safety in getting routine care. To those in Michigan needing medical care, my message is clear, call your doctor. We are ready to see you. And with the Governor’s announcement today, we are able to safely welcome you to our offices, to answer your questions and provide the care that you need.
Dr. Mukkamala: (15:43)
COVID-19 will be with us for a while. We and all businesses must remain vigilant and follow the guidelines outlined by the Governor and our public health officials. By following these guidelines, we can get back to taking care of our patients and get Michigan back to work in a way that is safe. Governor, physicians and nurses have stood with you, and Michigan residents, fighting COVID-19. We remain at your side as we enter this next phase, this very important phase of patient care. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (16:30)
Thank you Governor Whitmer for your leadership during this crisis, and thank you for advancing the process of getting Michigan back to work. We are really excited to open up our showrooms for appointments next Tuesday, and start selling more vehicles again. It sure feels good to share that news. People in Detroit and throughout Michigan love their cars and trucks, and we are here for them whenever their vehicle needs service or replacement. Car manufacturing and car sales drive our State economy, and Michigan automobile dealers are honored to be involved in the early stages of moving our economy forward.
Speaker 2: (17:09)
In difficult times, normal activities of life are often viewed in a new light. Things we used to do every day and take for granted become really exciting, like dining at your favorite restaurant or dropping by your local hardware store, or for many of us, opening up our doors to customers again takes on a whole new meaning. Speaking as an owner of a Ford dealership in Westland for the past 33 years, this experience makes me appreciate all we have built together with our employees and our customers, a great deal more. As we move forward and reopen our showrooms for sales appointments, we fully understand the responsibility we have to the health and safety of our employees and our customers. We will go above and beyond all recommended safety protocols. We also understand.
Speaker 2: (18:02)
… Mandated safety protocols. We also understand how we operate and behave will impact our residents of Michigan, as well as influence other businesses seeking to reopen in the near future. Lastly, we’ll look forward to updating you all soon on our plan for the Great Detroit Auto Show in June of 2021. Believe me, our dealers and the residents of Michigan will all be ready. Thank you very much.
Speaker 4: (18:40)
Thank you, Governor Whitmer for allowing me to participate in today’s state update. I appreciate your leadership during these challenging times and the work you’ve done to protect Michigan residents throughout the state. We look forward to continuing to work toward a safe reopening of our state.
Speaker 4: (18:59)
The transportation and automotive industry have been closely tied to Michigan’s economy for more than a hundred years. Even in times of crisis, the automotive industry has played a crucial role in keeping our state mobilized. We thank you for acknowledging Michigan’s transportation sector, as essential for Michigan residents at this crucial time. Since the pandemic began workers in the dealerships’ parts, service and repair facilities have been designated as part of the essential workforce. We’ve been able to provide products and transportation for healthcare and emergency workers. We’ve also been able to provide transportation for the residents of the state who need food and medicine and other necessities.
Speaker 4: (19:51)
I’d like to take a moment to recognize the dealership, frontline workers, the service writers, the technicians, the facilities maintenance personnel, the team members who have implemented new cleaning procedures for vehicles and repair and service, loaner vehicles for customers and the staff who have guided customers through these new processes. You have stepped up, adapted to some unique circumstances requiring heightened awareness and made these procedures work safely. Your dedication has been part of the process that has enabled us to move to the next step. We look forward to offering the same level of services to customers who are invited to come back in person to our showrooms. We have the processes in place. We have the inventory to offer, and we’re excited to reopen our showrooms for you.
Speaker 4: (20:45)
Again, thank you, governor Whitmer for your leadership and this opportunity you and your team have put us in a position where we can now feel comfortable and safely and carefully get back to work. Thank you.
Patty Roberts: (21:10)
Good morning. And thank you, Governor Whitmer for inviting me here today. My name is Patty Roberts and I am a small business owner of a retail store here in Lansing, Michigan, Once Upon a Child. As a small business owner, we have certainly experienced challenges over the past nine weeks, but we are very excited to open our doors back up to interact with our customers again in person. The health and safety of our employees and patrons are number one priority. We will be requiring masks, social distancing, and occupancy limits. We are proud to be part of Governor Whitmer’s steps to re-engaging Michigan. Thank you.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (21:57)
Thank you. I appreciate all of you being here and I appreciate your taking every effort to keep your employees safe and your customers safe. I know that that’s paramount for all of us, so we are excited. And for those of you who question how excited I am about moving forward? I got to correct myself already. I said that all of these things take effect immediately. I want to make sure that I’m clear and that I correct that statement. 10 or less, gatherings of 10 or less does take effect immediately. Auto the auto showrooms by appointment and retail by appointment begins May 26th and medical and dental and veterinarian services began May 29th.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (22:36)
I just wanted to clear that up because it’s important that I recognize when I’ve made a misstep and I share that with you, but also so that our employers, our businesses can take the time they need in order to ensure that their places of business are going to be safe for their customers and their employees alike. We all want to get this right. We are excited about taking this next step. That’s the timeline. So with that, let’s open it up for some questions.
Governor, you mentioned some form of extension of the existing state home order would likely be necessary. Does that mean it could still be awhile before bars and restaurants outside of northern Michigan, nail and hair salons, gyms, and other businesses that were not included in your list today could reopen?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (23:29)
Things that were not included in the list today or not included in the list today. What we know is that coronavirus takes about two weeks incubation period of time. Between when you take an action and know what the result of that action is, generally it’s a two week timeframe. We have taken a lot of steps in the last few weeks, the re-engagement of construction, manufacturing, the re-engagement of retail by appointment, the re engagement of medical. We’re taking a lot of steps. We’ve got to take a pause and see what it means in terms of what happens with COVID-19 numbers and the potential spread of COVID-19.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (24:07)
What we know is that this virus is still very present in the vast majority of our state. We are asking people to be really smart as we take these steps so we don’t have to take a step backwards. We can keep moving forward, but to know when the next step forward is we’re going to continue to watch the data, monitor hospitalization rate, monitor our testing capacity and positive tests that are coming in and stay very close to our local public health departments so that we’ve got a real handle on what COVID-19 looks like as we determine next steps.
Speaker 5: (24:43)
Governor, a follow up on Lauren’s question. What was the thinking behind allowing medical and dental services, some retail, but not including bars and restaurants in that group?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (24:59)
Yeah. As we assessed risk inherent with different sectors of our economy, and you saw the six feet, six step phase-in plan, you know that there are certain activities that are riskier. Now, when you talk about the healthcare of people, whether it’s optometry appointments or it is dentistry appointments, or how about… What are a couple of other examples, [Dr. McLemore 00:07:21]?
Dr. McLemore: (25:21)
Kids that are stopping breathing because they got big tonsils. I see it all day long.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (25:24)
Yeah. Kids with big tonsils, right, so not an immediate emergency, but something that’s important and that can impact your health if you go too long without getting it addressed. We’ve built up our stores of PPE. We’ve got health professionals who are trained in these types of best practices. We know that putting these things off too long comes with an additional health consequence and that’s why we want it to recognize that this is a move that we can safely make now. Now we are working very closely with the MSMS and our doctors. We’re working with the Dental Association. We want to make sure that we get this right, but with the additional PPE and the time to implement strategies in our offices, our healthcare offices, we believe that this is a safe step to take and a necessary step because we don’t want people putting off some of these more routine in a regular atmosphere, events that need to be seen.
Governor, you spoke with president Trump yesterday about the flooding situation in the Midland area. Can you elaborate a little bit on what you discussed, whether anything else came up and could you say whether you would accompany the president if he does decide to tour of the scene in Midland?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (26:44)
Yes. So I had reached out to the White House yesterday morning. We had tried to get a call schedule. Then it came in late yesterday afternoon. It was a brief call, but we did talk about what was happening in Midland. He asked a few questions about if there had been casualties, asked about the extent of the damage-
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (27:02)
Asked about the extent of the damage. I confirmed that FEMA had been on hand. The regional partner in FEMA, James Joseph, has been someone who we’ve gotten to know very well over the last 10 weeks. And so they’ve been really helpful. And he said the federal government will do whatever they can to help us. So I sent the letter last night. It’s my hope that when he comes to Michigan today, he’ll sign it. I think that that would be a great thing. And he did say “If I get an opportunity to go to Midland, would you consider joining me?” I said, “Of course I would.”
Speaker 6: (27:35)
Are you aware of any kind of tentative schedule for that Midland trip?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (27:43)
Speaker 6: (27:43)
Since we’re talking about Midland, we know that shelters have been created. What other unique steps are you creating to deal with the simultaneous flood crisis and health crisis?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (27:59)
Well, I appreciate the question because I want to take a moment to just really acknowledge the incredible leadership at the local level. You know, across our state, we’ve got local operation, emergency operation centers, and I’ve been so impressed by the kind of work that they’ve done, the way that the community has responded. It really was something to behold. And if it wasn’t in the midst of COVID-19, I would invite everyone to come in to Midland and talk to people. I mean, it’s really remarkable the community spirit and the way that people have reached out to help one another. It was very moving. And it was interesting today. I got a note from someone in Midland that was just generally supportive, and I just really was very moved by it.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (28:46)
So what we know is that, of course, COVID-19 is still very present. And that’s why the evacuation of 10,000 people in the evening hours was something that was really important, that they had a plan to do it and to do it well. They’ve been running all of their exercises, of course. No one anticipated we’d be in the midst of a global pandemic if and when something like this happened. But they rose to the occasion, and I think that they’ve done it well.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (29:12)
Going forward, decisions are going to be driven by the local leadership. That’s how we best operate in these emergency operations that are mother nature initiated and confined to one region of our state. And that’s how we’ll continue to operate in this regard.
Governor, the infrastructure commission former Governor Rick Snyder created in 2016, called first spending 225 million over 20 years to shore up and start removing some of these troubled dams in Michigan. With the current situation, is it time to revisit that recommendation and start to put money into this issue?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (29:55)
Well, Lauren, I’ve been running, I ran on and I’ve been introducing solution after solution to try to fix infrastructure in Michigan. I ran on fixing the damn roads, but we all know that it wasn’t just roads. It was dams and roads. The fact of the matter is we have underinvested over the period of decades in this state. And when you have 500 year events happening, hundred year events happening with more frequency, we know that this under-investment is going to come with a very big cost if we don’t take this seriously.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (30:26)
I know that the 45 cent gas tax was not embraced with a lot of enthusiasm. But the fact of the matter is we know that we’ve got hundreds of dams, we’ve got thousands of bridges. By the way, a few bridges were wiped out when the dam failed. We’ve got roads that are filled with potholes. And this is what I’ve been trying to fix.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (30:51)
I would love to have some cooperation and partnership from the legislature and the federal government, frankly, to reinvest in infrastructure. But we need to be very clear. This is a privately-owned dam. We can talk about the merits of whether or not private companies should own critical infrastructure. I don’t think that they should, but that’s what we’re dealing with here. And we need to make sure that we’ve got the help, that we can rebuild these critical pieces of our infrastructure.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (31:21)
Ask anyone who lives on Wixom Lake, what they’re looking out at now. It is drained. Their life is changed. Obviously, we’re first and foremost focused on the people who had to deal with floods coming into their homes, but we all pay when infrastructure fails. And that’s why we’ve all got to be a part of making sure that that doesn’t happen.
Speaker 6: (31:41)
Governor, I’m going to play a reporter’s trick and cram two questions into one.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (31:45)
Okay. Well, thanks for being so obvious about it. Thank you.
Speaker 6: (31:48)
Well, it’s pretty obvious. So you’re facing a budget deficit. How has the twin crises COVID and the Midland Dams affected your plans to deal with that deficit, and what conversations have you had with the Republican leadership in the legislature about the budget and those plans?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (32:10)
Well, one of the conversations I had with the Republican legislative leaders on Tuesday with the whole quadrant on the phone, was that if and when either of the leaders in the legislature is going to be spending time with the President while he’s here in town to reaffirm the need for that fourth supplemental. It’s really important. I know that Senator Shirkey has made some comments that he believes that we should not make any cuts to the school aid fund in the current fiscal year. I agree. I’m hopeful that he will avail himself of the opportunity to impress upon the President, how critical this fourth supplemental is. And speaker Chatfield indicated that he would do that as well. And I’m hopeful that they do.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (32:55)
I’ve got an ongoing conversation with Fred Upton. Obviously he’s not in the United States Senate where the next vote takes place, but he is a part of some of the conversations. I think that that’s important. I’ve been talking regularly with Senator Stabenow and Peters, as well as the rest of our congressional delegation, Debbie Dingell. And maybe I should name everyone because I don’t want anyone to be unhappy, but the fact of the matter is I’m talking to the whole delegation. Each of them understands the precarious position we’re in.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (33:24)
And let’s be clear, but for the flood, Michigan’s not alone in what we’re confronting. This is a problem in every state in the nation. And that’s why you’ve got governors on both sides of the aisle calling on the White House and calling on the US Senate to get this fourth supplemental done. We need additional resources and we need flexibility. And if that wasn’t acute prior to the last 72 hours, I think it’s even more front and center for us now.
Speaker 7: (33:52)
Last question, Governor.
Governor, the dam in question had been deemed unsafe by regulatory bodies for 13 years. Can you talk a little bit about why the state DEQ and then Eagle didn’t act immediately to make the Eatonville Dam safe once it came under the state’s regulatory authority?
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (34:13)
So first and foremost, let me acknowledge a couple of things. This is a privately-owned dam. This is a dam that we are in the midst of going through this investigation. We have to get the facts. And every one of us deserves to know what those facts are. Me, and everyone who lives in Midland, and everyone across our state deserves to know what the facts are. And that’s why we’ve got a process for this investigation. We’ve got to let that play out.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (34:40)
What I know is that where there is culpability, we will pursue holding people accountable. And that’s what I know. What we don’t know are a lot of different pieces of what has gone into and contributed this. But I’ll just say this. This is an owner of a dam with whom we have had litigation as a state. And understanding all of the different moments that have contributed to this I think is underway, and we’ll have more to report on that in the coming days.
Speaker 7: (35:16)
Thank you Governor. Thank you everybody.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer: (35:18)
All right, thank you everybody. Please stay safe for Memorial day. Be smart. Don’t let your guard down. Wear your mask. Send one family member to the grocery store to pick up burgers. I don’t care if you all participate in cooking them when you get them home, but one person in the grocery store, wear the mask, stay safe and enjoy Memorial Day. And remember the purpose of Memorial Day, to thank those who serve. Thank you.