Updated: Michigan COVID-19 cases top 1,000, Whitmer says we’re ‘building the airplane as we fly it’

By: and - March 22, 2020 2:24 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19, March 20, 2020 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Updated, 6:03 p.m. 3/22/20 with ninth person who died

State officials announced Michigan has 1,035 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nine connected deaths as of Sunday. The latest death was a man in Washtenaw County.*

That’s an increase of 248 cases since Saturday. Health officials warn that the actual number is actually much higher, in part, because of a test shortage.

A statewide coronavirus hotline is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1-888-535-6136. Information can be found on the DHHS website or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website.

COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, is now in 33 counties, per the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The deaths have been in Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Kent counties.

The World Health Organization reports there are 292,142 cases world wide and almost 13,000 deaths. In the United States, there are 15,219 confirmed cases and 201 deaths. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer communicated her concerns on COVID-19 this morning, after President Donald Trump criticized her on Twitter for not doing enough for the state.

On “Fox News Sunday,” she said the state of Michigan has taken COVID-19 seriously: shutting down business, closing schools and limiting the number of people gathering. The reason the state is struggling is that the Trump administration didn’t take the spread of the virus seriously, Whitmer said, leaving the country unprepared and scrambling for tests.


“That’s why we have people who don’t take this seriously, because for a long time, we were told that it wasn’t to be taken seriously,” Whitmer said of Trump’s rhetoric around COVID-19. “This is what we’re up against. We have to have truth in communication, we have to be making decisions based on science and facts.”

Whitmer again declined to endorse a “shelter in place” order, under which residents would be limited to leaving their homes only for essential services. Illinois and California have instituted stay at home measures. Business groups, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, have come out against a shelter in place order because they claim it will hurt the economy.

The governor’s next press conference is slated for 11 a.m. Monday.

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Whitmer said on “This Week” on ABC Sunday morning that it was Republican legislators who requested clarification that places of worship would not be cited under her ban on gatherings of 50 people or more, because of the separation of church and state. She said, however, that going to church could lead to catastrophic consequences for everyone present.

“The worst thing in the world is to go to church to worship and sit next to somebody to infect them and have them suffer life threatening consequences because of this decision,” Whitmer said.

Michigan, though taking an aggressive approach to COVID-19, is playing catch up with the virus, Whitmer said on ABC this morning. COVID-19 is impacting more people than the data shows and Michigan needs the federal government to get more tests available because more data is needed.

“We’re all building the airplane as we fly it right now,” Whitmer said. “We’re doing the best that we can. We’re going to continue to be aggressive and continually monitoring what the next move we can make is, but we need the federal government to get us those test kits.”

2nd major coronavirus package clears Congress, 3rd in works

Michigan, along with other states like New Jersey greatly impacted by COVID-19 have called upon Trump to allow for a special enrollment period for healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It’s been 10 day since Whitmer and the state Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS) Director Anita Fox called on the Trump administration to allow the special enrollment period.

Nine other states as of today, such as New York and Washington, which have the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases have opened special enrollment periods for residents to get health insurance during the pandemic.

“During this crisis, we must do everything we can to ensure access to quality, affordable health care,” Whitmer said in a press release. “It is more important than ever for Michiganders to know they have health insurance coverage that will pay for them to be tested and treated for COVID-19.”

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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols is a former Michigan Advance intern. She is a Michigan State University graduate who has reported for several publications, including MLive and Michigan State University’s award-winning student paper, the State News, where she covered the many tendrils of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 22-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ+ people, the state budget, the economy and more. She previously served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 90 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 5,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 80 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two kids along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.