By: - March 30, 2020 1:33 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a COVID-19 update at the state Capitol, March 30, 2020 | Gov. Whitmer photo

State health officials say Michigan is still weeks away from a peak in COVID-19 cases and we are still lacking medical equipment in the state. So in order to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer whacked new state budget spending the Legislature had teed up.

“We know we’ve got to be really conservative right now,” Whitmer said during a press conference Monday morning. “We know that the toll that COVID-19 is going to take on our economy is going to be real and it’s going to be felt in the budget.”

The governor signed two Fiscal Year 2020 supplemental budgets, which passed through the House and Senate March 17, that allocated $150 million in new funding for COVID-19 response, but she vetoed almost $80 million in General Fund line items. 

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One of the Legislature’s members, state Rep. Isaac Robinson (D-Detroit), died on Sunday after experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms. Whitmer addressed the loss at her news conference.

“Rep. Robinson was a phenomenal advocate on behalf of the people of Hamtramck and Detroit,” Whitmer said. “He had a big heart and a moral compass that drove all the work that he did on behalf of the people he represented. And his passing is a day of sadness that I think everyone around the Capitol, and certainly in his district, are feeling.”

As of Sunday, the state confirmed 5,486 positive cases of COVID-19 and 132 deaths, an increase of 1,829 cases and 40 deaths since Friday. There have been 1,542 cases and 35 deaths reported in Detroit. Combined with the rest of Wayne County’s numbers, those add up to 2,704 cases and 56 deaths.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said Monday morning that “Detroit is starting to show some signs that they’re going to take off.”

Whitmer signed House Bill 4729, which included $50 million for hospital services and medical supplies and $40 million will go toward general efforts. The bill also sets aside $35 million to be transferred to needs as necessary.

Senate Bill 151 included another $25 million for coronavirus response, which allocated $10 million to state departments’ response to coronavirus and set aside an additional $15 million for COVID-19 response. 

However, $80 million in funding was cut from SB 151. The vetoes cut funding for the governor’s Go Pro and Reconnect programs, Pure Michigan, the attorney general’s clergy abuse Investigation and a number of other line items. Whitmer also axed 85 Michigan Enhancement Grants, which are line items individual lawmakers request, which critics label “pork.”

Whitmer said she worked in congruence with state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills).

“The supplemental was negotiated in good faith with my administration and the legislative leaders, but the world has changed since those negotiations and we must react and change along with that,” Whitmer said. 

“It’s too early to determine the exact impact on state revenues, and knowing there is a potential for a significant loss in revenue now is not the time to sign a bill for supplemental funding for anything other than dollars that can be utilized to help our COVID-19 response.”

House Appropriations Committee Chair Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron) said the bipartisan agreement to make cuts to the state’s General Fund spending is in the state’s best interests.

“This reflects the fundamental reality that state government must be focused on lessening the spread of COVID-19 while also preparing for budget pressures caused by a temporary economic slowdown,” Hernandez said in a statement. “State government must prioritize fighting COVID-19 while making tough budget decisions just like Michigan families and businesses are doing every day.”

Whitmer also signed on Monday Executive Directives 2020-3 and 2020-4, which temporarily restrict state spending by state departments and agencies and temporarily suspend hiring, creating new positions, filling vacant positions, transfers and promotions within the executive branch.

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Michigan still falls short of necessary medical equipment

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, says the state is still in the early stages of the spread and we may not see a peak for several weeks. 

As the state fights to slow the spread of the disease, obtaining the necessary amount of personal protection equipment (PPE) and medical supplies has been a challenge. 

President Trump approved Whitmer’s request for a disaster declaration, and the state is now eligible for participation in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) programming, as the Advance first reported.

Over the weekend, Michigan received a shipment of 112,000 N95 masks from the Strategic National Stockpile, and Whitmer says there are another 8,000 masks on the way.

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While she said she is grateful for the shipment, the state still needs more. She says that a singular Detroit hospital can go through approximately 10,000 masks per day.

Khaldun said that according to one state estimate, for each inpatient with COVID-19, hospital staff will need 10 N95 masks each day. 

The state has already spent more than $80 million on medical supplies for overwhelmed hospitals, and has secured more than 20 million N95 masks, 2,000 ventilators, nearly 9 million ounces of hand sanitizer, 255,000 boxes of gloves, 2.4 million gowns, 2,000 beds, 210,000 testing supplies, 3,000 thermometers, 185,000 face shields, 22,000 cartons of disinfecting wipes and other needed supplies.

Despite the lack of equipment to treat patients, testing abilities across the state have improved. Khaldun said the state has completed at least 15,000 tests between the state lab, hospitals and private labs.

One area that the state is severely short of is ventilators. Khaldun says the state has about 1,700 ventilators currently, but believes the state will need an additional 5,000 to 10,000 more. 

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Michigan National Guard helps food banks

To help aid hard hit communities, members of the Michigan National Guard are now staffing Food Banks in Ann Arbor, Comstock Park, Flint and Pontiac. 

Guard members will be assisting with mobile food distribution, directing traffic for the drive-through distribution site and assisting with packing bags of fruit and handing out to cars. 

These sites serve between 300 to 600 Michigan families daily. 

“The aid that men and women of the Michigan National Guard will provide to Food Banks across Michigan is further proof that the Michigan National Guard is a true cornerstone of Michigan communities,” said Whitmer “I could not be more proud of their service, commitment, and determination, and they are making a difference in the state’s response to COVID-19.”  

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Whitmer announced the Michigan National Guard’s involvement in the state-wide response to COVID-19 on March 18. Since then, guard members have been providing logistics support to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, assembling and loading critical personal protective gear such as gowns and face shields and serving the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette by temperature screening employees before they enter the homes and ensuring screening protocols are being followed.

“The Michigan National Guard strives to be a provider of exceptional service,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard. “As the response to COVID-19 continues, we stand ready to serve our neighbors, family, and friends in the communities in which we live and work.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.