Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and LEO Director Jeff Donofrio give an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo
There is some evidence that the rate of increase in new cases of COVID-19 is slowing down in Michigan.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a Monday news conference that she is cautiously optimistic about the COVID-19 numbers being reported by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), but that more data is needed to determine if the decrease in the rate of new COVID-19 cases is a trend. Michigan has 25,635 cases and 1,602 deaths as of Monday afternoon.
Whitmer added this is a sign that her stay home order is working. She signed the original order in late March in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, and was it set to expire April 13. Last week, she extended and tightened it until 11:59 p.m. April 30.
DHHS Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun highlighted the importance of not easing up on social distancing measures too soon, adding that doing so would be “incredibly devastating.”
“A lot more people will die, and our hospitals will get overwhelmed if we don’t do this right,” said Khaldun.
Khaldun then used the influenza pandemic of 1918 as an example of why it’s important to keep social distancing measures in place.
“What was clear, then, is that cities who are less aggressive and started social distancing too late or relaxed measures too soon saw slower, less robust economic rebounds,” said Khaldun.
The stay home order, which most states have implemented, means “non-essential” businesses are closed, with exceptions for businesses like grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants for takeout only. Hundreds of thousands of Michigan workers have been laid off.
As previously reported by the Advance, 817,585 Michigan workers filed initial jobless claims from March 15 through April 4 according to the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA).
According to Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) director Jeff Donofrio, more than 1 million Michigan workers have filed unemployment claims as of April 13.
The officials all addressed concerns about the economy.
“Health and the economy are very interrelated, and we must put the health of our communities first,” said Khaldun.
Donofrio added that the governor and LEO are committed to getting the state economy back up and running, but it is also important to get things right in terms of the health crisis that Michigan is facing.
“Flattening the COVID-19 curve [of cases] is the most important thing we can do to minimize the long-term economic damage and get our economy back to work,” said Donofrio.
Whitmer added that her office is working with medical experts and business leaders to develop a plan to ensure that Michigan workers can return to their jobs safely.
She added that developing the plan is an “all-hands-on-deck effort,” and that it will be a data-driven approach based on facts, science and recommendations from epidemiologists and economists.
“We analyze data everyday to make sure that we’re ready when it’s time to re-engage,” said Whitmer.
Business Leaders for Michigan, a state business roundtable, released a statement Monday afternoon in support of Whitmer’s efforts to develop a plan.
“We appreciate Governor Whitmer’s work managing this crisis and the emphasis she placed today on considering how to restart our economy and lives the right way,” said Doug Rothwell, President and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan.
Rothwell added that COVID-19 has created an unprecedented situation that threatens people’s physical, emotional and financial health, and while many people are anxious to get back to the ways they lived and worked before the pandemic, they can’t do so at the expense of the health of Michigan residents or long-term risk to the state’s economy.
“We’re anxious like most are to get back to ‘normal,’ but we’ll get there faster if we do it the right way. The Governor understands this, and we will do our part to help her write the right playbook,” said Rothwell.
That’s a different approach than other business groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which blasted the tighter stay home order and has called for more businesses being allowed to open. Both state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) have echoed that sentiment.
On Friday evening, Shirkey tore into the order on Facebook: “Here’s my message today: OUR Governor IS DESTROYING OUR HEALTH BY KILLING OUR LIVELIHOODS! Under the guise of protecting our health….she is DESTROYING our HEALTH by killing our Livelihoods.
“Yes, I just repeated myself because I am obsessed with making sure everyone understands what’s happening.Three-peat: SHE IS DESTROYING our HEALTH by KILLING our livelihoods. Contact our Gov. Tell her we can be as safe at work (in most cases) as we can be at home.”
That goes against what Khaldun and federal health officials have advised. Last week, the House and Senate met and extended Whitmer’s state of emergency until April 30, which allowed her to then extend the stay home order.
Whitmer has faced harsh backlash from Republicans and some residents frustrated about what they can and can’t purchase during the stay home order.
Under the latest order, all store areas dedicated to carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries or paint must be closed until April 30 in an attempt to clamp down on people browsing for nonessential items. The new order also directs all stores to establish lines marked every 6 feet to ensure customers are social distancing.
However, those items can be ordered online and picked up at the store or be shipped to a customer’s home.
The governor also clarified that nothing in her stay at home order prohibits people from buying car seats for their children, bug spray and American flags — which have been the subject of social media memes and posts. Whitmer also noted that she has not banned homeschooling.
“These are a few of the falsehoods that have been disseminated on social media that I wanted to clear up,” said Whitmer.
Whitmer also was questioned about a tweet from President Trump claiming that it’s his decision about when to open states back up following the pandemic, even though states have issued individual stay home orders.
She said that she wasn’t aware of his tweet at first, as she had been on conference calls, but she replied, “The government doesn’t get opened up on Twitter; it gets opened up at the state level,” said Whitmer.
Whitmer added that she had been on a call with Vice President Mike Pence and other Midwestern governors regarding when to reopen their relative states.
“We recognize that we’ve got to have good data and a good plan ensuring that we avoid a second wave of COVID-19 and devastating our economies,” said Whitmer.
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