Whitmer plans stay-home extension, trying to stave off 2nd COVID-19 wave

2,900 state employees temporarily laid off amid budget woes

By: - April 22, 2020 4:54 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Some level of a stay-home order will be in place for some time, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a media briefing on Wednesday. She expects to sign a short-term statewide extension after her order expires April 30, but said older residents and individuals with medical conditions should continue to socially distance in case there’s a second wave in COVID-19 cases.

As the state looks at reopening businesses, Whitmer echoed medical expert advice that more COVID-19 tests are necessary to monitor the spread of the virus and track a possible second wave.

The good news, Whitmer said, is that accessibility and the number of test sites are increasing. New sites in Southgate, Saginaw, Dearborn and Detroit are testing people and residents are encouraged to check the test site portal for new sites to come.

“We could do twice as much testing as we are currently doing,” Whitmer said. “Knowing that we’ve got that capacity is heartening, “

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A couple of weeks ago, the state had less than a day’s worth of personal protection equipment (PPE) for health care providers, Whitmer said. On Wednesday, with the help of the federal government and small and large businesses like Carhartt and Bell’s Brewery, the state has over a week’s worth of PPE.

“We believe people are really taking this seriously and the vast majority of people in our state are doing their part,” Whitmer said. “So I want to say thank you. I know it’s not been easy. I know that it’s been difficult for folks in our state, but we are getting through this and we’re going to get through it together so thank you for doing your part.”

Michigan saw a 15% reduction in COVID-19 related hospitalizations in the past 10 days, Whitmer said. Michigan also dropped out of the top 5 states with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, however remaining in the top five for number of related deaths.

COVID-19 cases in Michigan reached 33,966 on Wednesday, with 2,813 total deaths. The daily case count sits at 999, with 113 deaths reported.

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The media briefing follows the announcement of more than 2,900 state employees being laid off given the state budget shortfall. Whitmer said the layoffs are temporary and will last 10 days. Employees will keep their health insurance and other benefits and are automatically enrolled for unemployment.

“I know how important it is for leaders to lead by example, which is why this week I announced that I would be taking a pay cut and I have directed my executive team to take one as well for the remainder of the fiscal year,” Whitmer said. “The actions we’ve taken in the past six weeks are working.”

The Department of State is laying off 60% of its staff, 900 people, for two weeks, as branch offices are closed across the state.

“This is an extremely challenging time for our state, our state government and our department,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a press release. “This decision was not easy, but is necessary to responsibly steward taxpayer funds at this time.”

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Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun and Dr. Marisa Eisenberg from the University of Michigan Department of Epidemiology joined Whitmer at the media briefing to provide clarity of what comes next as the state battles COVID-19.

Khaldun said she has heard individuals with serious medical conditions are not seeking medical care for fear of catching COVID-19. She encouraged those with serious conditions to seek out the care they need.

Starting to reopen functions and businesses in the state won’t be for everyone, Whitmer said. Those with serious medical conditions and those vulnerable to COVID-19 likely will have to self-isolate as the state might have to fight a second wave of contamination as social gatherings restart.

“As I’ve talked to business leaders — I’ve talked to families; I’ve talked to those who have lost a loved one to COVID-19 — we all recognize, even if we might disagree on the cadence, and the timeline, we all recognize a second wave would be devastating to our state to our people and to our economy,” Whitmer said.

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Whitmer and the GOP-led Legislature have butted heads on the timeline of reopening the state, with Whitmer asking for a long extension of the state of emergency and the Legislature only approving it through April 30. GOP leaders want some businesses to reopen even before the stay-home order is set to expire and are pushing for a regional approach. On Friday, Whitmer said she will announce what happens next with the stay-home order.

Eisenberg, who has been studying and providing the state with data about the spread of COVID-19, said staged reengagement in the state and carefully monitoring potential infection hotspots will be critical as the state reopens.

The state had already attempted to track points of contact to monitor spreading, but Whitmer eliminated the contracts with organizations due their Democratic ties amid significant backlash from Republicans. Whitmer said the DHHS made the contracts with Great Lakes Community Engagement and Every Action VAN, not her or her office. She said she didn’t know why the DHHS chose those vendors, but the DHHS “doesn’t have a political bone in their theoretical body.”

University of Michigan Dr. Marisa Eisenberg gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Different regions of the state will and have spread the virus at different paces, Eisenberg said. Southeast Michigan, particularly Detroit and Wayne County, has seen the highest number of cases so far, but West Michigan could face a significant increase in cases on the horizon. 

“This is just sort of emphasizing that if you are to have a resurgence in transmission, then it becomes really important to make sure that you have the health care system capacity in place to handle that, and be able to diagnose and treat patients,” Eisenberg said.

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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.

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