Dr. Joneigh Khaldun and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer give an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo
There’s some good news in Michigan’s fight against COVID-19, as the state is seeing its lowest percentage of positive cases in two months.
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said Michigan has had an overall positivity rate of 18.1% since March, but that the state hit an all-time low of 6.3% of positive COVID-19 cases on Sunday.
“This means that our efforts are working, and people who have adhered to the governor’s stay home order have helped to save lives,” Khaldun said at a Wednesday news conference.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer noted that the state is still working to ramp up COVID-19 testing and the state’s goal is to test 450,000 people in May. Khaldun said that 317,000 tests have been administered thus far, and that the state administers more than 10,000 tests per day now.
Michigan now has more than 48,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 4,700 people have died.
Khaldun said one metric DHHS uses — the number of cases per day per million people — has continued to decline at the state level. But not all regions are experiencing the same decline.
While Michigan is still reporting a decline in the amount of daily cases in Southeast Michigan, it still has the highest daily number of deaths per million people, compared to other regions of the state.
Michigan is also continuing to see new case counts in West Michigan. Khaldun said local health departments are actively investigating COVID-19 clusters in multiple parts of the state.
Nursing care facilities are still an area of concern when it comes to positive COVID-19 cases because there were 3,089 cases in 464 nursing facilities in Michigan as of Monday. That represents about 6% of total cases of COVID-19 across the state.
A Senate panel held a hearing on the issue Wednesday, as the Advance reported.
Khaldun said DHHS is continuing to expand regional hubs, which are facilities located across the state, to provide care for long-term care patients suspected to have or have confirmed cases of COVID-19 but don’t require hospital care.
DHHS established 19 hubs across the state last month when they rolled out their three-part strategy to begin curbing the amount of COVID-19 cases being reported at nursing homes. There are now 21 hubs in Michigan as of this week.
Who’s staying home?
Michigan is one of many states that has moved to reopen businesses even though Whitmer’s stay-home order is still in place until May 28 — but the share of people sheltering in place has dropped.
It’s estimated that 1 million across the state started moving around again. Michigan’s population is roughly 10 million.
That estimate is based on data collected by Cuebiq, a company that analyzes data based on information collected from smartphone users who agree to share their location with certain apps, according to the New York Times.
Whitmer said while she is concerned about that data, it is to be expected because she’s re-engaged some sectors of the state’s economy.
“The work we’ve done has paid off. Movement in and of itself isn’t the problem,” Whitmer said, “The problem is when people don’t wear masks or when they’re not observing the best practices.”
Whitmer also encouraged residents to continue doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“If we let our guard down now, all of our sacrifices will have been in vain, and we’ll be right back where we were,” Whitmer said. “We’ve all got to continue to stay disciplined and keep doing the right thing.”
More state layoffs
More than 31,000 state employees are set to be temporarily laid off after the state announced it would participate in the federal Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) Work Share program to help offset budget implications as a result of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
State employees will take two temporary layoff days per pay period beginning Sunday, May 17 through July 25, which will save up to $80 million in wages. This program lets the state keep employees working with reduced hours, while employees collect partial unemployment benefits.
Impacted employees will retain their health insurance and other benefits and will be automatically enrolled into the unemployment process. The layoffs don’t impact anybody working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, and those working law enforcement, the prison system, veterans homes will remain fully staffed with on-site employees.
In addition, Whitmer announced last month she was returning 10% of her salary to the Treasury Department and directed her executive team and cabinet appointees to take a 5% pay cut for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2020.
Unemployment hits 1.7M
The Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) reports more than 1.7 million people have applied for state and federal benefits since March 15. So far, $5.62 billion in benefits has been paid out to more than 1.3 million workers.
In addition, roughly 92% of eligible claimants have received benefits or have been approved to receive benefits.
Michigan’s claims total includes those to be reported by the U.S. Department of Labor this week and those who have applied for federal benefits, but are not yet being reported by the feds.
Whitmer was asked about what protections are in place for workers who get called back to work but are afraid to return.
“Even though a sector of the economy is free to engage in business, it’s hard to get employees to show up [to work] because they’re scared,” said Whitmer.
Whitmer added that’s why the state has closely with businesses to ensure best practices are enforced when people head back to work because businesses who’ve been allowed to reopen want to stay open.
“They’ve got prime motivation to make sure that their employees have confidence, and that they’re going to be safe,” said Whitmer.
Not ‘business as usual’
Whitmer was joined by Coldwell Banker real estate agent Maureen Frances and Peacock Room owner Rachel Lutz during the news conference. Both said even though they’ve been allowed to head back to work, it’s not business as usual.
Frances said that the pandemic has changed the way she shows houses. She no longer drives to properties or shares pens with clients. She also asks sellers to turn on lights and leave interior doors drapes and blinds open to ensure that no one has to touch anything on the property.
She said that she and other agents are limiting time spent at properties, as well.
“We understand this pandemic is impacting every Michigan citizen uniquely,” said Frances. “Realtors are grateful to resume work by operating intelligently compassionately and responsibly to best serve those clients who choose to call Michigan home.”
Lutz, a clothing boutique owner, said she’s now shifted her attention onto using Facebook in order to connect with customers, and hosted a Facebook Live for the first time this week in order to sell items like dresses and jewelry.
“The Peacock Room had a record sales day within two hours [of going live] after nine years of business,” said Lutz.
She said while she hasn’t built an online store yet, she is exhilarated at the thought of what’s possible when strategizing in new ways.
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