Whitmer expands medical personnel who can order COVID-19 tests

By: and - May 26, 2020 5:02 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs a stay at home order to fight COVID-19, March 23, 2020 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during a Tuesday news conference announced an executive order that expands community COVID-19 testing sites in Michigan, allowing additional types of medical personnel to conduct such tests. 

“One of the most powerful tools we have in the fight of this virus is widespread testing,” she said.

The order, EO 2020-104, widens the types of medical personnel that can order a COVID-19 test. Nurses, physician assistants and pharmacists can now issue directions for patients to receive testing. It is crucial that people who are at risk of catching this virus get tested, the governor said. 

“Anyone who leaves their work for home or who has symptoms of COVID-19 — even mild symptoms — may receive a test at a community testing location without securing a doctor’s order in advance,” Whitmer said. 

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An individual who exhibits any symptom of COVID-19, has been exposed to an infected person, has worked outside their home for 10 days or works in a large-scale setting — like a prison, homeless shelter, long-term care facility or migrant camp — is eligible for the testing, Whitmer said. 

Last week, Whitmer underwent a COVID-19 test and a serology test, the latter of which checks for COVID-19 antibodies. She tested negative for both, she said. 

The state on Tuesday reported 55,104 COVID-19 cases and 5,266 deaths, with the rate of rise of cases still declining, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive. As of Friday, 33,168 Michigan residents have recovered from COVID-19. 

On a regional basis, Southeast and Southwest Michigan are seeing declines in cases, while the northern region of the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula report low cases. However, the Grand Rapids region is still experiencing high rates of new cases per million people, Khaldun said. 

Testing will be key to contain new outbreaks there and elsewhere, she added.

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State announces risk assessment dashboard

A new, interactive dashboard launched Tuesday also aims to help Michigan residents understand the COVID-19 spread risks in their community. 

It is a project of the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the University of Michigan and the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO).

MI Safe Start Map

It shows COVID-19 risks in Michigan, which on the map is separated into eight different regions. The state was split into those sectors by the Michigan Economic Recovery Committee (MERC) based on each area’s capability of containing COVID-19 outbreaks. 

The northern region of the Lower Peninsula and the entirety of the Upper Peninsula are classified under Phase 4 on the map, indicating “medium risk.” The rest of the state falls under Phase 3, indicating “medium-high risk.” 

“The dashboard includes a display of key epidemic indicators, along with benchmarks to guide individuals in understanding the spread of coronavirus in their communities and across the state,” said Dr. Emily Martin, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Indicators fall into three categories: epidemic spread, health system capacity and public health capacity.

Whitmer addresses boat rumors: ‘I wasn’t laughing, either’

Whitmer also addressed speculation that her husband, Marc Mallory, asked a local business up north to speed up putting their boat on the water prior to the Memorial Day weekend. The business owner wrote on social media that Mallory called to make the request.

“Over the past couple of months, we have seen an explosion of rampant rumors and violent death threats against my family and me online,” Whitmer said. 

Last month, Robert Tesh, 32, of Detroit was charged with false report of threat of terrorism after he allegedly made “credible threats to kill” Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel. He could face 20 years in prison.

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The governor said she will not be getting into the business of refuting and discussing every aspect of her whereabouts or dispelling every one of those statements or posts, several of which include death threats against her. However, she said she felt compelled to address this particular matter. 

“My husband made a failed attempt at humor last week when checking in with the small business that helps with our boat and dock up north,” Whitmer said. “Knowing it wouldn’t make a difference, he jokingly asked if being married to me might move him up in the queue.”

Whitmer said it did not get a laugh, nor was she laughing when it was relayed to her because she “knew how it would be perceived.” She said her husband briefly did go up to their second residence in Antrim County — to rake leaves — but she did not. Under a relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, Michiganders are now permitted to travel between residences.

“He regrets it; I wish it wouldn’t have happened and that’s really all we have to say about it,” Whitmer said.

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She spoke to the rumors and threats surrounding her and her family, saying she has read vile things people have written and said in response to her stay-home order and other executive actions. 

“I’m not likening my experience to that of someone who is mourning the loss of a loved one or their business or their job,” Whitmer said. “But that’s why, precisely, we have to get this right. None of us — not one of us — ever wants to go through this again with a second wave.”

The governor added that she will not be “bullied into ignoring [COVID-19] science and making political calculations.”

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C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore

C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).