Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Whitmer office photo
In the wake of the GOP-led state Legislature losing valuable days from its dwindling Lame Duck session to a COVID-19 outbreak in the state House, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday encouraged lawmakers to stay safe while keeping a COVID-19 relief bill as their top priority.
Whitmer has asked for $400 million for vaccine distribution and aid to businesses and workers. She also gave an update on the state’s timeline for distributing vaccinations to Michiganders once the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19 receive final approval.
As of Thursday, Michigan reports that a total of 421,137 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 10,395 have died from the virus — an additional 5,937 cases and 182 deaths since Wednesday.
The state notes that 132 of Thursday’s additional deaths come from its most recent review of vital records and testing data. Those individuals had already died, but are just now being flagged by the state as official COVID-19 deaths. The DHHS conducts this review process three times per week.
Between both chambers of the state Legislature, there are now at least 11 lawmakers and 27 legislative staffers who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, as the Advance has reported.
The newest known case, an unnamed House staff member, was announced by House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) Tuesday as the reason for canceling House session and committee hearings Wednesday and Thursday. Chatfield pushed back against speculation that the case was connected to a House hearing last week in which President Donald Trump’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, spoke before a committee, maskless, for hours.
It was reported over the weekend that both Giuliani and Ellis had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The exact dates of their diagnoses remain unclear, but Giuliani was hospitalized Sunday and has since been released.
That cancelation of two session days puts an even shorter countdown on an already-tight Lame Duck timeframe before the 2020 legislative session ends at the end of the year. Whitmer said she acknowledges that COVID-19 has cut into lawmakers’ meeting time, but is still “hopeful” that they can safely come together and pass an appropriately significant COVID-19 relief bill if they prioritize doing so.
“There are a lot of people struggling right now,” Whitmer said, encouraging lawmakers to come together and provide relief to unemployed Michiganders, small businesses and more.
A game plan for vaccine distribution
Whitmer announced Wednesday the creation of the Protect Michigan Commission, a bipartisan group of leaders within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) who will work to educate Michiganders about the importance of getting vaccinated for COVID-19.
The commission will be chaired by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, DHHS Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Detroit Pistons player Blake Griffin, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and a number of other health leaders in the state.
Fifty residents of the state will also serve on the panel. Michiganders wishing to do so can visit michigan.gov/appointments and apply by Dec. 28.
As for vaccine distribution, Whitmer said there will be more information within days about what that process will look like in Michigan.
Khaldun said that in the meantime, the DHHS is actively prepping for the process which could begin as early as next week.
The Pfizer vaccine is slightly ahead of the Moderna vaccine in the final approval process. Khaldun estimated that if all goes to plan, the first shipment of 84,000 Pfizer doses could be in the state by next week.
The Moderna vaccine will likely be ready later in the month, and the first shipment is estimated to have about 173,000 doses.
The timeline depends on the federal government’s action, Khaldun noted.
Limited doses will be available first to priority patients like essential workers and vulnerable populations; the general population will likely be able to receive their vaccinations by late spring.
The Michigan National Guard will assist hospitals around the state that have asked for help in administering the vaccine.
Michigan continues to experience its worst COVID-19 outbreak yet as cases consistently reach into the thousands each day. Khaldun urged Michiganders to “remain vigilant” and stay safe into the holiday season.
Khaldun also noted that cases and hospitalizations around the state have slightly decreased, but so has testing. Contact tracing efforts are also lagging behind with the high volume of cases.
DHHS also reported Thursday that an additional 33,583 Michiganders have been identified as “probable” cases for COVID-19, as well as 505 probable deaths. The department began tracking probable cases on April 5.
Combining the state’s confirmed positive cases with probable cases brings the total up to 454,720 statewide cases and 10,900 deaths.
The virus has been detected in all of Michigan’s 83 counties. The state’s COVID-19 fatality rate is currently at 2.5%.
The first two cases of COVID-19 were reported in the state on March 10. Whitmer declared a state of emergency that day.
Johns Hopkins University reports that there are more than 69.3 million confirmed cases worldwide and 1.5 million deaths. The United States makes up a significant portion of those, as more than 15.5 million confirmed cases and 291,307 deaths have been recorded nationally.
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