As coronavirus cases rise, Whitmer halts plans to further reopen Michigan

Coronavirus cases may increase as Michigan’s economy isn’t a surprise, but experts say they must stay within manageable levels.

LANSING — With coronavirus cases upticking in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has abandoned plans to allow additional business reopenings by July 4 and said she is contemplating a “more conservative” approach.

The first-term Democrat stopped short of promising to re-tighten rules, as governors in some southern and western states slammed by the pandemic have done this week, but said recent outbreaks at places like Harper’s Restaurant & Brewpub in East Lansing reinforce the need for continued precautions. 

“The virus has not changed; what has changed is our knowledge and our ability to make decisions that prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a coronavirus press briefing on Tuesday. 

“It’s on every single one of us to do our part to protect one another, to protect the gains that we've made as a state, and to strengthen our ability to get our economy back on track.”

Michigan reported 373 new cases of coronavirus Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 63,870 since March. Case counts have topped 200 each of the past eight days but remain well below the early April peak, when Michigan recorded 1,953 cases in a single day. 

Dr. Jennifer Morse, medical director for public health in 19 mid- and northern Michigan counties, said she’s not surprised that cases have inched up again as Michigan reopens its economy.

But when it comes to a virus that has killed at least 5,915 Michiganders, Morse said, “we have to keep this to a slow trickle and not get overwhelmed by letting the flood gates open.”

She and others in public health are facing a new complication: COVID-fatigue among a public that has lived under restrictions for nearly four months.

And it’s this second battle that has them most worried, coming just a month after the state was lauded as being among the few in the country getting ahead of the spread after Whitmer’s tight and controversial lock-down.

“Michigan started off in a way better position than other states when we began to reopen. It was painful, but it had worked and we started in a better place,” Morse said.

She and others including Peter Gulick, an infectious disease expert at Michigan State University, said they see fewer masks these days and more crowds.

“It’s like they’re tired of it, they don’t care,” he said. “It’s ‘doggone it, I’m not going to eat my spinach anymore.’”

Cases among young adults

Michigan was hit earlier and harder by COVID-19 than many other states and at one point ranked third in the country for total cases. And the recent uptick here has been small in comparison to some other states.

With the virus now spreading more rapidly in the south and Sun Belt states, Michigan now ranks 11th in total COVID-19 cases, trailing states such as Texas, Florida, Arizona and Georgia where cases have spiked, according to Johns Hopkins University

Michigan’s newest cases are notably different than cases at the height of the pandemic, as hospitals and morgues in southeast Michigan were overwhelmed, and daily deaths peaked:

  • New infections are hitting younger people disproportionately, with nearly 47 percent of all new cases among those under age 30 since June 26. Before then, only 16 percent of infections were among that age group
  • Deaths have fallen precipitously, in part because cases overall have fallen from a daily average of 1,000 new cases a day in early April to just over 300 now. 
  • Deaths now average about 10 a day, down from nearly 40 as recently as June 1.
  • Just over 300 people are now in Michigan hospitals with confirmed COVID-19 infections. On June 1 it was nearly 700 and a week before that is was over 1,000. In the middle of April, when deaths were at their highest, over 3,600 COVID-19 patients were in the hospital.

Whitmer had hoped to move lower Michigan into “Phase 5” of her economic restart plan by the Fourth of July holiday, which would have allowed businesses such as gyms and fitness centers to reopen statewide, as they’ve already done in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. 

But “that’s not going to happen,” Whitmer conceded Tuesday.

Instead, creeping case numbers may warrant a “more conservative approach,” the governor said, noting she was planning to discuss the latest COVID-19 data with health officials later Tuesday and should have “more clarity” on next steps in a day or two. 

"If we see a sustained spike, that's precisely what would take us back to a Phase 3," Whitmer said, referencing a possible retreat that could see the state tighten restrictions on retail businesses, restaurants and bars.

 "I've always said, we're going (treat) this as a dial. If we're safe, we'll dial it up. If we see risk, we're going to dial it back."

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said COVID-19 case counts are up in all regions of the state over the past week or two. 

But the increases are sharpest in the Lansing region, where there have been over 40 new cases per 1 million people per day, and the Grand Rapids region, where the percent of positive tests is also increasing. 

“Everyone, including young people, needs to understand that they are

not immune to this disease,” Khaldun said. “Not only can they spread it to others who are older, may have underlying medical conditions or are likely to get very ill from the disease, young people themselves can still get very sick from COVID-19, and they can even die from COVID-19.”

Despite that warning, Khadun noted the state’s hospitalization rate has “remained steady,” with about 80 percent of all inpatient beds across the state currently occupied by either COVID or non-COVID patients.

“A lot of states in the country are watching cases grow exponentially and worrying that their ICU’s are filling up,” Whitmer said. “We are not in that position. But our numbers are not as strong today as they were a couple weeks ago, so we must keep our guard up.”

A cautionary tale

The climb in cases prompted a boost in risk levels late Monday on the state’s Mi Safe Start Map, a collaboration between the state of Michigan and University of Michigan. The map assigns levels of risk of COVID-19 spread among the state’s regions.

The Lansing area, which includes East Lansing, the site of the outbreak at Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub, is now assigned deep orange, signifying its move from medium to high risk while the west region that includes Grand Rapids, has boosted to medium-high risk.

The Harper's outbreak has emerged as a cautionary tale — and not just for Michigan.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a Monday morning press conference, mentioned Harper’s while announcing he may delay plans to resume indoor dining in his city next week. 

Elsewhere, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy backtracked on plans to resume indoor dining and bar service. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered bars, nightclubs and water parks to close again for at least a month. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also ordered bars to close.

While troubling, the Harper’s outbreak in Michigan reinforced the importance of contact tracing, according to Whitmer, who praised the Ingham County Health Department for tracking down patrons who may have been exposed to ensure they were tested for the virus. 

Ingham County on Monday also prohibited bars and restaurants from allowing more than 75 patrons, toughening a state rule that allows a maximum of 50 percent capacity indoors. 

“I want to be clear: This is not unique to this establishment, it's not unique to East Lansing, it's not unique to Michigan,” Whitmer said. “This is happening across the country, but we have to learn from this instance here in Michigan.”

And importantly, the risk levels on the MI Safe Start map have increased not only because of reported clusters of cases, but “also the general rise” in cases, said Dr. Emily Toth Martin, who as co-director of the Michigan Influenza Center at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, helps manage the map.

Balancing health and the economy

The climb in cases is a sharp reminder of the policy decisions that must balance public health and the economy.

Republican legislators have pressured Whitmer to re-open the economy faster and sued her for extending a state of emergency without their approval, a lawsuit whose rulings so far have favored the governor. 

As Whitmer approaches her July 4 goal to further relax regulations, she "should be at the very least releasing all the data she's using to make these decisions," Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, said Monday. “She still has yet to do that.”

Barrett questioned whether the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases is a result of more testing rather than more spread. State data show that Michigan has continued to ramp up testing after overcoming initial supply shortages. Between Monday and Friday of last week, officials reported conducting an average of 17,199 tests per day, up from 14,104 the prior week.

Sharing medical advice and best practices with the general public is important, but at some point, Whitmer will have to trust Michiganders to make their own decisions, Barrett argued. 

"You should be concerned about your own private health, your own responsibility for yourself," he said. "The government can't hold your hand for your whole life, and if you trust the government to do that, they will always let you down."

Barrett represents Clinton, Eaton and Shiawassee counties in the Michigan Senate. 

Eaton County reported 26 new COVID-19 cases over three days last week, including 14 cases on June 24, which represented its largest ever one-day jump.

Despite its relatively low number of active COVID-19 cases, Michigan remains one of three states where the U.S. Department of Defense continues to restrict travel by members of the military. 

The Pentagon announced on Monday that 47 states had met conditions to lift travel restrictions for service members. Only Michigan, Florida and California did not qualify, according to the department, which is no longer restricting travel in states like Texas and Arizona, where cases are rising sharply. 

On Monday, Morse, the health official, confirmed a third case at a central Michigan day care. Now the day care will close for two weeks, she said. 

“That’s 150 kids whose parents now might have to stay home from work because they don't have daycare,” Morse said.

Whether it’s a factory or a restaurant or a daycare that must close because of COVID-19, that’s more people out-of-work again, she said.

“It’s nerve-wracking right now,” she said.

Like Morse, Toth said some increase in cases is expected as the economy continues to open. 

She likens COVID-19 containment to controlling a forest fire with “a burn perimeter” — the idea of locking down the fire so it doesn’t jump to new spaces.

Social distancing, masks, quarantine and isolation of suspected infection — those can control spread. She holds out hope that cases can be blunted before a wide-spread surge, but “it’s going to mean people have to keep that social contract.”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Comments

E Wagner
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 11:47am

Then maybe the Govenor should have discouraged the unlawful behaviour of BLM protestors instead of walking with them and encouraging them. When you had lawful protests at the capital its funny...no rise in cases was made public but she treated those protesters as if she thought we were gun toting lunatics. Now that it suits her political posturing their is a rise in cases. When will our govenor back up her decisions with facts an science? Why arent we talking about hospital admissions? Maybe there are none??? Her decisions have no basis in reality and are all politically motivated.

M Day
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 1:07pm

That's exactly right. And funny how fast she opened up the Traverse City area completely where she and her husband vacation

Peggy Kahn
Sat, 07/04/2020 - 11:30am

The degree of angry political certainty in this and other posts is called into question by what epidemiologists are saying about the relationship of BLM and anti-police violence protests to surges. There is some uncertainty about this, but at present the data suggests that the surge in most places is more about reopening (and personal behaviors associated with it) than about protests. For example, "According to Minneapolis Department of Health spokesman Doug Schultz, more than 15,000 people were tested at centers the city set up in communities affected by the protests, and 1.7 percent of tests came back positive — below the statewide average of about 3.6 percent. Health systems in the area that tested thousands of people who attended the demonstrations returned positivity rates of less than 1 percent."
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/01/nyregion/nyc-coronavirus-protests.html
https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/protests-probably-didnt-lead-to-co...

Bones
Tue, 07/07/2020 - 2:10pm

Neither the re-open protests nor the BLM protests corresponded with a meaningful bump in cases. Unless you've got some heretofore unseen epidemiological data that informs your assertion, it sure does look like you're an ignorant stooge engaged in
very obvious dogwhistling

Sue
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 12:30pm

That's strange info. I have a doctor friend that claims there are only 12 cases of covid in her whole hospital system. Why would she say that?

SonyBe
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 3:20pm

Because it's all about a vaccine. She doesn't care about your health, otherwise she would say eat oranges and red bell peppers for the vitamin C, eat lots of zinc rich foods, get sun and exercise. She part of the group of folks in government that wants mandatory vaccines.

Mark Sadowski
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 1:14pm

And, how many cases are the result of more testing? How many cases in nursing and care facilities? Again, very curious on your reporting. Looking forward to details please. A quick primer for your team might be to read reports by a real doctor. Recommend reading Dr. Scott Atlas from Stanford University. Another side of the argument is always required with statements from a bully pulpit.

Toldyaso
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 1:29pm

doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why the younger population is getting hammered with this now. They were the ones that were out without masks elbow to elbow and shoulder to shoulder protesting. Why did they not shut down the protests, when they shut down every other form of contact??? This one's on you governor.

K. Reed
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 1:44pm

Great job, Governor Whitmer! You and your team are making wise, informed
decisions and necessary actions to protect all Michiganders. Thank you for supporting worthy causes such as the BLM protests and standing up to those who protest out of hate and selfishness. Don't back down, keep doing what is right and know that Michigan will continue to stand with you and your team.

J. Wozniak
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 8:26pm

K. Reed, I agree with everything you said. Our Governor is doing a great job during this extraordinarily difficult time.

groupthink isig...
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 12:43pm

Not all of Michigan

Anonymous
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 1:54pm

People seriously need to quit being selfish and begin thinking of others! This is not political as much as many want to say. This is a pandemic and we are to the point that if people don't change their behavior and quit the me, me, me attitude we could possibly loose many more people unnecessarily. Wake up people! Your refusal to wear a mask and social distance is disgusting and you are the reason we could possibly go back into phase 3.

Anonymous
Fri, 07/03/2020 - 8:54pm

Please tell me... What is the definition of the word pandemic? I see "this is a pandemic" used to imply something greater than its actual meaning all over the place. It just makes me think that people do not actually know what it means.

Sally V
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 2:50pm

If Whitmer keeps going the way she has. She will be gone quicker than she can imagine. The voters here in Michigan already don’t like her.

Oldmichigander
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 11:47am

I stand with Governor Whitmer!

Bones
Tue, 07/07/2020 - 2:12pm

She's got an 18 point favorable lead in the polling. Now, I don't put much stock in polls, and I don't particularly like Whitmer, but she's not going anywhere

Bonnie Gonyer
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 4:06pm

And not one word of the recent outbreak in Traverse City? Interesting.

Michonne 29
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 5:13pm

I think it's great, it's all for the greater good. people will just have to cope with being quarantined as long as it takes. it's not like they have to work or anything important, better safe than sorry. I've known people personally who have died from this virus, it's scary I tell ya.

Dena W
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 9:58am

It's not like they have to work or anything important? Either I'm missing the sarcasm or you live in a world where food, housing, vehicles, clothing, and medical needs are all free.. we call that socialism.

Cathy
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 5:42pm

How about that, the Gov was right all along. She based sound decisions on science and the safety and welfare of the populace above petty bipartisan politics.

Make Michigan G...
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 9:04pm

Recall Governor Whitmer ASAP!! She is a disgrace to our state and the USA! We need a real leader not a selfish, corrupt, immoral person like her. July 1st is here. Sign away to make her go away!! Go Michigan! There are enough wise people in Michigan to end this nightmare of a governor. Do not support her immoral positions. She has some fooled unfortunately, but hopefully their eyes will see clearly again.

Oldmichigander
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 11:42am

Mandate masks NOW!!!

Daniel
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 12:54pm

There are three types of people who will die from this disease. 1. The unlucky , the grocery worker, the flight attendant, the waitress, the public transit bus driver, anyone and everyone in the service or hospitality industry who through no fault of their own was exposed to the virus. I have complete sympathy for these people. 2. The elderly 1900 deaths in our state-run elderly communities where was the testing of staff, the contact tracing, the proper ppe. Once again these people have my complete sympathy. This is just sad and a disgrace. 3 finally the socially stupid was it really nescessary to go
out to that bar in east Lansing that night? Was it really nescessary to go out to your favorite crowded resort on Memorial Day weekend? Was it really nesscessary to go out and protest in the crowded streets in the middle of a pandemic? These young and greedy for life Americans who take no or little precautions. I have no sympathy for because they brought on 90 percent of there own problems themselves. They put themselves in the middle of these high risk situations with little or no thought to others.

Kelly
Wed, 07/08/2020 - 12:20am

There is a 4th and 5th
4. The immune compromised who can't "stay home if you're sick" because they have to go to the medical appointments, whether those are for chemo, transplants, dialysis, diabetes, or other autoimmune disease or they live alone and need to work out of necessity to pay bills.

And that brings us to 5. The unsuspecting family member the socially irresponsible socially stupid one from your number 3 brought it home to, or coworkers, or the nursing home patient, student, hospice patient, daycare child they are in charge of, pregnant coworker they cause complications for, or their parents or grandparents or teacher or professor...any number of people they take a chance on killing but didn't care to think of them when they went and exposed themselves to it. Some even have deliberate Covid parties.

DJ
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 6:31pm

For all those who want more data regarding testing: the Michigan.gov data page (https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/0,9753,7-406-98163_98173---,00.html) and Johns Hopkins (JHU) Coronavirus Resource Center are great websites for all kinds of COVID-19 data.

If you look at the Michigan testing data on the JHU website, the average number of tests conducted doesn't seem to be that different from mid-May on (I didn't actually do the calculations but the averages from mid-May to mid-June compared to mid-June to now don't seem like they would be that different). The more important number to look at is the positivity rate or percentage of tests that come back positive. If the positivity rate stayed the same despite increased testing, then the number of positive cases rose because of testing. Unfortunately, the positivity rate is beginning to increase from its lowest point in mid-June (1.1%) to 2.2% now. So the increased positive cases is not because of increased testing.

However, Michigan did a great job of getting the positivity rate really low before opening and it is best not to ruin that progress and slow things down before it gets out of hand. I'm a Michigander who currently lives in Texas and it is quite terrible here. Texas' positivity rate is almost 15% and the positivity rate rose even as we increased testing. Now Texas has had to shut lots of things down again.

We all want this thing to go away but that doesn't happen if we don't follow these simple recommendations: social distance, stay home when possible, and wear a mask.

Praying for Mic...
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 8:23pm

Looks like we have to wait now until July 29th to start signing Governor Whitmer recall petitions. Watch the recall site. She filed an appeal. Sigh... patience my fellow wise Michigan residents and registered voters. Pray for God’s blessing upon Michigan and the USA. He is in control and we know who wins. Just a matter of time.

J Hendricks
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 10:45pm

I still can’t understand why, after several months, we still don’t have widely available Covid testing. It would seem that if we had saturation and free 10 minute testing everywhere, at all times, and without preconditions, people would readily check themselves, and avoid others. If all the spread - or much of it - is coming from asymptomatic carriers, but you need symptoms to get tested - well, how inane is that? Put a test location near every cluster of bars and restaurants if we are really serious about stopping the spread. And BTW this is Michigan’s responsibility - not Trumps.

Lifetime Michigander
Sat, 07/04/2020 - 1:18pm

It is very sad to have a governor who promises much, and delivers so little. (i.e. Jennifer Granholm)

Bones
Tue, 07/07/2020 - 2:14pm

Better that than to have a governor who promised austerity and delivered on it (plus a ecologic disaster in Flint)

A Yooper
Sat, 07/04/2020 - 1:44pm

My, my , my...... all you jealous naysayers. Keep not wearing masks and hanging in groups means less of you voting in future elections.
You can’t stand smart women, strong women, resilient women, who get in your faces to save your pathetic rear ends. All the CDC data and even the Bridge moment to moment data must be “fake” and a massive conspiracy to save lives. There are three types of people: those who make things, those who watch things happen and those who say what happened. You all are in last place.

Melissa
Fri, 07/10/2020 - 1:02am

With all of this about surges downstate and possibility of going back a phase, why hasn’t the garbage fire at the UIA been fixed? Where’s the governors energy for that? She did a recent shut down based on regions of bars and restaurants. I live in northern Michigan and contrary to what all of these articles talking about Michigan say, northern Michigan is not reopened! We just closed again! Well the region she has a vacation home in happened to not be in a region ordered to close again even though the population of TC is way higher than where I work. I work in Black River (Alcona county) and because Lansing and Grand Rapids are having a supposed surge in cases, we had to also shut down. I’ve lost one job to this crap already. It didn’t survive the first shut down. Now the job I got after they were allowed to start reopening was just shut down again and they don’t think they will be able to reopen. Small locally owned bars and restaurants in small towns up north NEED this time of the year, the summer season in order to survive the slow winter months. First close was just before St Pattys Day which is huge in the hospitality industry. Now this stupid second one was right before the 4th of July weekend and holiday which is another huge day in the industry. This is killing us up here. Why do it by regions? Why can’t she just do it by area that is seeing the surges?? Meanwhile the UIA in Michigan is a mess still. People waiting months to have someone look at their account and clear it so they can have the money they are entitled to. People loosing their cars, homes, etc... Can she not focus on that maybe a little bit? Especially when she’s ordered another shut down and talks of going backwards in phases of reopening? I’m on week seven of no payment, and no answer on the many emails I’ve sent and calls I’ve made from unemployment. The department called “benefit payment and control unit” that is in charge of looking at the form they sent to us (and had the nerve to threaten to close our cases if not filled out and returned with supporting documents within 10 days) disconnected their phone because of all the calls they were getting from people desperate for answers, people that have been waiting for MONTHS. Disconnected! Can you believe it!? But won’t even answer an email! Won’t reopen offices either. Didn’t bother maybe putting an automated message on there for people with some type of reassurance, just disconnected it. We upload all documents asked for and do what’s asked within their pointless time frame and wait... meanwhile utility companies are back to collecting and threatening shut off for non payment, evictions will be restarting soon, Phone bills are due, banks want the mortgage payment(s), food isn’t free, medical expenses cost a lot, etc...
It burns my butt when I see articles such as this one and many others mention northern Michigan is reopen... no it isn’t! The hospitality industry up here keeps getting hit after hit and the people that work in it are just screwed!

Denise M Hettinger
Sat, 07/11/2020 - 4:07am

Good morning,

I am wondering if one of your reporters could put the number of new cases and hospitalizations in perspective by adding the following data:
1. Percentage of the total population of a state or region testing positive
2. Percentage of the total population in the state who died from the virus
3. Percentage of the total population in the state who were hospitalized
4. Percentage of all cases and outcomes by age band
5. Percentage of people tested per state