Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says COVID-19 antibody test could help reopen economy

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

As the state’s death toll rises, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to extend her stay-at-home order beyond April 14.  (Photo courtesy of the governor's office)

LANSING — Michigan is preparing to publish COVID-19 recovery data and wants to identify residents who have developed antibodies and may now be immune to the virus, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday.

As the state’s death toll rises and Whitmer is expected to extend her stay-at-home order beyond April 14, recovery data could inform decisions on when and how to reopen parts of the Michigan economy. 

“We want to know who possibly has antibodies, who can be safely out in the public or back to work,” Whitmer told reporters in a coronavirus response briefing. “I think it’s also going to be important that we continue to develop an antibody test that is available in a robust way.”

But Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, both warned an antibody test may not prove how long someone is immune to the virus, especially if it evolves. 

“We don’t know if the virus is going to mutate,” Khaldun said, “so even if you have the antibody, how effective is antibody fighting the disease, and will you be immune next year if the coronavirus is around? All that still has to be studied.”

The comments come as Michigan braces for what both Whitmer and President Trump have warned could be one of the worst weeks for the outbreak. As of Sunday, Michigan had at least 15,718 confirmed cases and 617 deaths, but state officials have warned they expect daily numbers to continue to rise for more weeks. 

A few hours after Whitmer’s update, Detroit officials announced that cases in the city jumped 475 from Sunday to 5,032 and deaths increased 29 to 196. Trump and other federal officials have called Detroit a national hotspot for the virus.

“We are not close to the apex yet,” said Whitmer, adding she plans to revise and extend her current stay-at-home limiting travel for non-essential workers. 

“We haven't hit that yet, and until we do, I think it's absolutely essential that we're continuing to be aggressive. So I would anticipate an additional order probably in the next week.” 

Whitmer has warned Michigan may have had more cases than reported because of early testing shortages. She and Khaldun said an antibody test could help determine if people already had COVID-19 but were not tested at the time.

“We are working on that front as well,” Whitmer said. “We want to build that kind of database so we know who among us has got those antibodies.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week approved the nation’s first test for coronavirus antibodies, which can tell doctors whether a patient has been exposed and if they’ve developed some immunity. 

Such tests have reportedly already been used in other countries such as China and Singapore. England purchased 3.5 million antibody tests and plans to ship them to residents for personal use.

Groups such as the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which includes a Michigan State University medical expert, are studying whether plasma from recovered patients could treat others or prevent the spread. 

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who helped reveal Flint’s water contamination crisis, tested positive for COVID-19 and plans to donate her plasma to the group.

Michigan’s interest in antibody testing comes as the state faces criticism over what data it has and is making available to health providers and a public that is clamoring for information about the pandemic. 

On Sunday, Beaumont Health CEO John Fox blasted the state for failing to enforce an emergency order requiring hospitals to share data on bed and ventilator capacity, patient numbers, supplies, staffing shortages and dedicated COVID-19 treatment areas.

He cited a lack of “accurate, real-time data” as contributing to delays in finding other hospitals to send newly arriving patients.

Unlike several states, Michigan does not release data on patients who are on ventilators or in intensive care, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Khaldun said Monday that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is working with the Michigan Hospital Association to “make sure our hospital CEOs know and have the ability to report properly.”  

She defended the state’s data sharing to date, telling reporters Michigan is one of the only states reporting on patient race (the data show the virus is disproportionately impacting African Americans) and is working to be as “comprehensive and transparent as we possibly can.”

Khaldun said the state this week plans to begin posting data on the number of Michigan residents who have so far recovered from COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, Michigan hospitals in Metro Detroit are running “dangerously low” on personal protective equipment for medical providers, Whitmer said Monday. 

As far as N-95 masks, Beaumont Health Systems has less than three days until its supply runs out, Henry Ford Health System has less than four days and the Detroit Medical Center has less than 10 days, according to the governor.


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Kevin Grand
Mon, 04/06/2020 - 1:40pm

Another link in the chain.

Obviously, Gov. Whitmer has forgotten Bill of Rights 101 from when she went to law school.

Pretty sure that one is Number 4.

I cannot help but wonder what right she'll ask us to give up next?

Mark D
Mon, 04/06/2020 - 4:33pm

Please take a moment and realize that our world has changed. Not our state. Not our country, or even just the continent we live on. The entire world has been affected, and all of our lives aren't what they normally are.

It's called greif. We're all grieving the loss of our liberties, the loss of being close with our family and friends. But I hope you can find peace and understanding knowing that the vast majority of the world is living under similar conditions. We're all in this together, and it's not so difficult to be united in getting us all past this.

Every new case means that we all (the entire world) have to deal with this for 2 - 3 weeks longer. We must take every step necessary to prevent as many new cases as possible. The better we get at preventing the spread of this, the faster we move past this, and the fast we can get our economy going again.

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 3:50am

Antibodies can be a very important key to stopping the spread of the virus

Fri, 04/10/2020 - 10:45pm

Why are other states testing and working to get people back to work and our governor always seems to be looking for others to bring the answer?

Kevin Grand
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 9:34am

I don't dispute that this is happening worldwide Mark, I only dispute how we as Americans handle it, and want to continue handling it.

The God-Given Rights that we as Americans enjoy, were not just handed over freely. Americans had to fight for them, and continue fighting to defend them throughout our Republic's history.

What has really bothered me during this time, is not just how quickly certain elected officials are quick to dismiss those rights under the guise of promoting "safety", but how quickly too many Americans, especially the media, wants to do the same.

If history is any indication (and it usually is), whenever a government takes rights away, it rarely gives them back. And certainly not in a timely manner.

An indication of a more ominous threat to the Liberties we as Americans revere, came from Dr. Fauci at a new conference about a week ago. In it, he let this slip:

"DR. FAUCI: Yeah, I think if we get to the part of the curve that Dr. Birx showed yesterday when it goes down to essentially no new cases, no deaths at a period of time, I think it makes sense that you're going to have to relax social distancing."

NO new cases? NO new deaths?

That is an admirable goal, but it also an unobtainable one. I'm not aware of ANY communicable disease that has been totally eradicated from the face of the Earth in recent history.

A common refrain that you have probably heard is "the cure being worse than the disease". If the government imposed lock-down of society is allowed to continue, you're going to have to contend with a far more serious problem than a communicable disease which is on track to kill significantly less people that Heart Disease, Respiratory Disease, Kidney Disease or even Pneumonia.

Mon, 04/06/2020 - 4:53pm

No such class. You mean Constitutional Law? Pretty sure you know nothing about law school.

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 12:19pm

No law school nor any other type of education other than the ability to read is required to read and understand the consistution and its amendments. Only basic reasoning ability is required. Only a rifle and the life of a Patriot is needed to defend it. Take your elitist views elsewhere.

James Miller
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 11:38am

In one fell swoop, the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Amendments are suspended indefinitely. Their dream is coming true. See "How to boil a frog."

Kevin Grand
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 1:12pm

Important correction: You CAN still purchase a firearm and ammunition.

MCL 30.405 Section 2 is very clear:

"Subsection (1) does not authorize the seizure, taking, or confiscation of lawfully possessed firearms or ammunition."

Inasmuch as the media likes to play fast and loose with the fact, we should NOT be doing the same.

James Miller
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 1:43pm

Kevin, If the gun stores are considered "non-essential" and more importantly, the NICS system is inoperable and issuing blanket delays, then the 2nd Amendment and the associated state constitutional edicts are subverted. I was not playing "fast and loose," just pointing out the results of the situation.

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 9:58am

They are in fact not suspended. I've been driving around going to stores when I feel like it while concealed carrying my AR-15 pistol that I built from parts without a background check and I haven't run into trouble yet.

We will be able to tell when they are actually trying to force their illegal "suspension", because we will likely wake up to the sound of sirens and gunshots all over the place. Things are pretty chill right now and it's great to see how many people are ammo-ing up and openly stating that they are ready to outright reject these tyrants. Gives me hope for the next civil war.

David Libby
Mon, 04/06/2020 - 3:02pm

Interesting that the governor knows how many masks are at the facilities, what race patients are but cannot tell us: A. How many tests have yet to be processed (a friend's took 10 days), B. How many are in Hospitals, C. How many are in ICU's, D. How many are on ventilators and E. How many have recovered. Real numbers and data are what is needed.

Fri, 04/10/2020 - 10:48pm

It’s starting to concern me. She even cited NY Times data in one of the daily updates. Does she get data from them, or they get the data from her?!

We are far behind other states and countries in testing, reporting, and proper action. I prefer to study the race and worry about school lunches after we stop the spread and get everyone back to work.

John Locke
Mon, 04/06/2020 - 5:30pm

So Michigan isn't reporting data on patients who are on ventilators or in intensive care or those who have recovered, but Governor Halfwhit's reply is that she is reporting on race, which apparently she thinks is the most important thing to care about?

And when given a chance to open up our economy and stop the devastating effects of her shutdown orders by allowing those who have developed immunities to the virus to return to work, she quickly and swiftly moved against this chance and smothered the hope?

Look, what we are seeing here is what happens when you elect someone with no history of leadership but a long history of playing partisan politics. It's real easy to shut stuff down, destroy hope, be critical of chances, talk down an economy, bad-mouth and blame others, and invent excuses for why things don't get done. It is much harder to actually do things- to get creative with solutions, provide hope to other people, think of ways to get people back to work, praise and support others, and come up with ideas on how to get stuff done. And our Governor has no history of doing things the hard way. Halfwhit has moved quickly to protect her supporters in public unions (which are supported by taxpayers), while moving slowly to explore and test TrumpCure+.

I know that if Governor Halfwhit could, she'd wave a wand at everyone and just freeze them (this is a quote from her own speech), because it's easier to figure out what to do when people are all dead and frozen. But that's not the way the world works- people are alive and move and engage in free choices and make lots of connections. I know that the Governor is strongly pro-choice, but shutting down life in Michigan should not be done.

Mon, 04/06/2020 - 8:30pm

What an ugly, despicable person you are. Name calling? At your age?
"...someone with no history of leadership but a long history of playing partisan politics. It's real easy to shut stuff down, destroy hope, be critical of chances, bad-mouth and blame others, and invent excuses for why things don't get done" describes the president completely. He's a real estate developer. Are you really willing to credit him with a cure?
You're a Republican, you don't like Governor Whitmer. Got it. Aren't you supposed to be a decent human being, first?

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 12:23pm

Amen! Mr. Locke's comment was as ill informed as it was inappropriate.

Mary Sue
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 4:46pm

It looked like that John person person was commenting on her policies and was critical of her approach to the political responses that she has employed. But Mindi called John an "ugly despicable person" and later implied that having a difference in political beliefs made John less than a decent human. It's fine to oppose political views and it's okay to have differences in views on policy positions, but let's not try to call people names Mindi. Calling people names like you did is an attempt to dehumanize them so that you can take away their liberty and property, and that's not what America is about.

Fri, 04/10/2020 - 10:53pm

This isn’t political. It’s a direct view on the handling of a crisis. Compared to other states and countries, Michigan is in bad shape!

We have very low testing, high infection, poor data reporting, and no information for real use:
-Which hospital is overloaded, where should I go?
-Are the hospitals really out of equipment? If so, which one should we send our masks to in order to help?
-Why are other states testing for antibodies and turning the corner, and we just say we should do it?

James tomlinson
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 8:50am

Capable accomplished woman are threatening to some? I am with the woman. Previous 8 years were enough. Then there is the flint legacy.

nancy drew
Thu, 04/09/2020 - 2:24pm

john those were good comments... TrumpCure+ and Governor Halfwhit... accurate descriptions of them both

James tomlinson
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 8:45am

I like guv whitmer. Transparent, humane, governing for the many. She’s been office a short time. Like or not she made a reality based road policy. The gop were always pushing unpopular policy in darkness of night. The virus is uncharted territory. I am with the woman

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 9:43am

In order for our country to get back on track we need the testing so those already immune can get back to work and slowly get the economy back. Testing is essential to this recovery. Get on it.

Robert Wynes
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 10:27am

Where are the tests? That’s the solution in a nut shell. Negative people go back to work, positive remain isolated or treated. Where are the tests ???!!

James Miller
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 11:28am

Was wondering how long it would take for the Libs to inject race into the issue.

Pete Robarge
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 5:06pm

Because people in mich dont listen law need to help because mich peolpe are brake the stay at home law they dont get it

Mrs. Robarge
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 5:14pm

I am Detroit Mich!! These people are not following the orders at all! They think this is a joke or something. Need to get the army out here. If not more are going to die due to the people that don't care.

Human Being
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 7:56pm

I am also in Detroit , and the majority of its citizens are following the stay at home. The violators are mostly young and I do agree behaving dumb. However, they are not the only young people in America to disregard the directives give. I do find it interesting that this is the first time I've heard the National Guard as a solution. That wasn't suggested during spring break. I do blame those who are not following the stay at home for intensifying this pandemic. However, it's kind of hard to condemn them for not taking it serious when our Nation's leader just informed them a few weeks ago it was a huax and NOT to be taken serious.

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 6:12pm

This woman is scary--so she is going to restrict our civil liberaties and rights until we can prove we are immune to COVID-19? Not to mention mandating a blood test from citizens is unconstitutional and unprecedented.

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 10:14am

They aren't restricted. Go out and live your life. They can't arrest/kill all of us, they simply don't have the numbers. All snitch neighbors who report people for "executive order violations" need to be tracked in a database just like we used to track communists and still track white supremacists/nazi sympathizers - These people are dangerous.

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 1:18pm

John you are correct.

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 2:58pm

Governor, please make the antibodies test available as quickly and as easily available as possible. I and several people I know had minor symptoms in March or April but felt fine after a day or two. Could we be one of the lucky ones that only had minor symptoms and recovered? Imagine if we had drive up test centers around the state. Stick your arm out the car window, identify yourself with picture ID, Pull over and wait for result. Enter results in a database voluntarily. Anyone who has antibodies could return to work in a "positive for antibodies environment" only. Employers could verify your status from the database. Entire factories might be able to get to work faster with antibodies positive employees.

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 1:11pm

If she thinks the govt is going to test whoever and whenever they've got another thing coming.

Fri, 04/10/2020 - 10:36pm

Why is the governor always so vague? I had symptoms, was told not to get tested, got worse, was told to stay home.

Now I want an antibody text, she says we should do it. How?!

No info who to call, when they are coming, what’s taking so long.. I see other states already testing!!

Fri, 04/10/2020 - 10:36pm

Why is the governor always so vague? I had symptoms, was told not to get tested, got worse, was told to stay home.

Now I want an antibody text, she says we should do it. How?!

No info who to call, when they are coming, what’s taking so long.. I see other states already testing!!

Fri, 04/10/2020 - 10:38pm

Other states are testin for the virus and antibodies. Why is Michigan always so far behind on this?

Nobody can tell me when or where I can get tested.

Fri, 04/10/2020 - 10:38pm

Other states are testin for the virus and antibodies. Why is Michigan always so far behind on this?

Nobody can tell me when or where I can get tested.