Michigan Gov. Whitmer: I’m trying to be transparent about coronavirus data

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says Michigan is making progress on making data public on the coronavirus outbreak. A tracking group says Michigan is among the states that release the least amount of information.  (Shutterstock image)

Limited data on coronavirus and long waits for an avalanche of people filing unemployment claims are largely due to outdated and underfunded systems, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said Tuesday. 

Bridge Magazine reported Monday that Michigan is tied for last among states in the amount of certain information it makes public about coronavirus patients, according to the COVID Tracking Project, which collects data from state health departments.

Unlike many states, Michigan doesn’t report data on hospitalizations, recoveries, intensive care patients, patients on ventilators or the number of cases in nursing homes. 

That’s not because there’s anything “we want to hide,” Khaldun said. 

“We absolutely want to be as open and transparent as possible when it comes to data,” she said. But “one thing I've learned from this is that our public health reporting and data systems are just outdated and not able to really respond as quickly and nimbly as we want them to.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said Michigan needs to do a better job releasing data on those who have recovered. 

“We get the number of unfortunate and tragic deaths that occur day to day, but there’s lots of other data — success stories, legions of people who have been tested and found that they were positive and have recovered or have been sent home from the hospital.” 

It’s a “shame” the public does not have access to that data already, Shirkey said. “The people of Michigan need that information, and they need it daily.”

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon issued an order on March 23 requiring hospitals statewide to report daily data on bed capacity, personal protection equipment, lab testing capacity, ventilators, patient numbers and more.

“We’ve been struggling to get complete compliance across the state” in reporting that information, Whitmer said Tuesday. 

On Monday, 58 percent of hospitals statewide were reporting data on personal protection gear, while 85 percent were reporting beds. 

That low compliance makes it hard for hospital systems to make decisions on how to treat the pandemic, southeast Michigan hospital CEOs have said. On Tuesday, PPE reporting was up to 74 percent, while bed reporting remained at 85 percent.

“We’re building this as we’re in the midst of the crisis,” Whitmer said. “Unfortunately, we have a very decentralized public health system — which is a good thing, because it’s at the local level and there are strengths to that — but there are certainly challenges when it comes to having a central place where all the info is shared and communicated.”\

The state “been very clear what the expectations are” and “put a lot more effort” into getting hospitals to comply, Whitmer said.  “I think you’ll see better compliance going forward.”

The state coordinates 45 county and district health departments that receive state funding but operate independently. 

That makes Michigan’s public health system more decentralized than states like Massachusetts where the state “runs everything,” said Meghan Swain, executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health. 

“I hope decentralized is not considered a negative kind of connotation,” she said. “We work very closely with the state, certainly and especially in times of crisis.”

Local health departments feed data into the Michigan Disease Surveillance System, and medical providers like hospitals are also expected to contribute to state databases, Swain said.

“Data is near and dear to the hearts of anyone who works in and around public health,” she said, adding that local health departments have done an “exceptional job” sharing information with the state during the pandemic. 

“We know that the state is utilizing the data that we’re inputting,” Swain said.

Ruthanne Sudderth, spokesperson for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said she agrees with Khaldun’s assessment. 

“The platforms in place weren’t really built to handle a global pandemic,” she said. “We are continuing to help our hospitals report as much data as possible on a daily basis as the needs and asks within the system evolve.”

Whitmer and Khaldun have said the state may start publishing data about patient recoveries this week. 

Similarly, the state’s unemployment online filing system has crashed in recent weeks as a crush of people applying for aid overwhelmed the system. There have been widespread complaints of long waits as people struggle to get through to the site or to support on the phone. 

The state Unemployment Insurance Agency has “been completely inundated with a 4,000 percent increase in people trying to access the site that has been underfunded and undersupported over many years,” Whitmer said. “It is a very clear necessity that we need more help in answering phones and processing claims.”

State Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio said the volume of people filing claims is “unprecedented.” 

During the Great Recession, the highest volume of claims the agency saw in one week was 77,000, Donofrio said. During the first week of the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan saw more than 129,000 claims and the second saw more than 311,000. 

The third week’s numbers will be released Thursday, but “it exceeds any other week we’ve seen by a significant proportion,” he said.

State lawmakers appropriated $136 million to the Unemployment Insurance Agency in the most recent state budget. Funding has decreased every year since 2015, when it was closer to $140 million.

Rep. Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, chair of the state House Appropriations Committee, told Bridge Tuesday that the current budget reflects Whitmer’s recommended level of funding from her first year as governor and that she proposed another decrease of funding for the upcoming fiscal year — Whitmer proposed funding the agency at $133.6 million, but added an additional $4.3 million to fund an appeals commission within the agency. 

It’s “frustrating to hear” Whitmer say the system is underfunded when “there was no recommendation to increase it by any amount,” he said, noting that there’s little flexibility with the money because it’s mostly federal and restricted funds.

“Why wasn’t there an increase recommended for her first budget and why didn’t we have that discussion?” Hernandez said. 

Access to unemployment is “probably one of the biggest issues we’re facing outside of the immediate health crisis right now … There needs to be additional focus on this,” he said.

The agency has hired 150 more people to answer phones to help people tied up with the online system, and they’re planning to hire more, Donofrio said.

“We’re committed of course for everyone who is eligible for unemployment benefits ...  to get every dollar that they’re eligible for,” he said. “So we appreciate the patience people are showing as we process this massive amount of claims.”

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Comments

Kevin Grand
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 7:09pm

"It’s “frustrating to hear” Whitmer say the system is underfunded when “there was no recommendation to increase it by any amount,” he said, noting that there’s little flexibility with the money because it’s mostly federal and restricted funds.

“Why wasn’t there an increase recommended for her first budget and why didn’t we have that discussion?” Hernandez said. "

Well said, Rep. Hernandez.

Why does The Bridge always bury these damning quotes at the end of pieces like this?

Mary Oles
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 9:24am

If you knew it needed fixing why did you not request funding? Stop accusing and suggest a plan to improve. No on has done this before so it would have not become evident until now

Bernadette
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 9:59am

I am not surprised Kevin you are are the first to criticize this article and talk about "damming quotes". Let's follow this back to the beginning of this pandemic and see where all the breakdowns occurred. Your president has been lying, distorting and trying to rewrite history for the past 4 months. Our governor is doing her best to work within this government that was hollowed out from the inside by the GOP.

You are sitting in the cheap seats Kevin.

Vickm
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 1:54pm

Funny all the other states are ahead of ours in this! Did you read that Michigan is tied in LAST place for transparency in this and the Gov is making all the excuses in the world - even blaming hospitals for not complying when they're busy saving lives?? The other states have the same president as we do - why are they able to get by so much better in this situation?

duane
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 9:21pm

It sounds like the Governor Whitmer and chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun are trying to make decisions without any data or are relying on antidotal information. That is sad and surprising it would seem if nothing else that in the past several weeks they would have created and old style of data gather using phones and pencil and paper. It may not be current or even easy to present, but at least they would be seeing trends/patterns and would a have a minimal awareness about the virus in Michigan.
With such a basic level of information it would be at least possible to help people know what is being done and how effective people's actions [separation] working.
It is disappointing that it sounds like those who are suppose to be leading the state through this crisis are willing to set back and accept what is happening and not going out and trying to change things. I wonder if anyone in the government has even approach private companies about their reporting systems and if they could be adapted to be used for county reporting.
Rather than sit back and keeping saying I want to be transparent and accept not having data, I would support Governor Whitmer and chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun do something right or wrong then let the virus control us.

Bernadette
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 10:11am

Duane,

You seem to have a lot of time, maybe you could donate your time to do some of this work. You and Kevin are the first ones to criticize and the last ones to step up.

Do you understand what crisis management involves? Our government is working 24/7 to respond to this crisis. Healthcare providers are working 24/7 to care for those who are in need. Our government is reaching out to those who can assist in this process. What can you do instead of being a critical by stander?

Michigan has been led by the GOP for the past decade and has taken us down this road, so any lack in the current system can be tracked back to the carving out of all "state agencies" one budget at a time. WAKE UP, VOLUNTEER and stop criticizing!! Here is the link to volunteer. https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/0,9753,7-406-98178_98811---,00.html

duane
Thu, 04/09/2020 - 1:50am

Bernadette,
Since the Governor and good Doctor were complaining about wanting to be more transparent but lack the data to share, my comments were simply suggestions from my past experience when data from across a wide geographic area was need for reporting.
Since, by order of the Governor I am restricted to my home [can't even go to my normal volunteer locations], I would be interest in helping with the data gathering, data/statistical analysis, charting, and other data activities [in my career data analysis and application of trending and control we part of my role responsibilities, there was even a time when I did standard deviation to better understand data accuracy].
I do believe there are many across Michigan with more statistical knowledge and skills that would be interested in volunteering if only the Governor or the Doctor would reach out to them.
Your like seems to be more for specialized [medical care] volunteers and volunteer organizations.

Cathy
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 9:21am

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey disregards all diplomacy at our worst of times. His criticisms are nothing short of opportunist politically motivated and an attempt to gain an advantage. I have no faith in anything he says nor any of his actions.

Starve the beast
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 9:41am

Remember that? Lobbyist Grover Norquist is a well-known proponent of the strategy to destroy our government and has famously said, "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Not so wise. Folks like Norquist ARE the BEAST, a virus like COVID-19, only one design to destroy it's own species.

Barb ZB
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 10:03am

Regarding the Corona virus data, people like Shirkey and Hernandez talk about wanting to know the number of people who have recovered, and while that is good for our spirit, it doesn't help those of us who haven't contracted the virus yet and are trying to prevent the disease from happening.
"It’s a “shame” the public does not have access to that data already, Shirkey said. “The people of Michigan need that information, and they need it daily.” Daily? is he kidding?
It's much more important for us to know how many cases there are AND in which communities, and how fast the virus is spreading within our communities so we can be extra cautious when we go out for groceries, doctor appointments and gas. It is hard to find consistent data on the spread in our townships, small towns and cities. Our counties are large and cover a lot of territory.
Ya, knowing how many people have recovered may be balm for our tired spirits, but it can also be the impetus that lead people to take more chances. Shirkey sounds just like Trump, the Republicans on Wisconsin's Supreme Court and the Republicans on our U.S. Supreme Court AND the Republican-dominated legislators in Wisconsin - MAKE THE PUBLIC FEEL SAFE SO WE BECOME LESS VIGILENT in protecting ourselves and our communities.
I hope our rally cry during the 2020 Presidential election isn't "Remember Wisconsin and their primary".
Be safe everyone and take care.

John
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 10:15am

What data? There is no statistically relevant data being published, and it appears that this data is not even being collected. This is a massive scam.

Gerry
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 10:21am

“We get the number of unfortunate and tragic deaths that occur day to day, but there’s lots of other data — success stories, legions of people who have been tested and found that they were positive and have recovered or have been sent home from the hospital.”
It’s a “shame” the public does not have access to that data already, Shirkey said. “The people of Michigan need that information, and they need it daily.”
The people of Michigan don't need "good news, feel good" news when the political sparring continues and Legislators like Shirkey and Chatfield, et.al., don't wear masks, or remove them to say a prayers. It's plain old in your face crap. The Commandment "Thou shalt not murder.", is exactly what you guys are doing with this behavior. How dare you jeopardize others. We don't need good news, we need to feel safe plain and simple. Grow up.

10x25mm
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 10:54am

Governor Whitmer is certainly trying "....to be as open and transparent as possible when it comes to data..." with her suspension of FOIA.

She really does take us for idiots.

Cathy
Thu, 04/09/2020 - 8:56am

10 x 25 Your distorting what she did; In balancing the core priority of government transparency with the public safety demands of the pandemic, "it is reasonable and necessary to provide limited and temporary extensions of certain FOIA deadlines, so that Michiganders may remain informed and involved in their government during this unprecedented crisis without unduly compromising the health and safety of this state and its residents."
For requests sent by regular mail, by fax, or by hand delivery, the normal required response time is extended to 10 business days, up from five currently. Also, in those cases, the clock does not start ticking until an employee opens the envelope or removes the faxed message from the machine.

10x25mm
Thu, 04/09/2020 - 3:57pm

Section 2a. of XO 2020-38 reads: "If a public records request requires in-person efforts, such as an in-person search, inspection, examination, preparation, or production of public records, by the requestor or the public body, a public body may defer that portion of the request until the expiration of this order or any order that follows from it." Since almost all FOIA requests require "in-person efforts", this is an authorization to suspend FOIA responses until 05 June.

So you don't get to question the coronavirus actions of the State of Michigan and its subsidiaries until this pandemic is history.

Subee
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 11:09am

Does Mike Shirkey even read the news? We CAN'T test "healthy" people if we DON'T have any testing kits available except for high priority patients and health care workers. It pains me to see a person so stupid in such a position of power.

Marko
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 11:20am

Reading in the comments about the govener and her immediate cohorts marching ahead in ingornace with antidoltle evidence is what will end up being the truth. It will be the overwhelming story in the end concerning this crisis. Meanwhile, businesses and people livelihoods will be damage or completely destroyed in her broad not well defined stay-at-home order, that will end up not saving anymore lives and have ruined the health care system even more by removing other revenue that could have been generating during this time. Not everyone has to be put on respirators or oxygen in the hospital, but that is the protocol if they are experiencing any distress in breathing if the conclusion is they neede one or not. And of coarse we will have more infections and deaths because we are a more populous country, but our numbers are not even exceed those by precentage in other countries, because we already have a healthcare system the people ppl e can access when we need to. I think we will find in the end that many people already experienced covid 19 over the early winter months but no one shut everything down over it or the flu or other sicknesses that causes pneumonia and death. According to world stats to date this sickness will infect approx 1% this year and a fraction of a percent that will suffer to point of death which may not have even killed them but their underlying conditions and obesity.

Amber Swain
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 11:32am

How about you get the CARES ACT money in the unemployment site!!! We need our money!!! If you don't get this fixed soon what do you think will happen?

R.L.
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 11:34am

Without more testing does it really matter. Test test test to get the true Numbers.

Bruce
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 11:58am

Since when did Republicans ever care about anything about people and not just budget cuts and corporate profits. Why? Oh, we have a new Democratic administration in place now. Funny to hear them say talk about no initial year budget increases especially after the eight-year disaster of Rick Synder's administration. Roads can't be repaired; no money, People of Flint suffering from years of neglect and indifference, corporate giveaways with no financial progress for the little guy. You get the idea. Cut, cut, cut is they new. Sure just blame a two-month-old administration. Stop playing plotics Republicans!

Bob Shishka
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 4:16pm

As I sit in front of the computer typing this reply, the bedroom window on my left is cracked open just a smidge... to let in some of that sweet spring-like air & the melodic sounds of the birds singing in a nearby Spruce tree.
Another familiar sound I hear? The sound of midday traffic, traveling down Metro Parkway. Heaviest it has sounded since the whole Corona debacle began? Each passing day it has gotten a little louder. Sounds to me like people are beginning to lose their patience with those in charge?
Michigan clearly was not prepared for this situation & many innocent people are now suffering because of it. The country wasn't prepared. Now is not the time to argue over who's to blame. Now is the time to come up with solutions to help the people who are desperate for help today. All I see is political posturing on both sides.
Who will we blame when the next phase kicks in? When the bottom falls out from under the real estate market & the mass evictions begin?
These are scary times we find ourselves in and it's just downright depressing to watch people argue the merits of D versus R when our house is clearly ON FIRE.... and all we get is excuses and posturing instead of concrete solutions. I got news for you...they are ALL to blame! The politicians are doing just fine during this crisis....and they will be doing just fine AFTER this crisis.
Can you say the same? How about your neighborhood? If you answered "no" maybe you should consider a career in politics? It's recession & pandemic proof! Guaranteed lifetime income with Cadillac health bennies. Who cares if you actually SOLVE ANYTHING? Just as long as you make it look like you tried!
In the meantime continue arguing over D versus R.....the politicians are counting on it! While you argue with one another you inadvertently give them cover....allowing them the ability to steal even more.
When will people in this country finally wake up to the fact that the D & R party are two sides of the same coin. They are the left and right wing of the same shit bird. It's professional wrestling designed to make you think that one side is evil & the other... saintly? It's a scam. They only care about themselves? How much more evidence do you need?
No matter which side is in charge......the people with the least always suffer the most. And the politicians both D & R? They don't suffer at all. You don't find that curious? Not even a little? Well, you should. Stay safe Michiganders. Love thy neighbor....not thy politician. Bob

John Lincoln
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 6:12pm

Bruce, that was a great question! The answer to the question of "when did Republicans ever care anything about people" is in 1854. In the Republican Party platform of 1856, the party platform stated that "we hold it to be a self-evident truth, that all men are endowed with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The platform goes on to state that the Republican Party is opposed to slavery (which the Democratic Party supported) and polygamy (does the modern-day Democratic Party oppose polygamy?).

Also to answer your question about the roads- the following is a graphic which shows road funding in Michigan. One notable feature of the graph is that the line goes up (indicating an increase in road funding) every year that Rick Snyder was Governor of Michigan.
http://gophouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/RoadFunding_HistoricalCha...
Or this graph, which shows the same thing-
https://www.mackinac.org/media/images/2018/S2018-10Graphic20LRG.jpg

Again, great questions Bruce. I hope you learned something!

middle of the mit
Thu, 04/09/2020 - 6:57pm

John, that's a pretty simplistic answer.

Did you know that during the 1964-5 voting and civil rights acts that Republicans didn't agree with those, and neither did a small segment of dems. Those dems called themselves the Dixiecrats. And after that landmark legislation that actually brought black Americans closer to the achievement of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness", those Dixiecrats moved to the Republican party.

And that is why Republicans now celebrate The Confederate Heritage, confederate war statues and all things from the slave holding south.

https://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2016/feb/24/mississippi-governor-d...

As far as Polygamy goes, I think you might want to ask the Mormons in Utah about that. Maybe Mitt Romney would be more helpful, though I do vaguely remember that Utah was thinking about making it legal again.

https://www.foxnews.com/us/utah-law-decriminalize-polygamy-among-consent...

[[[[Despite polygamy being made a felony in Utah some 85 years ago, its practitioners still number in the thousands. Republican Senator Deidre Henderson, who proposed removing the threat of jail time for polygamists, said efforts to curb the practice have been largely ineffectual and, in some cases, have made matters worse. ]]]]

Is every accusation by conservatives an admittance of guilt? I would suggest reading some of the comments from the Fox News audience.

Also, if you would like to know how and why road funding happened during Rick Snyder while he cut taxes, find your vehicle registration from 2009. Compare said registration each year from that year on and see how Republicans raised your FEES . You could do it with hunting and fishing and all other fees. But hey! NO new taxes!

Glad I could help.

I Hope you learned something.

John
Fri, 04/10/2020 - 12:30am

Weird. I looked up the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the vote totals were not how you described them. From wikipedia-

By party
The record of the roll call vote kept by the House Clerk on final passage of the bill
The original House version:
Democratic Party: 152–96 (61–39%)
Republican Party: 138–34 (80–20%)
The Senate version:
Democratic Party: 46–21 (69–31%)
Republican Party: 27–6 (82–18%)
The Senate version, voted on by the House:
Democratic Party: 153–91 (63–37%)
Republican Party: 136–35 (80–20%)

Now, I am not that bright, but it appears that Republicans in the Legislature voted 80% and 82% in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That is the exact opposite of what you said.

And you characterized the Democratic opposition as "a small segment"- I suppose 39, 37, and 31 percents is smaller than a majority, but it's not a really small segment like you seem to think it is.

You do realize that the leader of the opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a Senator from West Virginia (not a Dixiecrat) named Robert Bryd, who was a Democrat until the day he died and a leader of your party (he was the ranking Democratic on the Appropriations Committee) as recently as 2010?

I feel bad that the public school system let you down so badly, and that you've been walking around your whole life thinking the exact opposite of the truth, and even voting and commenting when you are exactly opposite of the truth. Sad stuff.

Vickm
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 1:51pm

Why are we so far behind other states?? The Gov says :
the state “been very clear what the expectations are” and “put a lot more effort” into getting hospitals to comply, Whitmer said. “I think you’ll see better compliance going forward.” Is she blaming the hospitals for the state not being able to keep up with other states?? Aren't hospitals BUSY at this moment? and if you can't pull the data, how do you even know what has been provided? She also says the state's not set up to handle a GLOBAL pandemic?? You don't need to handle it globally - just state wide! Why isn't the state set up to handle basic health data for Michigan's citizens? It all sounds like a lot of EXCUSES to me. Excuses that are costing lives. Too little, too late.

Vickm
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 3:08pm

Why are we so far behind other states?? The Gov says :
the state “been very clear what the expectations are” and “put a lot more effort” into getting hospitals to comply, Whitmer said. “I think you’ll see better compliance going forward.” Is she blaming the hospitals for our state not being able to keep up with other states?? Aren't hospitals BUSY at this moment? and if you can't pull the data, how do you even know what has been provided? She also says the state's not set up to handle a GLOBAL pandemic?? You don't need to handle it globally - just state wide! Why isn't the state set up to handle basic health data for emergencies in Michigan? It all sounds like a lot of EXCUSES to me. Excuses that are costing lives. Too little, too late.

Deidrea Gresham
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 3:21pm

I don’t think the Governor is aware of the 2016 unemployment fraud that occurred and Michiganders that are effected by this are just finding out that they are victims because someone filed claims in their names and now these overpayments are one their unemployment case Ihave been calling the fraud department for 2 weeks daily on hold for 4to 8 hours with no results this needs attention asap because people are suffering through no fault of their own. My email address is shellypoo.1@netzero.com

Deidrea Gresham
Wed, 04/08/2020 - 3:21pm

I don’t think the Governor is aware of the 2016 unemployment fraud that occurred and Michiganders that are effected by this are just finding out that they are victims because someone filed claims in their names and now these overpayments are one their unemployment case Ihave been calling the fraud department for 2 weeks daily on hold for 4to 8 hours with no results this needs attention asap because people are suffering through no fault of their own. My email address is shellypoo.1@netzero.com

Trying Matters?
Thu, 04/09/2020 - 2:18pm

I guess trying hard means something, right? It doesn't really matter if she is transparent, or if she has taken any meaningful steps to be transparent, or if she has done anything real that led to transparency- she is trying.

Michigan is last in the nation in data (or near the bottom) on this virus, but at least she is trying. I wish she was more successful at that effort and less successful at printing tshirts promoting herself, but whatever- it's her choice, and choice matters more than life.

Gandy Micher
Thu, 04/09/2020 - 5:11pm

Did he seriously suggest the Governor should have anticipated this pandemic when drawing up her budget for unemployment?!

Gandy Micher
Thu, 04/09/2020 - 5:11pm

Did he seriously suggest the Governor should have anticipated this pandemic when drawing up her budget for unemployment?!