LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is urging residents to continue staying home while she contemplates opening parts of the economy, and she wants the White House to echo that message days after President Donald Trump appeared to encourage protesters in a call to “liberate Michigan.”
“What happens depends on how these next 10 days go,” Whitmer said Monday in a live briefing from the Romney Building in downtown Lansing.
“To those of you who are hopeful we’ll be able to start loosening some restrictions, stay home now to better make the odds that we’re able to do that in 10 days. To those of you who want to get back to work as soon as possible, stay home. For those of you who made plans for June, July and August and want to see them through, stay home.”
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Whitmer’s plea — which turned emotional when she discussed the weekend death of a 5-year-old Detroit girl — comes amid what appears to be a marked decline in new statewide coronavirus cases. The state on Monday reported 576 cases and 77 deaths in the prior 24 hours, the lowest number of new cases since March 26, and the lowest number of new deaths since April 5.
The overall declines are fueled by drops in metro Detroit, home to nearly 80 percent of statewide cases, even though caseloads are growing in other parts of the state, as Bridge reported Saturday.
“I want to be clear, living in a rural part of Michigan does not mean that you are safe from the virus,” the governor warned. “Just because it’s not shown up in your community yet doesn’t mean it’s not already there.”
Overall, 32,000 Michigan residents have tested positive for the virus, while nearly 2,500 have died.
Whitmer did not offer any specific plans for reopening the economy but laid out what she called “potential workplace controls” she may impose on businesses beyond May 1, including employee temperature checks, physical distancing requirements, improved sanitation, protective equipment and rapid testing for employees at large workplaces.
She and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said Michigan is ramping up testing efforts as the state’s coronavirus caseload declines. The tests could inform regional economic decisions and help detect any second waves.
Michigan is partnering with Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Rite-Aid to open eight new drive-thru test sites across the state while expanding testing criteria to provide testing for any essential workers, including front-line health care workers and grocery store employees, whether or not they’ve experienced symptoms.
Walmart and Walgreens have already opened testing sites in Southgate and Detroit, Whitmer said. CVS will open a Dearborn site on Tuesday, while Rite Aid is opening testing sites in Macomb, Swartz Creek, Eaton Rapids, Kentwood and Saginaw on Monday and Tuesday.
“We know, according to all of the epidemiologists and scientists… that robust testing is essential to have confidence about our strategies for safely reducing risk and re-engaging sectors of our economy,” Whitmer said.
Michigan has had more coronavirus cases than most states but has not performed as many tests as many peers, averaging 4,524 tests a day over the past week.
The state has the “capacity” to process 11,300 tests each day but does not have enough of the swabs and reagents that are needed to complete that work, Whitmer said.
“He conveyed that that was something they would do,” Whitmer said of Pence.
The governors also warned the vice president about the looming budget shortfalls that state governments are facing because of the pandemic and resulting economic crisis, according to Whitmer, who announced she is personally taking a 10 percent pay cut from her $159,300 salary and is asking senior staffers in the executive office to take a 5 percent reduction.
Beyond testing, Khaldun said that identifying anyone who came into contact with a COVID-19 patient is “critical to the public health response.”
In recent weeks, staff from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services have supported local health departments in southeast Michigan by contacting more than 12,000 people who may have come into contact with someone carrying the virus, Khaldun said. And the state has trained an additional 2,200 volunteers to conduct that work across the state.
So-called contact tracing “really helps us in the public health field understand who may be at highest risk and contact them so that we can prevent further spread of the disease,” Khaldun said.
Whitmer last week joined a coalition of governors working to develop a regional plan for reopening state economies when public health experts say it is safe, and she has convened a team of business and medical leaders to advise her while the Republican-led Legislature makes suggestions.
But the availability of testing resources will be key to any Michigan plans, Whitmer said.
“We are going through a rigorous process using the best data, listening to the best medical minds and really trying to make sure the course that we chart will keep people safe and will preclude us from having a second wave,” she said.
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