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Whitmer strongly hints she'll extend coronavirus stay-home order in Michigan

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April 24 update: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expected to extend stay-home order until May 15
April 10 update: What Michigan's new coronavirus stay-at-home executive order means
April 9 update: Coronavirus pandemic extends Michigan stay-at-home order until end of April

Crowded hospitals, supply shortages, mounting deaths — and a public health crisis that is likely more widespread than reported because there aren’t enough tests for everybody who wants one.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer painted a grim picture of the state's ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus Thursday night in a televised town hall. 

"This disease is ravaging our state," Whitmer told viewers hours after her administration disclosed new figures Thursday showing a total of 10,791 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 417 deaths in Michigan since March 10. 

The first-term governor urged residents to comply with her stay-at-home order, calling it Michigan’s best chance to slow the spread of the virus, and indicated she may extend it beyond the current expiration date of April 14. 

President Donald Trump recently extended federal social distancing guidelines through the end of April.

“As long as all the science continues to point toward social distancing being the most important thing that we can do, we're going to have to continue that stay-at-home order,” she said on the evening broadcast, hosted by commercial and public stations in Detroit. The governor answered dozens of questions, including many submitted to the stations by viewers.

On Wednesday, Whitmer had asked the Michigan Legislature to extend a disaster declaration that gives her emergency authority during the pandemic. That would not impact her stay-at-home order but would ensure she could extend it if deemed appropriate. 

"I would anticipate that there's a possibility that I will have to lengthen the stay home order," Whitmer said, "but precisely how long it is and when that announcement will be made, I'm not prepared to say right now." 

At least 38 states have reportedly implemented some form of stay-at-home order since mid-March. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday extended his order through April 30.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, joined Whitmer in the televised town hall, reiterating the governor’s recent claim that the state is “four to five weeks” away from reaching the peak of the pandemic.

“But what's important to know is that even when we hit that apex, when we start coming down there will still be a lot more cases and there will still be many more deaths,” she said.

Whitmer and Khaldun urged retired or out-of-state medical professionals to come to Michigan to join the front-line battle in the pandemic. And they explained their previous call for less-crowded hospitals to share the load by accepting COVID-19 patient transfers from metro-Detroit’s most crowded hospitals..

“We know that our hospitals, especially in Southeast Michigan, are at capacity,” Khaldun said. “They’re running out of ventilators. They’re running out of [personal protection equipment]. They’re taking care of patients in hallways.”

As of midday Thursday, Michigan had the third most confirmed COVID-19 cases and the third most deaths in the nation, behind only New York and New Jersey.

Whitmer acknowledged her stay-at-home directive and other orders have created hardships for Michigan workers who lost their jobs and business owners forced to close.

More than 300,000 Michigan residents filed unemployment insurance claims last week, breaking a record set the prior week. Roughly 1 in 10 Michigan workers — a total of 439,092 — have filed for jobless benefits since March 15. 

But Whitmer told viewers that aggressive actions like the stay-at-home order are necessary to slow the spread of a virus that can be transmitted by people who do not even know they have it.

"The worst thing we could do for our economy is not take aggressive steps and watch this play out over a much longer course,” she said. “It would be bad for our economy if we didn't pay attention to science and make decisions so that we’re smart about when we ramp back up.”

While a handful of Michigan counties have not yet had any confirmed cases of COVID-19, Whitmer said a statewide approach is warranted because the virus “is probably in a lot more places than we know” because of testing shortages.

“When we have to prioritize testing, and we have to assess who gets the test or who doesn’t — as opposed to testing everyone who needs to be tested — it can skew the information and give you a false sense of confidence or a false sense of where COVID-19 has already spread.”

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