What Michigan is doing to combat coronavirus, a timeline

In just over three months, the new coronavirus has spread from a city in China through much of Michigan, which has the third highest number of confirmed cases and deaths in the United States.

It started as a blip of a New Year’s Eve news item on the other side of the world. Now, the novel coronavirus pandemic is the defining crisis in most of our lifetimes. A look back at how the COVID-19 winter morphed into Michigan’s cruelest April: 

Dec. 31, 2019: Officials in Wuhan, China confirm doctors are treating dozens of cases involving pneumonia-like symptoms.

Jan. 7: Chinese authorities identify a new type of the coronavirus connected to the illness.

Jan. 9: The first death is reported in Wuhan. Media reports say there is no evidence the virus can be spread from person to person.

Jan. 20: The World Health Organization announces confirmed cases in South Korea, Thailand and Japan. WHO reports 278 confirmed cases in China and six deaths in Wuhan.

Jan. 21: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announces the first U.S. case, in Washington state.

Jan. 24: The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services refers three cases from Washtenaw and Macomb counties to the CDC for testing. A few days later, they are found not to involve the coronavirus.

Jan. 30: WHO declares a global health emergency and the U.S. State Department warns travelers to avoid China.

Jan. 31: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares a public health emergency. In one month, cases grow to nearly 10,0000 with 213 deaths worldwide.

Feb. 3: Michigan activates a Community Health Emergency Coordination Center to prepare for a possible outbreak.

Feb. 28: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer activates the State Emergency Operations Center to coordinate with local, state and federal agencies and other stakeholders.

Feb. 29: The first U.S. death is reported in Kirkland, Washington. There are cases reported in at least 59 countries.

March 3: Whitmer creates four task forces to coordinate the state’s response and assess the impact coronavirus may have on state operations, health care, schools and workplaces. The U.S. removes federal restrictions on testing in the nation.

March 10: Michigan’s first two cases of COVID-19 are confirmed in patients from Wayne and Oakland counties. Whitmer declares a state of emergency in Michigan. It is the first of 32 executive orders she will enact in a span of 24 days.

March 11: Michigan State University suspends classroom instruction and international travel. The University of Michigan, Wayne State University and other state universities do the same in rapid succession. The Detroit Pistons stand down as the NBA suspends its season. They are soon joined by the Red Wings, Tigers and collegiate athletes.

March 12: WHO describes the outbreak as a pandemic. Seven school districts in Washtenaw County become the first in the state to announce they are closing schools and moving to online learning. The state reports 10 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 12.

March 13: President Trump declares a national emergency. By executive order, Whitmer closes Michigan schools and prohibits gatherings of more than 250 people until April 5. In a separate order, Whitmer restricts access to healthcare facilities, nursing homes and juvenile justice facilities. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 25.

March 14: Confirmed cases in Michigan: 33.

March 15: Whitmer imposes restrictions to stop price gouging on products such as face masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 53.

March 16: Whitmer closes restaurants, bars, coffee shops, theaters, performance venues, libraries, museums, fitness centers, sports facilities, casinos and other gathering places. The state expands eligibility for unemployment benefits to people who stop working to quarantine themselves or care for a family member. The state tightens restrictions on gatherings to no more than 50 people. Whitmer suspends other restrictions to help ease the delivery of medical supplies and equipment. Henry Ford and Beaumont health systems introduce the state’s first same-day COVID-19 tests. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 53.

March 17: The hospitality industry braces for an uncertain future and laid-off workers are left reeling. By executive order, Whitmer gives MDHHS and the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs authority to streamline the expansion of healthcare facilities’ capacity. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 65.

March 18: Michigan reports its first COVID-19 death. Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler close all their U.S. plants, idling 150,000 workers across the country including more than 60,000 in Michigan. Whitmer extends deadlines to give residents more time to take steps necessary to avoid property foreclosures. Whitmer suspends Open Meetings Act rules requiring in-person meetings and hearings of government entities and permits proceedings to be conducted online. Whitmer eases rules to enable the expansion of childcare capacity in the state. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 80.

March 19: A study from the University of Michigan Department of Economics projects the pandemic will trigger a recession and cost Michigan between 155,000 and 400,000 jobs in the first three quarters of 2020. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 324

March 20: The state directs hospitals, outpatient health care facilities, and dental facilities to postpone non-essential medical procedures to limit the spread of the virus and free up healthcare resources. The governor issues an executive order prohibiting evictions except in extreme circumstances. Oakland County closes malls and playground equipment. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 549.

March 21: Confirmed cases in Michigan: 786.

March 22: Confirmed cases in Michigan: 1,035.

March 23: Whitmer issues a stay-at-home order for Michigan residents except for those who work in essential industries or are obtaining critical supplies such as food and gas. The order also prohibits gatherings beyond the people living in a single household, with certain exceptions. Michigan hospitals begin to fill with coronavirus patients amid equipment shortages. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 1,328.

March 24: Confirmed cases in Michigan: 1,791.

March 25: Detroit begins to emerge as the epicenter of COVID-19 in Michigan. Its per capita infection rate is third among U.S. cities, exceeded only by New York and New Orleans. Whitmer extends county canvass deadlines for the March 10 presidential primary election. Rules are eased to enable state administrative business to be conducted remotely and electronically. Another order enables pharmacies to expand their capacity and fill prescriptions for 60 days of medication. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 2,294.

March 26: The United States becomes the country with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 2,856.

March 27: Whitmer extends deadline for filing state and local income tax returns by 90 days. Another order calls for voting in the May 5 election, to the greatest degree possible, to be conducted by absentee ballot or for ballot questions to be delayed until Aug. 4. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 3,657.

March 28: Whitmer orders water utilities to restore service to any residents who was disconnected for non-payment. More than 300,000 Michigan residents filed unemployment insurance claims from March 22-28 — 65 times more that the same week in 2019. Roughly 1 in 10 Michigan workers — a total of 439,092 —filed for jobless benefits in the previous two weeks. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 4,650.

March 29: A new executive order from the governor strives to reduce risk among prison populations with a series of protocols including restricting visits, minimizing crowding, stringent cleaning and screening everyone who enters or leaves a facility. Public health rules are eased to provide leeway in medical practices, supervision of health care professionals and delegation of their work. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 5,486.

March 30: The state enacts temporary restrictions on non-essential veterinary services. COVID-19 created an unexpected oversupply of higher volatility winter-blend gasoline, which normally cannot be sold after April 1. The governor extends the deadline. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 6,498.

April 1: Whitmer expands the state emergency and disaster declaration and asks the Michigan’s Legislature to extend by 70 days her authority to take emergency actions. Following a surge in cases, Michigan surpasses California and now ranks third in the United States with 9,334 cases and 337 deaths, behind only New York and New Jersey. Detroit continues to be hit hard with 2,472 cases and 83 deaths.

April 2: Whitmer closes public school classrooms for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. The number of confirmed cases globally surpasses 1 million and the death toll reaches 50,000. In Michigan, there are 10,791 confirmed cases and 417 deaths.

April 3: The CDC recommends all Americans wear cloth face masks in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain such as grocery stores and pharmacies. Michigan begins a crackdown on violators of the state’s shelter in place order, threatening fines of up to $1,000. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 12,744 and 479 deaths.

April 4: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announces a federal shipment of 300 ventilators, after 400 earlier in the week, to Michigan. The state has some 1,700 total ventilators but health officials project needing as many as 10,000 as cases spike. Confirmed cases in Michigan: 14,225 cases and 540 deaths.

April 6: Confirmed cases in Michigan: 17,221 and 727 deaths.


David Wilkins is a corporate communications consultant and veteran freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor.

Michigan Health Watch is made possible by generous financial support from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, the Michigan Association of Health Plans, and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association. The monthly mental health special report is made possible by generous financial support of the Ethel & James Flinn Foundation. Please visit the Michigan Health Watch 'About' page for more information.

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Tue, 04/07/2020 - 9:45am

So nothing between feb 29-3/10(Election Day)? “Creating task force means nothing and does nothing to curb spread of disease” also didn’t really see what said task force did. Many, many states took action between those critical 10 days that faired much better, yet governor probably too busy rallying for Biden and trying to get on vp short list. I’m totally fine with that but she can do that later in June, July, august whenever, don’t have to risk people’s lives when it was clear the disease was spreading across US. Nothing was canceled but actually MORE large events took place during those 10 days than ever, now we can see the result. All expert would agree those are the critical days, and early prevention/social distancing is the best way to curb disease. Plus she confirms 2 cases late at night on March 10 - almost 11pm - who does that except someone holding the information, but just had to wait till election results are over oh and then throw another 10 additional cases March 11 morning. Lol. Way to be the wuhan of US.

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 10:36am

Are you still voting for Trump?

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 11:05am

Yes, but she'd made up for it with constant whining that the President hasn't ordered a nationwide shutdown (therefore she as Gov had to act!) and her sobbing that South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska are still largely open and functional (with little adverse effect). Afterall she (as a potential VP) has to prove her intimate knowledge and concern for those places and is ready to fill Joe's shoes after it's admitted to everyone's surprise(!!!) he suffers from Alzheimer’s!

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 5:50pm

Do a google search for "Gretchen Whitmer" and restrict the dates between 2/29 and 3/10 and you can see what she was up to. I didn't see a whole lot of corona virus stuff on there- she created a task force and fiddled with some fees for medical tests- but I did see plenty on there about endorsing Biden, stuff on who she thought should be the VP, and criticism of the President. Looks like mostly she was doing politics and occasionally making a pronouncement that other people were doing work (ie, creating a task force).

If I were her, I'd be careful about drawing comparisons to President Trump- according to whitehouse.gov, it looks like every day during that timeline (2/29-3/10) that Trump was focused on the virus and engaged in implementing real policy responses to the virus- there are a bunch of official statements detailing all the work he was doing every day on this issue. I searched "White House" between those dates and saw a bunch of real data.

It's fun to go back and try to change history, but the beauty of reality is that it exists and you can easily find it.

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 10:34am

Just curious are workers not subject to shutdown - specifically retail workers at grocery and big box hardware stores, showing any greater incidence of the virus than the population in general?

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 8:32pm

I feel there are some other steps that need to be added to time line; what was China telling the world about the virus, what were the federal actions taken, what we the findings/recommendation of advisory panels. These are valuable elements for painting the picture in real time.
If this was a completely new virus that first appeared in China then what they said is like a first impression that sets the thinking and requires extra effort to overcome. What the federal government does sets the stage for the what is acceptable for states to do, if federal government was banning flights as early as January and was quarantining people coming from those countries then the threshold for such state actions had the threshold significantly lowered for restricting public movement and work. The thinking of advisory panels would show the concerns and thinking behind those concerns that needed to be balance with the rest of the community needs.
An accurate and entailed timeline is a critical tool in assessing any unplanned event and developing the means/methods to prevent a reoccurrence and/or mitigation. This true at the personal level as well as the organizational level.

Pamela B. Weinberg
Tue, 04/14/2020 - 3:57am

Why aren’t the employees of grocery stores required and provided masks and gloves?
From stockers to cashiers, not a single glove or covered face at Meijer’s, no social distance between employees.
This is from Meijer in Wixom, grocery store workers need this now, for everyone’s safety!!!

Pamela B. Weinberg
Tue, 04/14/2020 - 4:31am

Why aren’t the employees of grocery stores required and provided masks and gloves?
From stockers to cashiers, not a single glove or covered face at Meijer’s, no social distance between employees.
This is from Meijer in Wixom, grocery store workers need this now, for everyone’s safety!!!

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 10:49am

Why did Gov Witless close down schools, bars, restaurants, venues, and casinos on different days?