Lansing, MI – April 14, 2021 – Today Governor Gretchen Whitmer held a coronavirus press conference. She discussed cases in Michigan and updated on vaccine distribution in the state. Listen to the press conference down below or keep reading for the full transcript of the conference.
All right, hello. Good afternoon. It is Wednesday, April 14th. I am joined by of course Dr. J and Dr. Adnan Munkarah from Henry Ford Health System, the chief clinical officer. Today, we’re going to discuss Michigan’s ongoing vaccination efforts and talk through additional steps we’re taking to surge shots and save lives. Michigan has administered over 5.4 million doses of the safe effect of COVID-19 vaccines to over 3.4 million Michiganders. Over 192 million doses of the safe, effective COVID vaccines have been administered across the country and we’re on our way toward doubling President Biden’s goal of 100 million shots in 100 days. 41.9% of Michiganders 16 and up have gotten their first dose and 27.5% are fully vaccinated, including 61% of seniors. Our vaccine response is a testament to what we can do if we work together. I want to thank the frontline healthcare professionals who are working around the clock to keep our communities safe.
Now I’d like to discuss steps we can take to keep each other safe and help our healthcare professionals do their jobs. Right now, we’ve got some work to do to get our COVID metrics headed in the right direction again. Cases are continuing to rise. Our test positivity rate is hovering around 18%. Two dozen hospitals are at 90% capacity or higher. We have a tough couple of weeks ahead of us as more effectious B117 COVID variant continues spreading. So to slow the spread, we all have to do our part and double down on what we know works masks, distancing, hand-washing. I also want to stress that we still have public health laws in place to mitigate the spread of COVID, including a mask mandate, capacity limits on indoor gatherings, and mandatory testing for sports. These are some of the strongest public health laws in the Midwest.
The most important thing you can do of course is to get vaccinated. The safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines are the most effective way to keep yourself and your family safe and help us return to normal. Just yesterday, the CEO of Pfizer said they are upping their COVID vaccine output by 10%. This is great news and it demonstrates the hard work and ingenuity of Michigan workers who are making the lifesaving Pfizer vaccine in Portage, Michigan. If we all do our part, I know we can slow the spread and put this pandemic behind us, but we also must find ways to keep people safe and out of the hospital.
Today, we’re here to discuss promising therapeutic treatments that are available to help those diagnosed with COVID-19 to avoid serious symptoms and to stay out of the hospital as we’re facing this surge. Last Friday, April 9th, the National Institutes of Health COVID-19 Treatments Guidelines Panel said they “strongly recommend that Regeneron’s COVID 19 treatment should be used in COVID-19 positive patients who are at high risk of clinical progression.” The NIH’s guidance was backed by data from a study of 4,500 patients showing that Regeneron’s COVID treatment significantly reduced the risk of hospitalization and death. Regeneron and other therapeutics from Eli Lilly have already been granted emergency use authorization by the FDA, the exact same authorization given to the vaccines. So both treatments were granted this authorization back in November of last year. Regeneron and Eli Lilly offer a promising treatment for some people who have tested positive for COVID. Current data suggests both are likely effective against B117 variant, which is now the most common variant in the country.
Notably, Regeneron was administered to President Trump late last year after he had COVID-19 and faced harsh symptoms. Regeneron’s treatment very likely helped save the former president’s life. It could save yours too. We are using every mitigation strategy, every medication, and every treatment option to help fight the virus here in Michigan. These treatments can be effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths for those diagnosed with COVID. And we are ensuring providers across the state have the supplies they need to effectively treat Michiganders. They are another tool in our toolbox as we work hard to save lives. So how did you get it and who can get it? Well, Regeneron and Eli Lilly are monoclonal antibody treatments that are administered via infusion through an IV. In just a few moments, we will have Dr. Khaldun talk more about the science behind these treatments. So far, more than 6,600 Michiganders have received these treatments since they were approved for emergency use by the FDA in November, and 65% of patients report feeling better within two days, and less than 5% require hospitalization following the treatment.
Currently, people with pre-existing or underlying health risks qualify to receive these therapeutic antibody treatments. This includes all seniors, anyone with high blood pressure, asthma, lung issues, heart issues, cancer, or anyone who is immunocompromised. Ideally, both monoclonal antibody infusions should be administered as soon as possible after a qualifying patient tests positive for COVID-19. So if you are diagnosed with COVID, talk to a physician to see if you are eligible for this treatment. Time is of the essence with these therapeutics. The sooner you received them after you test positive, the more effective they will be. If you don’t have insurance, this treatment is still available to you. We’re proud to be removing this barrier right from the beginning to accessing this lifesaving care. I want to reiterate that COVID-19 vaccines are also free for all Michiganders. Regeneron and Eli Lilly antibody treatments can help keep you out of the hospital.
They have also been shown to reduce the risk of symptomatic infection, meaning they could stop you from spreading COVID too. Approximately 30% of Michiganders were seen get diagnosed every day would qualify for these lifesaving therapeutics. In Michigan, we’re seeing spreading awareness of these treatments and taking steps to make them available to all Michiganders where they are at no cost. Currently, both Regeneron and Eli Lilly treatments are available at a few hospitals in Michigan. We’re engaging with our federal partners to expand supply at centers that currently administer these treatments and also working to stand up additional sites where they can be accessed. We know that as awareness increases, more people will take it and we will.
… that as awareness increases, more people will take it. And we want to make sure we have the capacity to keep up with demand.
The federal government has made therapeutic treatments free for all Americans who are eligible. There are currently still some administrative costs if you get this treatment, but we are working with the federal government and healthcare providers to get these costs waived. I want you to know that we are doing everything we can to make this therapy available to everyone who qualifies for free as quickly as possible. However, I do want to be very clear. Therapeutics are another tool, but they are not a substitute for vaccination. These treatments for folks with underlying health conditions who have COVID can help them avoid hospitalization and stop the spread temporarily. A Michigander who receives therapeutic treatment is eligible to receive COVID vaccine 90 days after administration. And the vaccine is still the most effective way to protect you and your family from COVID. And I encourage all Michiganders 16 and up to get it. And we will help everyone who receives this treatment schedule their vaccine appointment when they are eligible for that as well.
In addition to these therapeutics, we’re working with the federal government to bring in additional doses of remdesivir, a drug that will shorten hospital stays and save more lives. Remdesivir was approved by the FDA for emergency use authorization in May of last year. The drug is used for people hospitalized, experiencing severe COVID symptoms. Severe symptoms include patients with low blood oxygen levels, need an oxygen therapy, or those needing more intensive breathing support such as a ventilator. In a clinical trial, remdesivir was shown to reduce recovery time for patients with severe symptoms. This is yet another tool in the toolbox that we can use to keep people safe and move them safely out of the hospital.
As always, we remain laser focused on keeping people safe, rebuilding our economy, and getting back to normal. Now, we have found more tools in our toolbox. Antibody infusions and drug therapy. If you, a loved one, a neighbor, or a friend is diagnosed with COVID-19 and are eligible because of your age or pre-existing conditions, I encourage you to ask your doctor for therapeutic options as quickly as possible. I also encourage you to go to michigan.gov/covidtherapy to find a site administering the antibiotic treatments near you. The treatments offered by Regeneron or Eli Lilly could keep you out of the hospital and save your life, and drugs like remdesivir can limit the number of days you stay in the hospital.
I’m going to shoot straight with you as I always have. We’re in a tough spot, Michigan. And while we appreciate the support we’ve received from the federal government, I will not stop fighting for more tests, more vaccines, more ways to keep you and your family safe. Over the past year, Michigan has been one of the most proactive states. We took this seriously from the start and consistently led with science and data. I know how hard this year has been on all of us. I know we’re all feeling pandemic fatigue, but we got to remember we’re in this together. It’s going to take hard work to beat this virus, but Michiganders are used to hard work and we can beat this virus together. So I’m calling on Michiganders to continue their professional, their personal efforts, to slow the spread by masking up, social distancing and washing your hands. And of course get vaccinated to keep you and your family safe and help us return to normal sooner.
Now I’m going to turn it over to Dr. J.
Thank you governor. So I continue to be incredibly concerned about our state’s COVID-19 data. This week, we surpassed the COVID 19 case and hospitalization rates that we saw in the fall. Right now, Michigan has 574 cases per million people, five times where we were in mid February and data indicates we have broad community spread. The percent of tests that are coming back positive is around 18%, five times where we were in the middle of February. MDHHS is tracking about 1,152 outbreaks in counties across the state, including new outbreaks in K-12 schools, manufacturing, and construction, long-term care, childcare, retail, restaurants, and bars. Since January, we’ve identified 291 clusters associated with youth sports teams. Since last week, we’ve also seen 52 new outbreaks in restaurant and retail settings. Our lab has identified 2,753 variant cases in 62 counties across the state. And because of this sharp rise in cases overall, there are likely many more that we do not yet know about, which makes the risk of contracting COVID even greater.
Hospitalizations are also still increasing with many facilities continuing to report that they are at or near capacity. Over 18% of hospital beds are being used to treat COVID-19 patients.
So I worked in the emergency department this past weekend, and I’ll tell you, it was exhausting. We are seeing more and more people who are being diagnosed with COVID-19. Many of them are younger than what we were seeing with previous surges. We’re trying to take care of both patients with COVID-19 and those were coming in for other medical issues. And it is really putting a strain on our staff and our resources, and our bed space. All of which are spread way too thin. Patients are again lining our hallways like they were last spring. This situation is very serious. We need to be using every tool in our toolbox right now to get these cases and hospitalizations down.
Again, just because something is open and legal, it does not mean that you should be doing it. We have learned so much about this virus over the past 15 months. Masks work. Wear one properly over your nose and your mouth anytime you’re going to be around someone outside of your household. Large gatherings are riskier, particularly if it is indoors and people are not distanced apart appropriately. Sitting in an indoor space, like a restaurant where there’s less ventilation and people are talking with their mask off is simply not a safe thing to do right now. If you are sick, stay home and get tested. Get tested if you’ve been exposed, or if you’ve recently traveled. And importantly, as the governor said, get vaccinated as soon as you are able.
I also want to talk a little bit about yesterday’s announcement from the CDC and the FDA recommending a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. So as of April 12th, 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered across the country, including a little over 209,000 here in the state of Michigan. Of that 6.8 million, the CDC received reports of six cases of a where condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, essentially a blood clot in the blood vessels around the brain, in combination with something called thrombocytopenia, which is a low blood platelet count. While these events are very rare, out of an abundance of caution, the CDC and FDA made a recommendation for states to pause on giving additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while they’re able to look at the data on those six cases more closely, which they are doing today, and we’ll be doing over the next several days.
This proves that our monitoring system for these vaccines is robust and it works. And just six cases out of 6.8 million doses, that’s about one in a million, means that this reaction is incredibly rare. Your risk of getting COVID if you are not vaccinated is much higher than your risk of getting an adverse reaction to this vaccine.
While we await more information from the CDC on Johnson & Johnson, we still want people to schedule their appointments for the safe and effective Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. And if you have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the past three weeks, contact your healthcare provider if you develop symptoms of a blood clot, such as a severe headache or abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath. Again, these reactions were incredibly rare, just six cases out of 6.8 million. And while the CDC and FDA proceed with their thorough analysis of these cases and work to provide us with more information…
… analysis of these cases and work to provide us with more information. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are still safe and effective, and the path forward to ending this pandemic. As the governor mentioned, we have now over 5.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines administered in the state. About 42% of Michigan residents over the age of 16 have had at least one dose. Let’s continue to focus on achieving our goal of getting at least 70% of Michiganders age 16 and up vaccinated as quickly as possible. And remember, there is so much you can do once you’re vaccinated. Gathering with others in your home who are fully vaccinated without mask, traveling without testing if you don’t have symptoms, not needing to quarantine if you are exposed. Vaccines give you the freedom and the peace of mind that your risk of COVID is low. Another very, very important tool that we are excited to talk about today that the governor mentioned are COVID-19 therapeutic medications. Therapeutic medications can potentially prevent high-risk people who have COVID-19 from needing to be hospitalized.
It can shorten the number of days that you need to stay in the hospital, and it could even prevent deaths. Monoclonal antibodies, like the one made by Eli Lilly and the one by Regeneron, have been authorized by the FDA for use in some high-risk patients over the age of 12 with COVID-19 who do not need to be admitted to the hospital. Data from early trials suggest a 70% reduction in hospitalizations or death in high-risk patients treated with these monoclonal antibodies. To date, over 6,600 patients have been treated with this therapy across the state. That includes a one-time IV infusion. That takes as little as 21 minutes. Our preliminary data from Michigan shows that 94% of people who received this reported no side effects, and the 6% who did reported mild side effects like headache, fever, or myalgias that went away.
No one who received these medications thus far had a severe allergic reaction, and there was a very low rate of hospital admissions for those who did receive it. Now, for those who are hospitalized with COVID-19, we have another therapeutic medication as the governor mentioned called remdesivir, that studies show may cut down on the length of time that someone may need to stay in the hospital. And that is so important now more than ever, especially with our COVID-19 hospitalization rates what they are. Thousands of people across the state have already received this medication. Our work on therapeutics led by Dr. Bill Fales, our MD, HHS, EMS medical director has been recognized by the Biden administration as leading the way in getting these therapies into our communities, including long-term care settings for homebound individuals and across hospitals and healthcare systems. We are working with the federal government to establish even more access points, and to make sure everyone who is eligible for these medications in Michigan can get them.
So if you test positive for COVID-19, you should ask your doctor if you qualify for these therapies, and ask them where you can find them. It’s important that you get this medication as soon as you can after you get your positive test result. You only qualify if it’s within 10 days of developing symptoms, and the sooner, the better. You can go to our website, michigan.gov/covidtherapy, to find out more. There are over 70 sites that are providing these monoclonal antibodies in at least 37 counties across the state. For all clinicians, it’s on us to know that these therapeutics exist, and we should be proactive in identifying the appropriate patients and helping to get them access. As an ER doctor, I use remdesivir for my patients who need to be admitted to the hospital, and I screen my COVID-positive patients for whether or not they qualify for monoclonal antibodies, and I’m asking every doctor in Michigan to do the same.
So the past 14 months has been very challenging, and especially the past couple of months in Michigan as our cases have climbed, but I still have hope. We know what to do. We just all have to come together and do it. And with that, I will turn it over to Dr. Munkarah.
Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. Over the last 14 months, this pandemic has affected all of us in many ways. The surge we are seeing now is very troublesome. Over the past five weeks at Henry Ford Hospitals, we have seen our patients with COVID increased from 75 patients at the beginning of March to 550 patients as of this morning. This is almost a six-fold increase in the number of patients within four weeks. Our test positivity rate has gone up from 1 in 25 patients testing positive to 1 in 4 patients testing positive through our outpatients as well as our emergency department. This is extremely troubling. Throughout the pandemic, we have participated in multiple clinical trials and studies to test the effectiveness of treatments for COVID-19. We can attest to the success of monoclonal antibodies that the governor and Dr. Khaldun have talked about. We began using these monoclonal antibodies in December of 2020.
We have so far administered over 800 infusion throughout our six sites of infusion. The therapy has been shown to help COVID- 19 patients who are at risk of developing severe disease and potentially die. It also reduces hospitalization of COVID-19 patient, therefore easing the burden on our hospitals and caregivers. We are eager to continue leading this effort, and are working closely with our partners in the state and the federal government to expand the use of monoclonal antibodies as the governor and Dr. Khaldun had mentioned. We are finalizing details for expansion plans, and we’ll be sharing those in the coming couple of days. Even with treatment breaks like this one, we need everyone’s help. Families continue to lose their loved ones to COVID-19, or struggle to cope with loved ones who are getting very sick and hospitalized. Our care teams are emotionally and physically exhausted.
They are more than committed and dedicated to provide the best care. However, they are frustrated to see people coming in very sick and die of an infection that we can control. The most important thing that we can do is to get vaccinated. We know that some people are hesitant. Even with the current pause and planned review of the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, we have two other vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, both of which are safe and effective. I and all my eligible family members have received the vaccine. We also need everyone to continue a good faith effort to practice the safety measures we have in place. They are simple, they work, and they save lives. Wear your mask, practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings, and wash your hands regularly. We know you have heard this over and over again, and you might be getting fatigued with that, but if we all truly do our part, we can end this pandemic together. Thank you.
Thank you, Dr. Munkarah. Appreciate your joining us today and the work that you’re doing every single day at Henry Ford, and we really are so grateful. So with that, I know we’ve got time for a few questions today. I understand we’ve got a little technical issue, so I’m going to call on a handful of reporters that are in the queue that my team tells me are ready to ask a few questions. So we’ll start with Kyle M.
Thank you, Governor. During this pandemic, Michigan residents have been told to stay home, limit their travel, do Zoom Thanksgivings, and limit their activities per your office’s request [inaudible 00:26:41] COVID spread, yet your head of the DHHS traveled to Alabama last week with COVID [inaudible 00:26:46] reaching pandemic highs. How do you justify this to residents who may feel that there may be two sets of rules in play here?
Well, I think first and foremost, let me say this. I’m not going to get distracted by partisan hit jobs on my team.
… Distracted by partisan hit jobs on my team. There have never been travel restrictions in Michigan. There just haven’t been. What we have done is to ask people to be smart, to get vaccinated, to mask up. That is the key to traveling with confidence that you’re going to be safe and not expose yourself or your loved ones to COVID or your community to COVID. So what directors do on their personal time is their business, so long as they are safe, which is what we’re asking everyone in the state to do. Get vaccinated, mask up. If we all want the freedom to do these things that we’re longing to do, that is the key to doing it with confidence that we’re going to be safe, and we’re not going to expose anyone else to COVID. So, go get your vaccine is my strongest response to everyone who’s watching. That’s the crucial component to us getting through this moment. And that’s exactly what we are promoting within state government and across the state. All right, Dave B. is up next.
Hi governor, thank you for taking my question. Earlier, Dr. Khaldun, I believe said, quote, “We need to be using every tool in our toolbox right now to get these cases and hospitalizations down.” If that’s the case, why don’t you think it’s important for yourself, for the Health Department, to issue new restrictions or regulations on businesses, gatherings, or restaurants?
Well at this juncture, we know that the tools at our disposal that can most dramatically improve outcomes for people in this state are vaccines, and that’s why we’re moving so swiftly to get people vaccinated, over 5.4 million shots in arms. This is no small feat, a million in just the last two weeks. We are really moving quickly on that, and it’s going to be incumbent on all of us to encourage our neighbors, our loved ones, our friends, our coworkers, to get vaccinated.
This monoclonal antibodies is an incredible treatment that has recently been endorsed by the NIH that we want to deploy in Michigan. It’s no substitute for a vaccine, so number one tool we have is vaccine. Number two tool we have is masking, both of those together are important. But if you get COVID, because we know that we’ve got a high percentage right now, a monoclonal antibody, if you are someone that qualifies for it, can be a lifesaver and it can keep you out of the hospital. And that’s what we’re trying to do, is get our hospital rates down.
We know a lot more about our common enemy than we did a year ago. We know that masking up is crucial. We know that social distancing is crucial. We’re asking everyone in Michigan to do their part, utilize this knowledge to keep yourself safe, to keep our communities safe. My personal recommendation is don’t eat inside of a restaurant. Give your favorite restaurant, your business, sit in the outdoor area or get takeout.