Lansing, MI – November 12, 2020 – Governor Whitmer held a press conference on Thursday, November 12th. Dr. Khaldun and Dr. Kent-VanGorder also spoke. Listen to the entire press conference or keep reading for a full transcript.
Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us. Today is Thursday, November 12th. I am joined with Dr. Joneigh Khaldun and Dr. Karen Kent VanGorder, a physician at Sparrow Health System and chief medical officer here in Lansing Sparrow Health System. For the first several months of this pandemic, we all talked about doing our part to flatten the curve. We did that so that our hospitals would not be overwhelmed. We did that so we could keep people safe and save lives. These words were met with action. We stayed home, we made sacrifices, we masked up and we did it and together it worked. We brought our numbers down and we kept them down for months. But sadly COVID-19 is not done with us yet. It doesn’t care if we are tired of it, or if we are angry or weary, this enemy is relentless. And now the second wave of COVID-19 is hitting us and it’s hitting us hard.
I’m not going to sugar coat this. You know by now I don’t sugar coat things, and I’m not going to start now. We are in the worst part of this pandemic to date. This is the moment that medical experts have been warning us about and dreading since the beginning of this pandemic. Here’s what we are up against. Our case numbers are skyrocketing here in Michigan, the curve that we had flattened, right now this curve is a straight line and it is straight up. You can see on the diagram where we are. Our hospitals are nearing capacity and they are burning through PPE, the masks and gloves that we’ve been working to stockpile. They are burning through it because they are overwhelmed. And unless we get our act together right now, we could be hitting our daily peak of deaths in Michigan come Christmas. The numbers tell the story. Last Friday, we recorded our 200000th case of COVID-19 in Michigan. Every single day this past week, the United States has recorded over 100,000 new cases. And our country is averaging over a thousand deaths every day.
I just want that to sink in for a second. Try to imagine 10, 737 airplanes crashing to the ground every single day. That’s what we’re facing. A 9/11 every three days. No one is safe from this virus. Youth will not protect you from COVID-19. Fame and wealth will not protect you from COVID-19. Our children have caught COVID-19 our friends and neighbors and loved ones have caught it. Leaders everywhere, those here in Lansing, and this state Capitol and all the way up to the White House have caught COVID-19. Nobody is immune to this disease. And unlike the spring, when the weather was starting to get warmer, we are now heading into the colder months here in Michigan, which means it’s more dangerous. As more people spend time inside, this is going to get worse. So no matter who you are or what community you are in, it’s important to know you are vulnerable to this virus. You can show symptoms. You might not show symptoms. You might survive. You might not. And none of us knows and that’s the scary thing about COVID-19. None of us needs a judge or an executive order to make smart decisions for ourselves and our families. There are real concrete steps that we can all take to get this virus under control and to protect our families, our frontline workers and our small businesses. The Department of Health and Human Services has issued a number of emergency rules that we must all follow to protect one another. And these rules have the force of law. I know the Supreme Court decision was confusing, but I want to be very clear. These orders have the force of law. These are epidemic powers that were not impacted by the courts decision. We can’t play fast and loose here.
So we’ve all got to be smart and wear a mask. And practice safe, physical distancing, wash our hands frequently and get a flu shot. These are not do this or that, it is do all of this to stay safe. And just because you are okay to do something, just because you are allowed to do something, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that it is a smart thing to do. Dr. Kent VanGorder from Spiro Health systems is here today to give a firsthand account of what is happening in our hospitals and why it’s so important to do your part for our frontline workers. These men and women have been putting their lives on the line day after day for the past nine months. Every day, they wake up and choose to put the health and safety of our loved ones before their own. As COVID-19 spreads in communities across our state, more of our nurses and healthcare professionals are getting sick outside of work, which means more hospitals are facing serious staffing shortages.
Earlier today, the leaders of our state’s largest hospital systems, along with the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, hold a press conference to be very clear about their high and rising level of concern. These hospital system leaders communicated that COVID-19 hospitalizations are up five fold over the course of the last five weeks in their hospitals. The number of COVID patients in hospitals across our state now stands at 60% of the April peak. And the patient count is expected to double in just two weeks to be an all time high in Michigan over the course of this year. When healthcare leaders from every corner of our state join to publicly make a plea for decisive action, all of us should be listening. This virus is just a problem in one part of our state, right now rural Michigan is getting hit the hardest, and it is spreading rapidly everywhere.
It’s hitting cities like Grand Rapids and Flint and Jackson. It’s also hitting smaller towns like Levering and Marshall and Clare. If we continue at the rate we’re going, our doctors and nurses will face another PPE shortage like we saw this past spring, we cannot afford to let that happen. These are the people who’ve stayed on the frontline for the rest of us. They are the heroes of this pandemic, but no one can be a hero forever. They need our support. We all need to be heroes. Now I want to talk about Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is going to look different this year, it just has to. Medical experts across the country strongly recommend that we do not host Thanksgiving with people from outside of our own households.
I know this will be hard, but we can’t afford for people to head to a family member, friend or loved one’s house for Thanksgiving, contract the virus and bring it back to their communities and their homes. The more people we have in our homes, talking and eating, drinking, hugging, yelling at the Lions, the higher the risk of catching or spreading this virus and the higher the risk there is that the people we love will die. So let’s get creative. Let’s make a plan for this Thanksgiving. Get a Zoom call organized with all of your out of town relatives, send them photos of your Thanksgiving meals and maybe record it so you’ve got a keepsake someday that you can look back on. We can give thanks and talk to our loved ones without putting one another in danger. As President Kennedy said in his final Thanksgiving day proclamation, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget. The highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” The best way to show your loved ones that you care about them this year is to do everything in your power to protect them during this pandemic, I want to go through common mistakes that people are making now.
Want to go through common mistakes that people are making now. As I said, we are fatigued, but I think it’s important to recognize the things we can do to stay safe. If you are attending small gatherings with people you know, you’re in greater danger. If you’re not quarantining for two weeks when you’ve been exposed, you could be presenting danger to others. Making the mistake of getting tested too soon after exposure. Making the mistake of assuming that because something is allowed it is safe. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Yes, our grocery stores are open, but you should limit your trips to limit your exposure, and only one person from the household go to the store. Assuming that taking one precaution will keep you safe, we got to take all of these precautions. Physical distancing without hand-washing that’s a recipe for disaster.
We have to do all of these things, not one of them. Assuming that your friends and family are as careful as you are, we love our friends and family and want to stay connected, but you can’t assume everyone is following the same approach that you are. We cannot continue to make these mistakes. We’ve all got to do everything we can to stop this virus. Like I always say the people of Michigan have grit, we’re tough. We protect one another. We’ve never backed down from a challenge. Right now my team and I are following the numbers closely, and strongly considering all actions that we can take to keep Michiganders safe. But every one of us has to play a part. We all have a personal responsibility to do our part. Let’s do what we did in the spring and show the rest of the world Michiganders know how to take care of one another.
This week MDHHS launched a new free contact tracing app for Michiganders to download, that will alert you if you have come into contact with someone who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19. Go to the app store and download the MI COVID Alert app, to make sure that you have all the information you need to protect yourself and your family, and remember to stay smart. Every time you wear your mask, every time you maintain six feet of distance from one another could mean another life saved. Let’s get to work. With that, I’ll hand it over to Dr. [inaudible 00:12:42]
Good afternoon and thank you governor. So as the governor said, things are looking very grim with COVID-19 in our state right now. Today, we are announcing a total of 236,225 cases and 7,811 total deaths due to COVID-19 in Michigan. Our overall case rate in the state is 416 cases per million, and positivity is at 10.8%. Our numbers are increasing rapidly. I’m sure that right now as I am speaking, the numbers are even higher than what I just announced. We’re now seeing over 3000 more cases a day than we were just a month ago. Our seven day average for deaths is now 35, seven times what it was in June. There’s no area of the state that is spared. The Upper Peninsula, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and [inaudible 00:13:49] regions all have case rates between 497 and 653 cases per million, and over 10% of tests done in those regions are coming back positive. For Jackson, Detroit and Lansing regions have case rates in the three hundreds per million range and test positivity between 6.3 and 10.9%.
The Trevor City region has the lowest case rate at 278 cases per million, and 8.7% of those tests in that region are coming back positive. To be clear, this is very concerning, because unlike in the spring when only those who were very ill could obtain a test, now anyone who wants a test can get a test. We are performing over 45,000 diagnostic tests per day. That’s the fifth largest number of total tests for any state in the country. To have more than 10% of those tests coming back positive is alarming and means that this virus is out of control. There is wide community spread of COVID-19 across the entire state. As the governor mentioned, our hospitals are also filling up very quickly. 20% of ICU beds across the state are filled with COVID-19 patients, and that number is rapidly increasing. We’re in regular contact with our hospital leaders, and just this morning at a press conference, they sounded the alarm on how bad this is getting.
That they are using more and more PPE and that their medical wards and ICUs are filling up exponentially. Some are already almost at capacity, risking the ability to take care of not just COVID patients, but non-COVID patients as well. The even more concerning thing is that we are seeing as we are seeing spread in our communities, our frontline healthcare workers are impacted. They risk getting the virus either in the community or if they are taking care of patients. That means that we are at risk of seeing staffing shortages. Hospitals may not have the staff to take care of very sick patients if their doctors, their nurses, and their other key staff are out ill. I want to talk a little bit about outbreaks. We’re still seeing outbreaks across the entire state. We know of 747 active outbreaks. That’s the highest number since we started tracking outbreaks, and 25% more than we had just a week ago.
Top categories for outbreaks continues to be our long-term care settings, manufacturing, schools. But we are also seeing increases in the numbers of outbreaks in healthcare settings and in restaurants and bars. But let me be very clear, our outbreak data is not perfect. It is only as good as the information we get from people who actually get a test done. If their test is positive, they have to tell us where they’ve been and who their contacts are. That system is strained right now. Everyone who needs a test may not actually be getting one. While our local health departments are doing their best as they have been doing all year, the system is simply not keeping up. It too has limited capacity. Because there are now so many positive cases and those cases each have so many contacts, it is taking longer for us to reach all of them. This means that there may be people walking around who are a close contact of a positive case and they don’t even know it.
In fact, only 28%, less than a third of the positive cases that we are investigating were in quarantine at the time of their diagnosis. This means that over two thirds of positive cases are out and potentially spreading the virus to others. We are doing everything we can to support contact tracing efforts across the state. One of those things as the governor mentioned is our new app called MI COVID Alert. That allows you to be notified if you may have been in close contact with someone who is diagnosed with COVID-19. So please go to the app store downloaded it on your phone. Your privacy is protected, it’s free, and it’s one more tool that we have to be able to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As the governor mentioned, I also know that people are actively preparing for the holiday season. The winter holidays simply cannot be the same this year. This is not the time to travel for the holidays. It will be hard, but my family has canceled all holiday gatherings.
If you really must travel, you should be sure that you are doing everything you can do to prevent transmission of the virus before you visit. This means not having social gatherings and wearing a mask at all times if you will be indoors or within six feet of someone else. New CDC guidance actually came out this week that emphasizes that wearing a mask doesn’t just protect others, it protects you as well. You should also not be leaving your home unless you absolutely must for 14 days before you intend to travel. When you do travel again, if you travel and I recommend you do not, you should not have physical contact with people who you don’t already live with. I know you may want to hug your extended family, but you could have the virus and you could spread it to them. I also want to talk about testing and travel.
I know a lot of people want to get a test before they travel to give them a sense of security that they will not infect their loved ones when they visit. We certainly want anyone who needs a test to get a test, and certainly if you’ve been exposed or if you have symptoms. But a test only tells you about your virus level on the day that you had your sample taken. No test is perfect, and it can take up to 14 days after being exposed to the virus to come down with symptoms or for a test to be positive. So please do not have a false sense of security about one negative test before you travel. Testing does not eliminate the need for prevention and things like wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining six feet of distance with others.
… hands and maintaining six feet of distance with others. If you are smart now, you may be able to have a nice holiday with your loved ones, alive, at this time next year. Now I know many people across the state are doing the right thing. It’s why our cases are not even higher than they are now and it’s why we brought our curve down in the spring so well. I know people are tired of living like this, but we really have to double down. This pandemic will eventually end, and we have to do what it takes to avoid as many infections and deaths as possible.
We are potentially looking at some of the deadliest, most grim days of this entire pandemic ahead of us if we do not collectively change our behaviors. And while we are actively planning to distribute a COVID vaccine when it becomes available, it will take several months after it becomes available for it to have a significant impact on the spread of the disease. So please everyone, take this seriously. Wear your mask over your mouth and nose every time. Do not gather or go out unless you absolutely must. Let’s come together to protect ourselves and to protect our communities. And with that, I will turn it over to Dr. Kent-VanGorder.
Dr. Karen Kent-VanGorder:
Good afternoon, I’m Dr. Karen Kent-VanGorder. I’m a family doctor. I’ve been in practice in our community here in Lansing for 25 years or so. And for the last few years, I’ve been the Chief Medical Officer for our healthcare system. I wanted to talk to you about how precious our hospitals and healthcare systems are. We’re really blessed in the state of Michigan to have great healthcare systems that are well-organized. We have well-planned out surge plans for all variety of disasters, multiple car pileups on our highways, weather disasters, and other unspeakable tragedies. We also have surge plans for pandemics, epidemics, like we’re in now, but all surge plans have their limits.
And we are entering into a phase where we’re having doubling times of COVID patients that are seven to 10 days. Every seven to 10 days, we’re doubling the number of COVID patients that we have admitted to our hospitals and that number is shrinking, the doubling time is shrinking, and we are very quickly going through our surge plans. This is concerning to me as a family doctor, and to me as a person who lives in a community with all of you. I’m not just concerned about our ability to care for rising numbers of COVID patients, but in that same milieu of overcrowding in our hospitals, are stroke patients, heart attack patients, patients who have cancer, who need operations. And in my career, I’ve never been in a situation where we have to look and say, “Which patient’s disease is more worthy than another?”, when we’re trying to pick out who gets the hospital bed, who gets the nurse, who gets the ventilator.
Those are decisions we’ve never had to make in my lifetime, and maybe not even in yours for older patients, but it’s very important that we do everything that we can to keep ourselves well so that we do not need to overwhelm healthcare systems. If you’re sick, seek care, but everything that each person can do to stay well is what we should be doing. I want to echo what was said about doing all things that are possible for you to stay well. Masks keep us from accidentally transmitting little droplets of spittle, which have viral particles in them, if we happen to be a carrier of COVID-19, whether we know it or not. If you’re sick, stay home. Don’t get within six feet of another person where you could accidentally cough or sneeze on them. Don’t touch your face.
If you touch your face, you could get secretions from your eyes or nose onto a surface and the next person who touches that surface might in return touch their face and you’ve transmitted the virus. It’s terrifically important that we ask when we have choices about whether or not we should go to a gathering, the question isn’t could I? The question is, should I? We need to seriously think about the other people that we’re going to come into contact with. If you have a cold symptom and you’re just sure you couldn’t have coronavirus, realize that of the people that have symptoms right now, 20% of them are testing positive for COVID, not just a cold, but COVID. And while many people may experience COVID in a short-lived, non-severe fashion, others that they come into contact with could die.
I want to close by stressing how important it is to protect our hospitals and our healthcare workers. Hospitals are precious contributors in the community and healthcare workers live in communities. And so we know that in a hospital or a doctor’s office, we frequently know whether someone has COVID. We make sure that all of the status of our patients are well understood in the hospital. And we label positive, negative, or waiting, to determine their COVID status. In the grocery store, that’s really not true and we don’t know who’s going to have COVID, who has COVID now that just doesn’t have symptoms and so on. And we do believe that that’s where many healthcare workers are getting sick. With positivity rates going to 10% or higher in some communities, we just can’t go to the shelf and pull off more ICU nurses or more pharmacists or more physicians that are able to run ventilators and take care of wildly sick patients.
Those are just patients that will go without when those doctors and nurses have to come offline and be quarantined. It’s especially important in smaller communities around our state, where they just don’t have the margin. They don’t have the bench strength of healthcare workers. And all of the travelers that come in when we usually have surg needs are busy. Our whole country is experiencing this, so I just implore everyone to do everything that they can to stay well and stay home if you’re not feeling well. Thank you.
Thank you, Dr. VanGorder and Dr. Khaldun. At this point, we will be happy to open it up for a few questions.
Governor, we are having a few technical issues, so we’ll only take a couple of questions. And the first question will come from Jacob with MIRS.
Hey, Governor. Could you give us a sense on what progress is being made with both your administration and the legislature working together to address the issue we’re seeing right now with COVID?
Well, Jacob, thanks for the question. We are having some technical issues here today. I appreciate the question. I know that this has been a long, hard, stressful time for all of us and asked to know that the legislature showed some interest in having a seat at the table. However, I have been asking members of the legislature for some thoughtful partnership here to bring our numbers down. I would encourage you, as members of the press, to ask if they’ve got some plans to bring, because I’ve been asking and the one great tool that we know makes a difference, in terms of a mask mandate, they have taken off the table. I say that, although I want to clarify for people at home, we do have a mask mandate in Michigan. It is derivative of the epidemic powers of our Department of Health and Human Services, but I think it would make a big difference in terms of increasing compliance and keeping people safe, if we could codify this and show some bipartisan support for the one best tool we have in this moment.
However, they’ve not shown any appetite for that, or frankly, for anything else. In fact, they’re not in session, I think, until December. This is the worst week of COVID we’ve ever had. And two weeks from now, we are going to see our numbers continue to climb without significant action by the people across our state. I know that there are many who hope we can find some common ground bipartisanly on this. I would welcome that. But at this juncture, we are facing incredibly dire circumstances as Dr. Khaldun just shared and it may be necessary for us to take some, some quick action here. And I have been very clear all along that I put the health and welfare of the people front and center and listen to the best scientists that we have, which are the best in the world, and we’ll make decisions to keep people safe. But if you want to ask the legislature if they’ve got some additional actions they’re willing or interested in taking, I too would be interested in the answer because I’ve not gotten one when I’ve asked the question.
The next question will come from Dave with the Detroit Free Press.
Governor, thank you for doing this today. As you noted, the spread of COVID was down substantially, or at least the state was able to do that earlier in the year, and in part, that’s probably because there were lockdowns or stay-at-home orders in place. Why not issue a temporary stay at home order or lockdown right now, as opposed to waiting for the legislature?
Oh, I’m not waiting for the legislature, Dave. I am recognizing that we have got work to do to make sure that the actions we take are really aimed at bringing the spread down. I was glad to see the heads of our hospital systems ring the alarm bells today. Ultimately, the most important thing that the public needs to know is that this remains a very real and present threat to every single one of us. We need people to individually do their part so collectively we get through this winter, we don’t overwhelm our hospital systems, and we don’t lose more lives.
That’s really, I think, the most important thing that we want to convey today is that the trajectory that we are on is dire, and it is very serious. I continue to work with the head of Health and Human Services, Director Gordon, Doctor Khaldun, our chief medical officer, as well as the many incredible people who have been helping advise all of the actions that we’ve taken. You’re right, though. We did push that curve down. Studies show we saved thousands of lives. Our economy came roaring back. We were in the top 10 economic recoveries in the country. All of that is in jeopardy because of these numbers, and we are watching the numbers very carefully and have ongoing discussions about next actions we might take to keep people safe.
Okay, we’ll take the next question from Zach.
Hi, governor. Thanks. Thanks for doing this. The hospital CEOs, as you may know, really pointed a finger at the small social gatherings, six, eight, 10 people. Currently the epidemic order from DHHS allows social gatherings of up to 10 people that are indoors. Why are you at this point not moving to tighten that up or go back to what was in place for so much of the spring where no one outside of a single household could gather?
Zach, these numbers continue on the trajectory we’re on, we will be having to take additional steps. There’s no question. And I think it’s important to really kind of give an example about why the 25 person rule is really important, and maybe it should be less. Ten people inside, if they are nine from the same household and one person coming over, then, well, you’ve just combined two households. If you have 10 people from different households, 10 households, you’ve just exponentially increased the risk of spread. That’s why Thanksgiving is so concerning. I can tell you, in my family, we would be combining generally, at least four or five households. We’re not going to do that this year. It’s just too dangerous.
We’re also … Opening day is on Sunday, so the opening day of firearms deer season is Sunday. I know that there are hunters across Michigan that are going to partake of this. And if you’re outside and you’re spread apart, you can be safe and do that. But if you’re all hopping in a car to drive out to camp in a small place where you spend the night, you’ve got to count up how many households are there, and you’ll see that the risk is very high if there are more than one household present. That’s why wearing masks, maybe not spending the night, maybe driving separately. I’m as good … I love a carpool as much as anybody, but they are dangerous. That is a small, enclosed space for a prolonged period of time.
Hopefully, people will be masked up, but even if you are masked up, those are ingredients for spread. No one wants to spread this disease to their friend or their loved one. None of us wants to do that. And every one of us could do that if we are not really smart about limiting our interactions with people from other households. When you do have an interaction, to be outside and six feet apart. If you are inside, make it brief, make it well ventilated, and wear your masks. But there is no safe indoor, multiple household, maskless experience right now. There’s just not, and that’s why we’ve got to really have a strategy going into Thanksgiving.
Okay, the last question will come from Lily with TV6 in the UP.
Thank you, governor. Here in the UP, cases are obviously very high. Some people in the county that we’re in are saying they’re not able to get tested for several days, and they have children, and they’re not wanting to travel to downstate or to Wisconsin to get tested. So how can people get tested right now when they need it?
I’m going to ask Dr. Jay to speak to this. I’ll just first observe that we are, because of the community spread, we are overwhelmed. We cannot turn tests around fast enough. We don’t have enough contact tracers because there’s just so much spread. And so we’ve got to have additional strategies going into that. And that’s what I’ll ask Dr. Jay to share with you to address this particular fact pattern that you shared.
Yeah, but the question of testing is really a concern. As I said, we’re testing now over 45,000 diagnostic tests a day, and we’re one of the top states in the country for testing. But we’re incredibly concerned about what’s happening with our testing capacity across the state. We have an entire team that meets every day to receive requests from local health departments, including we’re in close contact with the Upper Peninsula local health department officials as well. So again, if people need a test, they should call their doctor. They can go to our website, coronavirus.gov, Michigan.gov to find out where there’s access to a test. But I hear you that it is an ongoing concern, and we continue to aggressively look at how we can improve our testing across the entire state.
Thank you, governor. Thank you everybody. Appreciate you-
I’ll just close by saying thank you for tuning in. I have a feeling we’ll be doing more of these press conferences. Sadly, we are in a very serious moment. Asking of, reiterating that we’re asking people to do your part. Please mask up, and wash your hands a lot, and stay physically separated. And let’s have a plan as we go into the holiday or if you’re going hunting. We need to stay safe. We need to take actions to keep one another safe. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The advancements in vaccines, the national strategy, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We will not be doing this forever, but right now, it’s really dangerous and important that we do what we know works. We will get through this, and we’ll get through it together. Thank you.