Lansing, MI – November 15, 2020 – Today, Thursday, November 15th Governor Whitmer held a press conference with Dr. Joneigh Khaldun and Robert Gordon. She discussed new restrictions to help stop the spread of the virus. Listen to the full press conference below or keep reading for the full conference transcript.
On March 10th of this year, 250 days ago, I stood right here at the state emergency operations center and announced that the first cases of COVID-19 were present here in Michigan. In the months that followed the people of our state stepped up to protect one another. Healthcare workers worked 18 hour shifts in our hospitals. Truck drivers continue to deliver critical supplies. Grocery store clerks kept our shelves stacked. Businesses, small and large retooled so that they could produce sorely needed PPE. Restaurants shifted to take out, delivery and curbside service. Educators found creative ways to engage and stay connected to their students and everyday people did their part by staying home and masking up when they went out. Michiganders have made huge sacrifices this year to protect our public health and it has been hard. It’s unlike anything any of us has ever faced before, but we listened to our public health experts. We smashed the curve. We’ve saved thousands of lives together and because of it, we had one of the best economic rebounds in the country. We need to remember back in March was a lot that we didn’t know about COVID-19 and we now know that wearing a mask is the single most powerful weapon we have against this virus. Now, eight months after I first spoke to you in March, I’m asking that we join forces again because as hard as those first months were for our state, these next few are going to be even harder. For months we have been sounding the alarm about the heightened dangers of a fall and winter surge, fueled by more contacts than ever, the convergence of that with school, complicated by flu season and accelerated by low temperatures driving us all inside. Now we have reached that point. We are in the worst moment of this pandemic to date. The situation has never been more dire.
We are at the precipice and we need to take some action because as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors, this virus will spread. More people will get sick and there will be more fatalities. This is the worst public health emergency our nation has faced in over a century and our response has got to reflect the same level of urgency. Our response is strongest if we are unified and all in this together. We cannot control the fact that we’re already seeing a surge in cases, but what we can control is whether or not and how we join forces to combat our common enemy COVID-19. We do have some control here.
Our collective action can control the severity and length of this wave if we all do our part. A leading model shows that if we don’t take aggressive action right now, we could soon see 1000 deaths per week here in Michigan. I want you to think about that. 1000 deaths per week is what one of the models tells us. To date we have just under 8,000 people lost. That could be a thousand a week we could be adding to that. If we act now though, just like we took action in the spring and we work together, we can save lives. Thousands of lives. We can keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed and hopefully keep our kids in school and keep small businesses open and eat at restaurants again, if we act now.
We beat this last time by listening to our public health experts and we can beat this again and so today we’ve got to act. Today the Department of Health and Human Services is issuing an epidemic order to help us slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. The order takes effect on Wednesday at 12:01 AM and will be in effect for three weeks and we will continuously monitor the data throughout to determine next steps. Public health experts are warning Americans everywhere to limit our indoor gatherings so that we can save lives. This new epidemic order is geared towards stopping the spread by limiting indoor gatherings. These steps are what the public health experts say we must take to avoid overwhelming hospitals and death counts like we saw in the spring.
The rapid spread of this virus requires that we take aggressive action now to save lives. Getting this health crisis under control is absolutely essential to getting our economic crisis under control. If our public isn’t healthy, our economy isn’t healthy. You just look around the country. We have to beat this virus to strengthen our economy. I want to thank businesses that have made the tough choices and stepped up to protect their employees and their customers and their families. I saw this morning that Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids has ended in-person service to protect the Grand Rapids community. Steps like these are crucial to getting this virus under control and I want to thank them and all of the other restaurants and restaurant workers who’ve made incredible sacrifices this year.
Doing this will also protect the medical workers, our first responders and other essential workers who are putting their lives on the line everyday to take care of others. I had a conversation with a doctor at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing recently and she told me that she was proud to stay on the frontline and be a hero, as we refer to them, but she confessed that she wasn’t sure if she could get through another surge. That is not a unique story, sadly and this was one of the things that should cause every one of us concern. We all have a responsibility to follow these laws and do everything in our power to protect one another and to ease the burden that the people on the frontline are confronting every day.
Defeating this virus once and for all and protecting American lives and livelihoods will require more action than just state governments alone and people can take. I know that the action of my administration today will save lives and will have a positive impact on families and frontline workers and ultimately our small businesses will be impacted. We’re working to make sure that we help through this moment, but we need help from the federal government as well. Through these tough times, we need more leadership at the federal level so we can make it through this winter. It’s going to be a tough winter. The United States accounts for 4% of the world’s population and yet we also account for 20% of the world’s COVID cases and 20% of the world’s fatalities. We as a nation have got to come together to fight this virus.
As the president prepares to leave office, part of his legacy will be determined and shaped by these last 66 days. President Trump has an opportunity to meet the needs of the people of this country and extend life saving support to Americans everywhere and I hope that he and leader McConnell and speaker Pelosi can deliver a recovery package, help for unemployed workers, small business assistance, support for locally owned restaurants and all restaurant workers and resources to give our kids the educational support that they need. This stimulus is critical for our families and good for our economy. Now remember the reason that our economy came back as strong as it did was because we had an aggressive plan and federal support in the early months of this pandemic. They did it once and it worked. Now we need help again. Every single one of us from the President of the United States down to each of us individually, has a crucial role in this fight.
I want to talk about Thanksgiving, which is next week. If you are considering spending Thanksgiving with people outside of your household, I urge you to reconsider. Think about your favorite Thanksgivings and the loved ones with whom you’ve spent them. Your parents and your grandparents. Your siblings and your kids and their kids. Your neighbors and friends. Think about them and picture their faces. Think about the good times, laughing together, cheering on the Lions, playing cards and cooking together, maybe even arguing about politics. As hard as it is not seeing them this Thanksgiving, imagine how much harder it would be if you weren’t able to see them for a future holiday ever again. As hard as this is, we all need to make short term sacrifices for a long term gain in health and happiness and I hate to say it, but we know that some people will gather anyway and odds are that some of these gatherings will spread COVID and contribute to the loss of loved ones. It’s just the hard, sad reality of this virus. I know none of us, none of us wants to be the person who has to live with the guilt of unwittingly bringing COVID to someone that we love.
As you consider your options for next week, I urge you to make the difficult, but right choice because it’s ultimately going to be in the longterm benefit of everyone that you love. Michigan versus COVID-19 means we are all in this together. I know a lot of us are exhausted fighting this virus. Every single one of us, me included, is tired of this and yet…
… included is tired of this. And yet, none of us can let up for a second, no matter who you are, whether you live in a dynamic city, like Detroit, or a quaint town, like Ludington, whether you’re a Biden Democrat, or a Trump Republican, whether you’re a Yooper or a downstater, you have a role in this fight.
So, let’s challenge the energy that we had this spring when we stomped the curve. This is going to be a… sorry. This is going to be a tough couple of months. It’s going to be a hard fight, but I know we are up for this challenge. We’ve done it before and we will do it again. My hope is that everyone makes smart choices to keep yourselves and your loved ones and our frontline workers and our community safe. I hope that you’ll double down so we can avoid a stay home order. Do it for yourself, do it for your family, for the nurses and doctors, or do it to help the small business owner who desperately wants to keep their doors open. I believe in you. And I know we are up to this challenge and I know this is possible. Let’s rise with this challenge. We have three weeks to see if we can all do our part and make a real difference. Let’s do this together. With that, I’d like to hand it over to Dr. Khaldun.
Dr. Khaldun :
Thank you, Governor. Yesterday, we announced a total of 251,813 confirmed cases and 7,994 deaths due to COVID-19. In the past seven days, we’ve announced a total of 44,019 more cases. Some of those cases will not beat this virus. They will die.
In the past week, we know of 416 people who have died from COVID-19. And by February 15th, models predict we could have as many as 20,000 additional deaths due to COVID-19 in Michigan. In many more of those cases, even if they live, they are facing potentially, significant longterm health consequences, things researchers are still learning more about, things like heart problems, kidney problems, difficulty breathing, difficulty concentrating and others.
If we do not act now, there’s no question that the next couple of months, next several months will be deadly and grim. This is not like the cold or the flu, and we simply cannot let this virus continue to spread out of control like it is now.
Our case rates are rising at an alarming rate. Overall, we’re at a case rate of 513 cases per million, and the percent of tests that are coming back positive is 12.5%. Test positivity rates across the various regions in the state ranges from 9 to 15%. Case rates range between 349 cases per million in the Traverse City region to 791 cases per million in the Upper Peninsula.
Let me be clear, the entire state is seeing an alarming increase in cases. COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire, and we are now in the dreaded surge that we have been warning about for months.
We are doing very well with our testing. Last week, we were testing on average 54,000 people a day, and we are actually one of the top states in the country for testing. But we still need to test even more. If we do not test, we will not be able to find the disease and we won’t be able to stop its spread. There are many more people who have the virus and likely are not getting a test. If you think you need a test, please get a test. That includes if you have symptoms, or if you have been exposed. You can go to our website, www.michigan.gov/coronavirustest, or you can call 211. They can help you find a testing site near you, many of which are actually free.
Many of you out there are already doing the right thing. You’re wearing your mask. You’re not gathering in groups. You’re washing your hands. Thank you. Please keep on doing that. But unfortunately, based on the data that we are seeing, our messaging and our warnings are simply not enough. It’s putting us all at risk, including those who are doing their best and doing the right thing.
We continue to see outbreaks, many of which are associated with being indoors and gathering. We are now investigating 980 total outbreaks, and every week that number is increasing. Top categories are longterm care, K through 12 schools, manufacturing and construction, healthcare, bars and restaurants and social gatherings.
And let me talk a little bit more about schools. Of the 200 outbreaks that we are currently investigating among K through 12 students and staff, 49% of them are associated with high schools. Of the total number of individual cases associated with these outbreaks, almost two-thirds of those are associated with high schools. That means that there are more total outbreaks associated with high schools and the outbreaks that we are saying have more cases associated with them.
The thing is, this is preventable. That is what gives me hope. There are concrete things that we can do right now to stop the spread of this virus. We know outdoors is safer than indoors, and the larger the gathering, especially indoors, the more likely someone who has the virus will be there and spread it to. And at the rates we are seeing right now, that likelihood is quite high. Avoid indoor gatherings if you can, and if you must gather indoors, you should not be interacting with more than one household and make sure no one in either of your households are engaging in any risky behaviors. Otherwise, you’re putting all of you at risk.
I’m an emergency medicine physician. When someone calls 911, I’m the one who takes care of people when they are dropped in and off by ambulance. Oftentimes, I am the last person someone sees before they are put on a ventilator. And I’m often the one who has to tell a loved one that their family member is dead. My emergency physician colleagues across the country are tired.
These are not just numbers. This is not just about projections and graphs. This is about real people, people who are mothers and fathers, grandparents, sisters, brothers, people’s children. And it’s about protecting our frontline healthcare workers, making sure there are enough hospital beds and staff to take care of COVID and non-COVID patients. Some of our hospitals are just days away from being overwhelmed, and many have over 80% of their inpatient beds occupied.
Our hospitals are almost at capacity, but let me be clear, if you need medical assistance, please still talk to your doctor and certainly seek emergency care if you think you need it. Even if you do not need to go to an emergency room, we do not want people to delay important and necessary care, things like cancer screenings or biopsies or evaluations for heart conditions or vaccinations. Those things must still happen. We want people to get the care they need in the right place. And our doctors and hospitals are still committed to providing those services safely.
As the governor said, the next few months are going to be hard, but everyone just needs to focus on what they can do. Wear your mask, avoid indoor gatherings if you can, maintain your distance from others, get your flu shot and please take care of your physical and your mental health. This pandemic will end, and if we do these very basic things, we will save lives. And with that, I will turn it over to MDHHS Director, Robert Gordon.
Thank you, Dr. Khaldun, and good evening. When firefighters pull people from burning buildings, we call them heroes because they are. With COVID on track to kill 1000 Michiganders each week in every corner of the state, Michigan’s house is on fire and each of us can be a hero who helps save lives.
The most vulnerable, seniors or people with pre-existing conditions, they live alongside us, not in bubbles. COVID is traveling from dinner tables to nursing homes, from hockey games to ICUs. By following the order and guidance tonight, we can save thousands, keep our hospitals open and avoid even more severe steps in the future.
This order rests on the firm legal authority created by the Michigan legislature after the Spanish flu 100 years ago. Our actions now echo actions then. They’re grounded in evidence and experience and reflect input from public health experts in Michigan and around the country.
Go to the next slide, please. If you look at this graph, you can see the virus peaking in Europe, just as it has in Europe, in Michigan. And you can see the virus brought down in Europe by gathering closures like ours today. By contrast, no country or state has brought COVID down from spread like ours without terrible loss of life or the force of law. Responses like ours have worked. Today’s order is targeted and temporary. It aims to do only what is necessary, not more. Early on, we saw COVID spread through conferences, crowded bars, choirs. This fall we’ve seen spread in small parties and family gatherings.
Next slide, please. Anywhere that people gather indoors is a source of great risk, and the risk rises if people are taking off their masks, mingling or exercising. Our action today focuses on indoor gatherings and the settings where groups gather and where the virus can thrive. Let me name eight things that today’s order accomplishes. First, it continues the requirement to wear masks when you were in a gathering, inside or outside. The CDC just this-
… gathering inside or outside. The CDC, just this week, confirmed that masks not only protect others, but they protect the wearer.
Second, next slide, please, the order allows a family to gather with one other household in a residence. This still brings risks, and Governor Whitmer was very clear that the safest course is to avoid these gatherings. But if you’re going to do it, we strongly urge each family to gather over these three weeks with only one other family that is also being cautious, versus choosing different families on different days. Households are a major source of spread.
Next slide please. Third, the order closes indoor public and business settings where people gather; this includes indoor service at bars and restaurants, indoor entertainment venues like casinos, bowling centers, movie theaters, and ice rinks, and group exercise classes. Fourth, the order leaves open work, when working from home is not possible. This includes manufacturing, construction, healthcare, and a very few kinds of office work. The vast majority of office work must be remote.
Fifth, the order leaves the ability to gather outside, leaving open parks, playgrounds, and outdoor dining. As Dr. Khaldun said, these settings are much safer.
Sixth, the order are leaves open indoor individualized activities with masks, retail shopping with reduced capacity, takeout from a restaurant or a bar, personal care services, like getting haircuts by appointment, individualized exercise at the gym with exercise stations far apart.
For schools, children have already lost many months of education, but these are also indoor group settings that bring risk. Not all school settings are the same. There are fewer outbreaks associated with the younger children most in need of in-person instruction. Today we temporarily suspend in-person learning for all high schools for three weeks. We allow K through eight schools to remain open with mask requirements in place, based on decisions among school leaders, frontline educators, and local health officials. Childcare will remain open for working parents as well.
Finally, we are suspending organized sports for three weeks because they bring together people in settings that often involve high levels of contact, and exhalation, and were individuals move from outdoors to indoors like locker rooms and vans. Professional and college sports that can meet extraordinarily high standards for mitigation are excepted. For the next three weeks, please do your part. The order lasts three weeks. And at the end, if we have all done our parts, we will be in a better place. Hope is on the horizon. A vaccine will come, spring will come, this is not forever.
What will be forever will be the deaths of loved ones if we do nothing. If we act now, we can prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed, we can prevent our frontline heroes from being lost, and we can prevent even greater consequences for jobs and our economy.
I ask all of you, honor these rules, honor sacred human life, and be heroes yourselves.