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Governor Whitmer Urges Michiganders to Stay Home For Thanksgiving – November 19th Press Conference

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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Lansing, MI – November 19, 2020 – Today Governor Whitmer held a press conference to urge people to stay home for Thanksgiving to help stop the spread of the virus.  She was joined by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Dr. Matthew Hornik, Brian Totok, and Kendra Patterson.  Keep reading for a full transcript of the press conference or listen below.

Listen:

Gretchen Whitmer:
Good afternoon. Today is Thursday, November 19. Thank you for joining us. I am joined today by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, our chief medical executive, by Matthew Hornik, Dr. Matthew Hornik, the president of the Michigan chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Brian Torok the co-owner of Smoke ‘N Pig BBQ in Delta Township, Kendra Patterson, the co-owner of Michigan Barnwood & Salvage in Mason, Michigan.

Yesterday the epidemic order that the Department of Health and Human Services limiting indoor gatherings where COVID-19 can easily spread went into effect. I want to remind everyone that these actions are both targeted and intended to be temporary. These steps are what the public health experts tell us we need to take to avoid overwhelmed hospitals and death counts like we saw in the spring. Doing this will also protect our medical workers, our first responders, and other essential workers who have put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us. People we usually call frontliners, but I hesitate to use that phrase because it implies there is a second line. We have to respect the people that have been on the frontline because they are what’s keeping us safe.

We must all work together here. We had our weekly data call on Tuesday evening where we got an update from our health experts. This is the fourth call that we have had with Michigan legislators on it including six Democrats and six Republicans from the House and Senate. I am hopeful that when the legislature returns from their hunting break, Republicans will share their plans for addressing the public health emergency our state is facing. We must do everything that we can to protect each other from this virus because this virus doesn’t care who you are. Any one of us can contract COVID-19. Dave [Burkhart 00:02:31] is a 28-year-old resident physician in one of the busiest emergency rooms in Michigan, on the west side of the state. He is an avid exerciser, he works out five times a week and has no significant chronic medical conditions. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this month and was admitted to the hospital because he could barely walk 10 steps. Dave is one of the heroes that has stayed on the frontline of this crisis for the past eight months, and for eight months, he has seen the worst part of this pandemic. He’s seen all kinds of people admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. He’s watched family members say goodbye to their loved ones for the last time, and yet every morning, he wakes up, he puts on his PPE, and heads into work.

In a Facebook post last week, Dave urged his fellow Michiganders to do their part. Here’s what he said. “Think about the families who want to be with their loved ones while they’re sick but can’t. Think how silly it sounds to complain about a mask when there are literally people gasping for air. It is up to all of us to stop the spread of COVID. It does not just affect the old and frail. It affects all of us and we are all at risk of getting sick. Please wear your mask. Do your part to stop the spread.”

I know this has been a tough time for all of us. Tougher for many than I can even imagine. We all owe it to Dave and to the brave men and women on the frontline to do our part and take this seriously. Especially as we head into Thanksgiving next week. I know you’ve all heard me talk about Thanksgiving a number of times these past couple of weeks, but like I said before, we are going to get through this. We are doing our part when we protect our loved ones and stay apart this holiday. We’re preserving future holiday gatherings together by taking this seriously now. By not gathering with people outside of your household this Thanksgiving, it is an act of kindness and love.

I read an article in MLive yesterday that mentioned a group of 11 family members and friends that recently gathered for a simple night of cards in the Upper Peninsula. Shortly thereafter, all 11 got sick with COVID. Their story is not unique. We know that gathering indoors with people who live outside of our homes, not wearing masks, is exactly how this virus spreads.

Recently healthcare leaders from the UP sent out a joint statement urging everyone to do their part to stop the spread. Here’s what they said. “It’s been a long haul and we’re not done with COVID-19 yet. We must slow the spread of this virus but it’s up to you to choose to do the right things and have compassion for others even if it means you must make small personal sacrifices like wearing a mask and skipping a holiday gathering.” These are small prices to pay to protect your life and the health and lives of others. If we listen to the medical experts, we’re going to beat this virus. We’ve beat this last time by listening to these medical health experts and we can and we will do it again if we do it together.

Despite leaders across our country urging our Congress and White House to work together, we still don’t have a bipartisan relief package from the federal government. The president has spent more energy spreading untruths about the election outcome than he has listening to health experts and protecting American people. Today, Democratic Leader in the Senate Jim Ananich, House Democratic Leader Chris Greig and I sent a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer, Representative Kevin McCarthy urging them all to take swift action to pass a COVID-19 relief bill that meets the scale of this crisis.

I did ask the Republican leader in both the Senate and House to sign onto this letter as well but they declined. It’s really crucial that we come together. It’s crucial that this relief bill gets passed because it includes aids to the states and locals to help combat the virus, to mitigate the economic fallout, to provide support for our kids and our educators, to protect the nurses and doctors and people on the frontline, to help out our restaurants who are struggling and our small businesses and so many who are out of work.

Federal support was essential to the action that we took to fight this pandemic this spring and it helped us stabilize our economy in the early months of the pandemic. Now during the worst surge that we have seen since the start of this, Michigan and states across the country need more support to protect our families, frontline workers and small businesses. We also need unemployment relief to help the millions of Americans who have lost work due to this pandemic. Nearly three million Michigan workers and counting have applied for unemployment benefits since the start of the pandemic, with more than 600,000 still receiving benefits. Rising infections are likely to lead to more layoffs which will only drive that number higher. It’s imperative that Congress take action now to extend UI provisions of the CARES Act, to provide relief to those who lost their job through no fault of their own and to help us get through this tough time and strengthen our economy.

Over 600,000 Michigan workers are currently receiving unemployment assistance, with more than 80% of those workers relying on the soon to expire CARES Act programs. This means that if Congress does not act, almost half of a million people in our state could lose access to these critical benefits that have served as a lifeline for these people and their families. I also want to urge the Michigan legislature to extend unemployment benefits beyond December 31 of this year. This was one of my executive orders. The legislature extended but only through the end of this year and that’s just not going to cut it. This should be one of the first orders of business when the legislature returns from their hunting break.

We know that this pandemic will not be over by the new year, and while there are truly promising developments like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, we know that they will not be ready for widespread distribution to the general population for months. I was proud of the bipartisan work that we did to extend unemployment benefits to the people of Michigan. Now we have to work together again to ensure that people can put food on the table for themselves and their families and pay their heating bills this winter.

My administration has taken a number of steps to provide support for our small businesses during this pandemic. I want to mention just a few that I haven’t talked about in a while. The Michigan COVID-19 safety grant program has awarded matching funds up to $10,000.00 to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace through the purchase of health and safety-related equipment. The weatherization grant program provides reimbursement grant funding to help small businesses including bars and restaurants winterize. With the new MIOSHA Ambassador Program, businesses across the state can now schedule COVID-19 safety consultations as a part of the new ambassador program partnership with NSF International and MIOSHA and the Small Business Restart Program and the Small Business Relief Program provide funds to small businesses that are struggling.

As Black Friday and the holiday season approaches, there are steps that each of us can take at the individual level to help small businesses in our communities. As you get ready for the holidays, I urge you to support local businesses and ensure that you are staying safe by wearing your mask and respecting the safety of the people that own these small businesses and their employees. Under the –

… Only small businesses and their employees. Under the MDHHS epidemic order, retail remains open with strict safety measures in place. Kendra’s business, Michigan Barnwood and Salvage and Mason, supports over 75 Michigan artisans. They sell everything from candles to clothing to metal signs in their showroom, and their 15,000 square foot lumberyard can contains reclaimed barn wood of all colors and dimensions. And most importantly, they’ve made a commitment to staying safe through this pandemic. Businesses in Michigan are required by law to enforce strict safety measures to protect their employees, their customers, and our families. So if you walk into a business and they’re not wearing masks and not looking out for your safety, I encourage you to walk out. Next week the Michigan Economic Development Corporation will roll out an initiative encouraging Michiganders to support local businesses in collaboration with small business organizations across the state. Let’s embrace Small Business Saturday every day in the coming weeks and months, even if we’re doing it in a slightly different way, because there’s nothing more pure Michigan than supporting our local businesses here at home.

In fact, if we switch one in 10 of our out-of-state purchases to local stores, Michigan would gain $1.2 billion in increased economic activity. Just 10% of your out-of-state purchasing staying here at home has a massive impact of these businesses, these families, and right here at home. So this season let’s shop local, let’s dine local. Get that takeout. And stay local and support small businesses and workers that are the heartbeat of our communities.

I also want to welcome Brian Toric from Smoking Pig Barbecue in the Lansing area. They’ve shown a deep commitment to keeping the community safe. Like many restaurants in Michigan, they’re still open for takeout, for takeout and delivery. I know that there are a lot of restaurants in our state that are worried about the weeks to come. I’m worried too. I urge all Michiganders to support your favorite local restaurant by ordering takeout and delivery or buying a gift card for yourself later, or for your friends. It helps these businesses now.

I’ve also called on the president repeatedly to pass a bipartisan support package to help restaurants and restaurant employees that are struggling. And I will not stop until our restaurants and small businesses have the support that they need to get through this tough time. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t discriminate if you’re young or old, if you’re a Trump Republican, or a Biden Democrat, if you’re a Spartan or a Wolverine. This virus can be deadly for everyone. That’s why these next three weeks are so crucial. We flattened the curve in the spring by listening to our public health and medical experts. We can do this again. You have the power to help us push this curve down. Every one of us has the power to make choices that will contribute to that. It’s going to take all of us working together.

This is my last press conference before Thanksgiving. Once again, I urge all of you to be smart and do everything in your power to keep your loved ones safe. We will get through this together. With that, I’ll bring up dr. Jay.

Dr. Jay: (14:37)
Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon, everyone. Today we are announcing 285,398 cases and 8,324 total deaths due to COVID-19 in Michigan. We are still seeing an exponential rise in cases across the state. Our case rates range from 418 cases per million in the Travers City region to 934 cases per million in the Grand Rapids region. Test positivity ranges from 9% in the Travers City region to 16% in the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo regions. Every region in the state is seeing alarming case and test positivity rates. Our hospitals are closer and closer to becoming overwhelmed and are on average 79% full, and they are becoming more and more full of COVID-19 patients. Michigan, in fact, has the fourth highest number of COVID patients hospitalized in the country, behind Texas, Illinois, and California. Our public health system is also becoming overwhelmed. Case investigators and contact tracers may not be able to reach everyone they need to in a timely way.

It is very possible that if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, our contact tracers may not be able to get in touch with you quickly enough to let you know that you need to quarantine. That’s why we are encouraging everyone to download the My COVID Alert app. It is simple, your privacy is protected, and it is an easy way to be notified if you have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19. You can download it on your phone from the App Store or go to www.michigan.gov/mycovidalert. Almost 300, 000 people across the state have already downloaded the app, and it has helped identify contacts of dozens of cases already. And the more people that have the app, the better it works. So please download it today. It’s one simple and easy thing you can do to do your part during this pandemic.

As the Governor said, next week is Thanksgiving. It is certainly one of my favorite holidays, but this year it simply has to be different. I’m encouraging everyone to please do the right thing and avoid having Thanksgiving with anyone outside of your household. Today, in fact, the CDC announced clear recommendations that people should not be traveling for Thanksgiving to visit friends or family, especially if someone from your household or someone that you may be visiting is at risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, like the elderly or people who may have underlying medical conditions. The smartest thing is not to gather. Perhaps you can drop some food off on the porch of your loved one so they can enjoy your cooking, but you do not go inside the house. You can set up virtual conference calls, you can use Zoom so everyone can call in at the same time and say what they are thankful for. Indoor gatherings are a major way that COVID-19 is spreading right now. And at the rates we are seeing in the state, it is very likely that if you’re gathering for Thanksgiving, the virus will also be around the table with you. Bad decisions made at Thanksgiving will mean people will be mourning the deaths of their loved ones by New Year’s. And so I would rather make smart decisions now and look forward to next year when we can celebrate them again together alive.

Let me talk a little bit more about the COVID vaccine. So there are two vaccines that have shown promising data thus far in phase three clinical trials, and that may be available for distribution before the end of this year. When those vaccines are approved by the CDC, our state will be ready to oversee distribution of them, working with hospitals, local health departments, and community partners. I can tell you that I have reviewed and I do trust the process that is currently being moved forward by the FDA.

A group of accomplished public health and medical experts will have to review the data and the science around the vaccine before it is made available. And after it is out in the public, there are systems in place so that any potential adverse reactions are appropriately tracked and monitored and reported. This is exactly what happens for any vaccine, and there are even more systems in place for our COVID-19 vaccine. Only if the data and the science and national experts tell us that the vaccine is safe and effective will we be distributing it here in Michigan. As the Governor mentioned, because there will be limitations on the number of vaccines available, especially in the beginning, the initial groups to be vaccinated will be critical workers in our healthcare systems, people working in hospitals, first responders, and those who are most vulnerable for severe illness. It will likely be well into the spring before the general public has access to the vaccine.

And that’s why it’s really just so important that we continue to focus on these preventative measures, wearing masks and maintaining six feet of distance so that we can bring this curve down again. Even as our hospitals are overwhelmed, I want to continue to reiterate that people should still seek out medical care if they need it. And especially if you are having an emergency, you should contact your doctor or go to the emergency room. One thing, actually, that we are concerned about is a shortage of donated blood. Many people are still undergoing important medical procedures, or they have urgent medical conditions that require a blood transfusion. A shortage of blood can have devastating consequences, and one important thing people can do right now is donate blood. You can contact your local hospital or the American Red Cross to find out how.

I know people are very stressed right now. They may feel like because of this virus they can not do the things that they want. But there are actually a lot of things that you can do right now, things that you can control. If you’re feeling stressed out and you or a loved one needs help, you can reach out on our website, www.michigan. gov/staywell. There you can find out more about how to speak to someone about how you’re feeling, or you can download some free tools that we have, like Headspace. As I said earlier, you can also download the My COVID Alert app to help with contact tracing efforts. You can and you should get a flu shot this year and prevent a surge of both flu and COVID this winter.

As I said before, you can reach out to your local hospital or the American Red Cross to donate blood and help those who may need a life-saving blood transfusion. You can and should get a test if you feel sick, and stay at home so you do not infect others. You can and should wear a mask to protect yourself and your loved ones. While these are very scary times, I am very proud to be a Michigander and of how we came together this spring to bring the curve down, and of all the important and right choices that many people are making every day, not just to protect themselves, but to protect their-

… we’re making every day, not just to protect themselves, but to protect their family members, their community, and their loved ones. While I’m very concerned about our numbers. I know that we can do this. Stay focused on what you can control, be patient and do the right thing for your own health and the health of your family and the community. And with that, I will pass it over to Dr. Hornick.

Dr Hornick:
Good afternoon. Thank you governor, for the opportunity to be here today. My name is Matthew Hornick and I am the president of the Michigan chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Over the last two months, we have seen a rapid increase in COVID infection rates in both adults and children in the state. Pediatric offices have been inundated with COVID testing over the last few weeks, especially with teenagers. As COVID infection rates rise, the risk of community spread also rises. The MIAP has had a consistent message throughout this entire pandemic. When the community risk is low, we need to allow children to participate in activities that lead to healthy growth and development, such as in-person schooling and extracurricular activities. But when the community risk increases, like the situation we are in today, we must do all we can as a state to combat the virus and reduce the transmission and mortality. As a parent and a pediatrician, there are many things I would recommend to keep your kids healthy as we move into the holiday season.

Please continue to wear your masks in public and practice social distancing. Wearing a mask continues to be one of the most effective tools we can to combat this transmission. For parents, this is also good role modeling for your children. Celebrate Thanksgiving and the winter holidays only within your own household. We all would love to have large family gatherings this holiday season, but it’s just too risky this year. The CDC has warned that it increased a number of COVID cases are coming from even small family gatherings. Please do not allow your teenagers to get together in groups as this is one of the highest groups spreading the virus right now in our state. Take your children to get their flu shot and get one for yourself as well. Flu symptoms and COVID symptoms are virtually impossible to distinguish.

With hospitals, filling up with COVID patients, we need everyone to do what they can to avoid preventable illnesses that will take up more beds in our hospitals. The flu vaccine can help prevent the flu and help reduce hospitalizations. Bringing your children in for regularly scheduled well visits is also extremely important in addition to parents, seeing their doctors for physicals. Doctors have put in place many measures to keep their offices clean and ensure the safety of their patients and their families and their staff.

Most are offering telemedicine appointments and even going as far as setting up mobile tents in their parking lots and doing car visits. Since the rise of COVID, we have seen a significant decrease in immunization rates and also a decrease in lead screening in the state. In Michigan, there was a 3.8% decrease in immunizations given it September and a 20.9% decrease in August. Lead screening has decreased by 38% in July and 76% in April. Without these essential well visits, we can not provide the adequate and proper care for your children that they need.

For example, diagnosing elevated lead levels at an early age and intervening can help prevent behavioral and developmental difficulties that may have long lasting consequences. These visits also enforce preventative medicine as the best way to live a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and getting a good night’s rest. The final point I would like to emphasize as mental health. We have seen a tremendous increase in depression, anxiety in both adults and children since this pandemic has started. Please seek care from your primary care provider who can refer you to the appropriate mental health professionals. Please keep negative discussions about the virus to a minimum in front of your children, as this will instill fear and anxiety. Limiting social media and the news exposure can also promote a positive environment in these troubling times. If we all follow these easy steps as a community and as a state, we can bring down the community transmission risk again, making schools, sports and events, safe to participate in again. Thank you.

Brian Torak:
Good afternoon. I’d like to first say thank you, Governor Whitmer for inviting us here today to share our story. My name is Brian Torak and I am joined here today by my son, Gabe Pitmaster Jones. We are two of the four co-owners of the Smoking Pig Barbecue and Lansing. The other two owners are my wife, Mary and our general manager, Steve fountain. Her restaurant is located at 908 Elmwood Avenue across [inaudible 00:27:18] Mall. And we’ve been doing business in mid Michigan since 2016.

Gabe:
This story began in May of 2016, when I came to my dad, asked him to finance some equipment for me to start my own barbecue business. Business was brisk the first weekend. We invested in two more smokers and we were started off and running. We transitioned to a food truck business June of 2016 to keep up with the expanding business and added a second food truck in 2017. As the catering arm of our business continued to grow, we started looking for a building large enough to accommodate a kitchen, to keep up with the demand of our product. We opened our first restaurant in December of 2019, shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak. We used both of our homes as collateral to fund the business expansion and are now faced with the uncertainty of what the pandemic would do to our business.

Brian Torak:
So like many other restaurants and small businesses in Michigan and across the country, we needed to adjust our business plan and do it quickly in order to ensure that our business would survive. We implemented an online ordering system to our website to lessen the time our customers needed to stand in line. We added an additional phone line to handle the increased calls for ordering. We partnered with two delivery companies that would deliver our food, so customers could enjoy our contactless dining experience. When the decision was made to limit our dining capacity to 50%, we transitioned to a mostly takeout model. Our dining room was not large enough to handle the takeout and dine-in business and still practice proper social distancing. Thanks to a very loyal customer base and our local community making a conscious effort to support small businesses in Delta Township, we have been able to keep all of our original employees on payroll and even add a few more. I’d also need to thank many of our local businesses who supported us by inviting us to bring our food truck to their site and serve lunches to their employees and customers. A final thank you to Governor Whitmer and her team for fighting to get grants and low interest federal loans for us and other small business owners throughout Michigan. We have been blessed to have received assistance from the LEAP as well as the Payroll Protection Program. The future may seem uncertain right now for many of us, but with support from each other in a strong will to survive this pandemic, we will get back to normal day-to-day operations. Thank you. And the mask up Michigan.

Kendra:
Good afternoon. I’m Kendra Patterson. Co-owner with my husband, Trevor of Michigan Barnwood and Salvage in Mason. We started selling reclaimed barn wood back in 2015. And the business has since added a 4,000 square foot home decor store featuring over 75 Michigan artisans. We’re all about Michigan and we’ve seen tremendous growth in the past five years. It will come to no surprise to you that 2020 has been a very tough year for us retailers. Many of us rely on holiday sales for a good portion of our revenue. As a member of the Michigan Retailers Association, I can see the organization studies showing how crucial it is for consumers to think about where they shop. You can help community in the easiest of ways, by spending your hard earned money at local stores.

Yes, it’s tempting to go online, but no one wants to see empty storefronts in our local shopping plazas and downtowns. Retailers are ready to serve you in ways that make you feel safe. Whether it is shopping in person, curbside or home delivery. Retailers have proven that we can follow protocols and operate safely. We want to welcome and accommodate you however you feel comfortable.

This holiday season, Michigan Retailers’ Association challenges, Michiganders to buy gifts from at least three local stores. I promise you, it will make you feel good and it will make those store owners ecstatic. I also encourage you to tell friends and families that you would like your gifts to be purchased from local stores. Let’s keep our money circulating and Michigan’s economy, that way we can maintain jobs, fund our schools and communities through sales tax revenue. If you send money to an out-of-state retailer, we will never see those benefits. So I urge you to keep your money right here in the [inaudible 00:32:11], and thank you so much.

Gretchen Whitmer:
Well, I want to thank all the people that joined me today. I have a feeling there’s some barbecue takeout in my future, and maybe a little holiday shopping here at home, spending my money locally.

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