Lansing, MI – December 7th, 2020 – Governor Whitmer held a news conference today, December 7, 2020. Keep reading for the Governor’s opening statement and transcript. You can also watch the full news conference here.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer:
Good afternoon. Today is Monday, December 7th. Thank you for joining us. I am joined, of course, with Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, our Chief Medical Executive, and Robert Gordon, the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Three weeks ago, we asked Michiganders to do their part to bring down the rapidly escalating cases that were threatening our hospitals and our communities. The policies that we put in place are fact-based, they follow the recommendations of medical experts from across the country and they’re targeted and temporary, and they are steps that the experts are telling us we need to take to avoid hospitals that are overwhelmed and death counts like we saw in the spring.
We’ve got to join forces if we want to eradicate this virus together. To our small business owners, I want you to know, I understand the incredible sacrifices that you’ve made this year in order for us to help save people’s lives and I appreciate you. We’ve made progress during this three week pause, cases and mobility have started to level off, but there is more work we need to do to protect one another.
A month ago, we were worried and we warned that on the trajectory we were on, we could see a hundred deaths a day by Christmas. That was what we were worried about. Here we are a few weeks before Christmas, and we are already sadly above that mark. And that means our progress is fragile and we cannot let up yet.
We have not yet seen the full impact of activities around Thanksgiving on our cases and hospitalizations, and we’re very worried that they could be significant impacts. National experts that we have consulted have told us our numbers are likely to go up between two to three weeks post Thanksgiving. So we need to see some more numbers.
This Thursday marks 14 days since Thanksgiving, and we will likely start to see the impact then. We need more time to measure the numbers and ensure that our trend helps our hospitals so that they can stabilize. Right now, 79% of all hospitals beds are occupied. The hospital capacity issue that we are dealing with right now is different than it was in the spring, because in the spring, different parts of our state had different COVID numbers.
Patients could be transferred from one area that had higher COVID numbers to an area that had lower COVID numbers. We could ask for staff to come in and help in places that were being overwhelmed. We could ask people from other states to come into Michigan and help. Unfortunately, that is not the case right now because hospitals across Michigan are all filling up.
Hospitals across the country are all filling up and staffing capabilities everywhere are very limited, more and more of our frontline health workers, our doctors, and our nurses, our first responders who we rely on every day to protect us, they’re getting sick. They’re unable to come into work because of this rapid spread of COVID-19 in all of our communities.
We cannot risk overwhelming our hospitals further, and that’s why our hospital systems implored the Department of Health and Human Services to extend the pause, and so we are going to give it 12 more days. Director Gordon will have more to say on this in a moment.
We are also laying out a pathway to stay on in this moment, our pathway to cautious engagement at the end of those 12 days, assuming that our trajectory doesn’t get worse so you can know what to expect. Over the next 12 days, we will be looking at measurement like falling cases, per cent of COVID hospital beds that are available, questions like, is that number flat or is it falling? And whether or not we’ve got falling positive test rates. Dr. J will go into that with a little more detail in a moment. We won’t lift all of our protocols at once. We will do it in a measured way so we don’t undo the progress that we’ve made.
So with recent daily case counts averaging well above 6,000 a day, the daily death toll reaching over a hundred a day, and the risk of hospitals being overwhelmed, right now, we’ve got to join forces and double down on what it’s going to take to get these COVID numbers down. This may be the most difficult time in our whole struggle with COVID-19 since March, especially with the holidays approaching.
We are on the brink of incredible breakthroughs, incredible breakthroughs when it comes to vaccines. We are closer than ever to the day that we begin distributing an effective and safe vaccine, and we’ve got to all do our part to protect one another until we eliminate COVID-19 once and for all. It’s imperative that we protect one another by doing the things we know to do, wearing a mask, practicing social distancing so that we can return to a strong economy and normal day-to-day activities.
The epidemic order in place now is aimed at, one, limiting indoor gatherings. Two, gatherings that have people of different households, and gatherings where people come together without wearing masks. That’s just simply how COVID-19 transmits from one person to another.
The science here is settled, the best way we can protect our frontline workers and slow the spread of this virus is to double down on mask wearing, social distancing, and limiting indoor gatherings where people are most at risk of transmission.
Now there is overwhelming research and scientific data that says going to locations that offer on-site eating and drinking options is associated with COVID-19 positivity. There are studies after studies that show this, we will have a link to them on social media in case you’re interested in reading them. Adults with positive COVID tests were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than those who were negative.
It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s not the restaurant’s fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not Dr. J’s fault or Director Gordon’s fault. This is how COVID-19 spreads. It’s just that simple. It’s the science of the virus, and that’s why we’ve got to limit indoor gatherings where people come together from different households, stay together and not wear their masks.
Now I want to speak to the Michigan Legislature. My administration has been working hard to fight this virus, but we can’t do it alone. This year, we have taken strong bipartisan action to get a number of things done for the people of Michigan. We passed two bipartisan budgets that include crucial funding for our state. We worked together to extend unemployment benefits until the end of next year. Now, we’ve got to partner to eradicate this virus and to protect those we serve.
Last month, I sent a letter to the legislature urging them to work with me on three key priorities during the few remaining session days that are left of 2020. Number one is passing a hundred million dollars of COVID relief funds that will provide direct financial support to the families and small businesses that have been hit hardest by this pandemic.
Also, passing a permanent extension of the unemployment benefits so thousands of Michiganders don’t lose their benefits at the end of this year, and passing legislation to protect public health, including bills to require that people wear masks.
This has got bipartisan support in the legislature. I think if we codified, it would go a long way toward encouraging greater compliance. So let’s join forces, let’s do it what we know works. Let’s help people get through this tough time. It will not last forever, but right now is a very serious moment.
While DHHS extends this pause, it is my hope that the legislature …
… HHS extends this pause. It is my hope that the legislature and our federal government will help me develop the path to help the unemployed workers and the businesses who are struggling. This has been a long, tough fight, but let’s not forget our history. Our brave soldiers fought to keep the Union together during the Civil War. We came together in Detroit, Michigan, as the arsenal of democracy to defeat the Nazis, because we stood united against a common enemy. We made it through The Great Recession and the auto rescue. We can beat and eradicate COVID-19. We have flattened the curve once, we can do it again, and we must do it again together.
Before I hand it over to Dr. Khaldun, I want to end by discussing the recent threats against the Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, Representative Cynthia Johnson, and House Speaker Lee Chatfield. Yesterday, we learned that dozens of protestors gathered outside of Secretary Benson’s house, as she was finishing putting up Christmas decorations with her four-year-old son. Representative Cynthia Johnson shared voicemails containing death threats, after last week’s hearing with Rudy Giuliani, and Speaker Chatfield said that threats have been made against him and his family.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer:
This is unacceptable. Threats against our elected officials or any office holder, no matter their party, are not acceptable. They are unlawful and they are unacceptable. Hate and violence have no place in Michigan. Secretary Benson has worked 24 hours, seven days a week to ensure a safe, fair election in Michigan. The people spoke, and it’s time to put the election behind us, and it’s time for us to come together against our common enemy, the virus known as COVID-19. I ask for people of goodwill, in all parts of our state, on all sides of the aisle, to come together. Let’s rise to this challenge and do it together, protecting one another, and getting through this all together. Thank you.