Lansing, MI – February 9, 2021 – Today Governor Whitmer along with Dr. Khaldun held a press conference to discuss the coronavirus and announce that Michigan health insurers are continuing to waive out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and treatments. Listen to the press conference below or keep reading for a full transcript.
All right. Good afternoon. Today is Tuesday, February 9th. And of course, I’m here with Dr. Jay and Kevin Polston, who is the superintendent of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools and chair of the Student Recovery Advisory Council.
Michigan continues to press forward in the fight against COVID-19, and we have been ramping up the largest vaccination strategy in state history. Michigan continues to make progress toward achieving our goal of equitably vaccinating 70% of Michiganders 16 and up. We’ve already administered 1.2 million, so 1,292, 572 vaccines to date. And that number is literally growing as we speak. We’re working around the clock to get more second doses into arms, with an emphasis on prioritizing our frontline workers, educators, veterans, and of course our elderly citizens.
This morning, I was able to visit the vaccination site at Michigan State University Pavilion with Major General Paul Rogers, State Representative Julie Brixie Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail, and Lieutenant Colonel Karen Sims. It was so amazing to see how they are moving people through getting vaccines. And I had an opportunity to talk to some people who, as they were sitting in their cars, about what it meant to them to be there. And it was inspirational. And I know there have been a lot of tough days, but having a moment to see what is happening, I think, was so energizing for me. And I’m so excited about where we are headed. I was proud to witness the incredible work that they are doing every day, our local public health experts, the National Guard, Michigan State Police, I mean all of them working together.
Yesterday, we were proud to announce that we have secured agreements from nearly all Michigan health insurers to continue waiving out of pocket costs for COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and treatments. As we continue working to combat this global pandemic and save lives, the very last thing that Michiganders should have to worry about is whether or not their health insurance will cover the costs of their care. And this will help give Michiganders peace of mind needed to continue staying healthy and staying safe and getting the care that is needed.
Just as it has been these past 11 months, our success at this point is fragile. That’s the nature of this virus, as we see the demand for vaccines outpace the supply we currently have. That is going to change, and we are seeing an increase in vaccines and another was told to us governors today on a call with the White House. That is good news. It’s not nearly as fast as we all want, but it is headed in the right direction. We are truly grateful, because time is of the essence. We want to move swiftly to get 50,000 shots in arms per day, every day. We have hit that number a few times. We are capable of this and even more, but we need the vaccines in order to be successful. And we need the resources to make sure that we’ve got the administration effort fully engaged.
So the greatest threat to our forward progress remains that threat of lack of resources. The state legislature has not yet appropriated all the dollars that the federal government made available to Michigan, and we need them to take action. These are dollars that came from a bipartisan group of our congressional delegation and were signed into law by President Trump, and that we still haven’t deployed into Michigan. These are dollars for vaccines, dollars for education of our children, dollars for helping businesses that are struggling and of course, dollars to help people who are struggling as well. So we need Republicans and Democrats in Michigan’s legislature to appropriate these dollars, all of these dollars, as quickly as possible. Delaying efforts to fully appropriate these resources and leaving dollars on the table that are so crucial to our economic recovery, threatens the progress that we have made to date.
We are in a race, as I’ve said. There are variants that are now present and that we have got to be concerned. And that’s why we must move swiftly for the health of our people, for the sake of our economy, for the sake of our kids. Without building on the momentum that we have created so far by neglecting to get these federal dollars deployed through the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan, we may fall on the priority list of supplies, and as a result, see a slow down in our vaccination rates. This is a very real threat. Michigan has been a leader, and we have been able to get the supplies we need, but if those dollars aren’t appropriated quickly enough, that could be at risk, which means our recovery will take longer. Our vaccination rates could decline, and that’s why we’ve got to have help and partnership from the legislature. Because Congress did their part, now we need our state legislature to do theirs.
I was pleased that Senator Paul Wojno has introduced a bill to do this. I am hopeful that both sides of the aisle can come together and get this done. And I continue to extend my hand in partnership to anyone who wants to focus on these fundamentals, because this is what our economy is going to depend on the most, and we know how important it is for the health of our people.
As part of my commitment to keep Michigan safe and moving forward, one month ago my administration set a goal that all school districts would be prepared to offer an in-person learning opportunity for students no later than March 1st, and earlier, if possible. For the better part of a year now, many students, parents, educators, and support staff from across the state have done the best they can, and to get the best out of virtual learning. They’ve demonstrated incredible leadership, and what a fundamental role that our teachers and support staff play in the education of our children. They’ve managed to continue lunch programs for those who rely on them, give emotional counseling for the countless students who need it, and ensure that our students received the academic support necessary, whether that was being done remotely, in person, or both.
Through creativity, through passion, through persistence, they’ve helped the students continue learning and growing during this time. And it’s been nothing short of inspiring, which is why I will continue to do all that I can to support them, including through our Michigan Classroom Heroes grant program. The value of in-person learning, however, for our kids is immeasurable and we’ve got to do everything we can to get them back safely in the classroom so they get the education they need.
We know that in-person learning provides a key benefit for many parents who rely on children being in school so they can go to work and fully participate in our economy. What’s more, many students and families have struggled with remote learning and need opportunities for face-to-face interactions with educators, even if school offers some sort of a hybrid schedule to allow for smaller groups of students to gather.
Already, many districts across the state have returned to some form of in-person learning for this school year, and they have been largely successful. This can be done safely with the safety protocols and a strategy to keep our students and our teachers and our support staff safe. So I am grateful for the leadership that is happening in districts across Michigan.
… grateful for the leadership that is happening in districts across Michigan. They’ve been creative and they’ve been truly committed to supporting our students. This is why we’re strongly encouraging districts provide as much face to face learning as possible because it is just crucial for the success of our kids, especially our youngest kids, especially kids who are from disadvantaged circumstances, kids with special needs or English language learners in particular. Michigan has received funding from the federal government to help school districts return to in-person learning, and I’ve presented a plan for how we can leverage additional state resources to make this happen. As a part of the federal stimulus package that was approved in December, Michigan received nearly $1.7 billion through elementary and secondary school emergency relief fund to help aid school districts in returning safely to in-person learning. Through the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan, I set out a path for allocating these funds, along with an additional $300 million to help schools meet our goal of ensuring every student has an in-person learning opportunity by March 1, and so that we can address the learning loss that has occurred due to the pandemic. These one-time flexible dollars will be distributed through a formula that recognizes additional costs associated with supporting students in poverty and students with special education needs, in particular, to ensure that every student has a real opportunity, a level opportunity.
I’m grateful for the many districts across the state that have taken necessary precautions while safely returning their students and educators to in-person learning over the past month. As we sit three weeks from our target date of March 1, state and federal resources could make all the difference in helping school districts throughout the state safely prepare for students and educators to return to the classroom. So I know that the legislature wants to see our kids back in class safely so that they can earn the quality education they need. And that’s why, again, it is my hope that the legislature will appropriate these federal dollars that have been made available for our students. Every day that goes by is a missed opportunity in the lives of our kids. So while it may not always feel this way, one day this pandemic will be behind us. We will look back on times like this and know that we did all we could to support our state’s prosperity for generations to come. And that’s why it’s so critical that we continue doing everything we can right now to build on the progress we’ve made. Means encouraging the legislature to join forces with me to get the Michigan COVID recovery plan passed so we can help our local communities and our school districts and our businesses and our vaccine distribution.
I know that every one of us, trust me, every one of us is the longing for the opportunity to return to normalcy. And we’re feeling the fatigue as we get closer to the one year mark of COVID-19 being here in Michigan. I get it and I feel it too, but we cannot let our guards down now. We’ve got to stay vigilant. We’ve got to continue doing everything we can to put an end to this pandemic. Masking up, social distancing, washing our hands, making your plan to get your vaccine when it’s your turn. We can and we will get through this together, Michigan. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Dr. Jay.
Thank you, Governor. So as of yesterday, we were at 569,417 cases and 14,905 deaths due to COVID 19 in the state. Case rates have steadily declined to 144 cases per million, down 81% from the mid-November peak. 4.5% of tests in the state are coming back positive, and that continues to decline. Only 6% of hospital beds are being used to treat COVID-19, down 72% since the fall peak on December 1st.
While our numbers continue to trend overall in the right direction, I’m very concerned about what we are seeing with the new B117 variant. We now know a 45 cases of the variant identified in Michigan across 10 counties, and there will be more. While this variant first appeared in the UK, the cases we are seeing in Michigan have not all been associated with someone who had a history of traveling, which means the variant is likely in the general community. This variant is more easily spread from person to person, meaning if we are not vigilant, we could see a rise in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, similar to what they saw in the UK.
Now I know this may sound overwhelming, but the good news is we know how to slow the spread. And it’s the same thing Michiganders have been doing so well for the past year to slow the spread of the virus and bring our curve down last spring and in the fall. We also know that in-person learning can be done safely. And in many school districts across the state, this is already happening. Medical experts and epidemiologists from across the country have closely followed the data and recognized that schools can establish a low risk of virus transmission by making sure that everyone does things like wearing masks and adopting careful infection prevention protocols. That’s why we continue to encourage all school districts to develop and implement their own plans to adopt an in-person learning option by March 1st. And we at MDHS stand ready to support however we can.
The most important thing everyone can do to limit the spread of the new variant and to keep our kids in school is to remain vigilant. Do not gather with individuals outside of your own household, wear a mask properly and consistently, and be sure to socially distance and wash your hands. Get a test if you have symptoms, if you’ve been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, or if you’ve recently traveled to a place that is known to have a COVID-19 variant that is circulating.
Also, please do get your vaccine when one becomes available to you. Currently available data on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines show that they are effective against this new B117 variant. Viruses change and mutate when they have the opportunity to spread. So getting vaccinated will not only slow the spread of the usual COVID-19 virus, but it will also prevent the virus from getting the opportunity to mutate as it spreads from person to person. So it’s important that as many people as possible get vaccinated as we work to end this pandemic.
We are making progress, as the governor mentioned, in our goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders age 16 and up as quickly as possible. To date, over 1.2 million doses of vaccine have been administered to Michiganders. Every dose of vaccine that is available to the state is either administered or scheduled to be administered. Every resident and staff in a skilled nursing facility has been offered a first dose of the vaccine and many have already completed their second doses as well. 11% of Michiganders aged 16 and up have received at least one dose of the safe and effective vaccines, and about a quarter of all Michiganders age 65 and up have been vaccinated.
We are pleased to receive a 16% increase in the amount of vaccine coming into the state and are hopeful that a new vaccine made by Johnson and Johnson will potentially be authorized at the end of this month. So this is great news. And as we get more vaccine, we will be working to get vaccine to more and more providers, and making sure vaccine is getting into neighborhoods where people live by partnering with faith-based organizations, world health clinics and FQHCs. We want everyone to have equal access to the vaccine, and we are well on our way to making that happen.
Now, for those who are trying to schedule their appointments or to help their parents or their grandparents schedule one, I thank you for your patience. We know there are not enough vaccines in the state for everyone who is currently eligible to receive the vaccine, but we assure you that everyone who wants a vaccine will eventually be able to get one. And we are-
… wants the vaccine will eventually be able to get one. And we are committed to bringing more and more vaccine into Michigan as quickly as possible. So we’re still not out of the woods, but we know exactly what to do to end this pandemic. Wear masks, socially distance and wash your hands. I’m proud of every Michigander who has done their part. It will take all of this to end this pandemic as quickly as possible. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Kevin Polston.
Thank you, Dr. Khaldun, and thank you to Governor Whitmer. My name is Kevin Polston, and I’m proud to serve as the Superintendent at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools. I’m a certified teacher and school administrator, and the uncertified parent to Sophia and Max. I’m humbled and honored to serve as the chairperson of the Student Recovery Advisory Council to address the traumatic effects COVID-19 has had on our children. Last year, I was proud to serve as a member of the Governor’s Return to School Advisory Council to create the Return to School Roadmap with guidelines for schools across the state to implement for a safe return to school. In Godfrey-Lee, we utilized the roadmap together with our staff, families and Board of Education to plan and provide a safe, in-person learning environment for our staff and students. Despite challenging circumstances due to the pandemic, it’s been a success.
Through public and private partnerships, I’m proud of our efforts to provide internet and a computer to any family that needed it, offer school-based rapid response PCR testing for students and staff, provide PPE and necessary cleaning supplies. And thanks to Governor Whitmer’s designation of educators as essential workers in the 1B vaccination class, and with support of our local Health Department and health care systems, over 75% of our staff have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. No individual school or district can address COVID-19 alone. It takes adequate resources and a committed, collective effort to endure. As an educational leader, I know a physically safe learning environment is only one piece. COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the academic and social, emotional wellbeing of our students. We have seen reports of mental health referrals for school aged children increase by 30% in the past year. We know parents are concerned about academic recovery and want to ensure their children are prepared for the next step in their educational journey.
That’s why I was pleased when the Governor announced the formation of the Student Recovery Advisory Council of Michigan to holistically address recovery through a focus on the following key areas, academic recovery, mental health, physical health, post-secondary transitions, and family and community engagement. To address our students’ immediate needs, we will also explore innovations to our education system so that we avoid replicating the systemic inequities that cause economically disadvantaged students and communities of color to experience the devastating effects of COVID-19 at disproportionate levels. The bipartisan group of engaged citizens is well-equipped to develop recommendations for educational leaders, the Governor and the legislature to consider. For me personally, it’s imperative we have a safe and equitable recovery for each child to achieve their human potential, which is why I call attention to a very important request. The simple fact is this recovery will require additional resources to meet the needs of our students.
For months, educational leaders advocated for additional funds from Congress. And at the end of last year, our Federal Government stepped up with bi-partisan relief legislation. However, these funds have not made their way to schools. Before schools can receive the funding, our state legislature and the Governor must pass a supplemental budget. It is imperative for elected leaders to come together, as has been a key points throughout the pandemic, so these resources can get to schools without further delay. Schools will target these funds toward the greatest need. For their students, that may include academic assistance, social, emotional supports, internet access and device procurement, and infrastructure enhancements for air quality, to name a few. Our students are counting on leaders to partner to beat COVID-19 so that our focus can shift to recovery and the promise for a brighter future that Sophia, Max and the more than 1.5 million children in Michigan deserve. Thank you.
Thank you, Superintendent. I really appreciate your leading the task force so that we can make thoughtful decisions as we move forward to get our kids back and safely, and address the academic recovery issue that we all know we’re going to have to grapple with, the whole world’s going to grapple with. But we want to make sure our kids in Michigan have got some of the best minds sitting around the table putting that plan together, so thank you for leading that effort. And of course, Dr. Jay, always good to spend some time with you.