‘We Will See a Light at the End of This Tunnel:’ Whitmer Provides Updates on COVID-19 with MDHHS

Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services [MDHHS] chief deputy for Health provided an update on COVID-19 in Michigan with the numbers faring slightly better — but things are still looking a bit grim.

With the state nearly two weeks into the MDHHS three-week pause to slow the spread of COVID-19, Whitmer said that people might feel weary of all the closures, but this is the “right thing to do” to protect families, medical workers, and small businesses. The pause is slated to end Wednesday, December 9 based on the numbers.

“These steps [are] what public health experts say we need to take to avoid overwhelming hospitals and death counts like we saw in the spring,” Whitmer said, adding that earlier this year Michigan emerged as a leader in fighting and saving lives. “We beat COVID last time … and we can again.”

Khaldun said that as of yesterday, the state has a total of 360,449 cases and 9,134 deaths due to COVID-19 in Michigan with an overall case rate of 608 cases per million people.

“All regions of the state have seen a decline in cases over the past seven to 15 days, however, case rates remain above 500 cases per million people for all areas of the state except for the Traverse City region,” she said, adding that the state is showing slight improvements with positive cases down to 13 percent [from 14 percent on Nov. 16]. “But still obviously much higher than we like it to be. We are cautiously optimistic.”

Khaldun said that more people are “starting to do the right thing” regarding mask-wearing, social distancing, and staying home.

“We think that is contributing to the decrease in our rise in cases; we will continue to watch these trends,” she said, adding that she is concerned about seeing a spike in numbers from Thanksgiving that will show up in about 14 days. “People may have gathered or traveled over the Thanksgiving break.”

Khaldun encouraged people if they did travel or gather to try to “stay away” as much as possible from others for 14 days.

“And you should wear a mask if you have to gather,” she said, adding that the state offers hundreds of COVID-19 testing sites [with many of them free at] www.michigan.gov/coronavirustest or call 211 for assistance in finding a nearby site.

There are presently 4,200 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the state and since October an additional nine recovery centers [equating to 200 additional beds] have been made available to support hospitals in discharging patients from the hospital who need long-term care services.

Regarding the pending vaccines, Khaldun said that 48 hospitals and 12 local health departments have ultra-cold freezers capable of storing the Pfizer vaccines. 100 hospitals and other local health departments across the state are also able to store the Moderna vaccine. Khaldun said the state is still awaiting word from the Centers for Disease Control to learn the exact number of doses that need to be administered.

“We are prioritizing vaccinating frontline healthcare workers,” she said adding that hopefully by January other essential workers at nursing facilities can be next in line, followed by even more essential workers, then the general public by late spring.

“It is important to note that each of these two vaccines will become available and require two doses … [it is] about 95 percent effective and [it is important to] vaccinate as many people as possible.”

Whitmer said last week she sent a letter to Michigan legislature asking them to join her in passing a $100 million Michigan COVID relief plan “so we can provide for our families, protect our frontline workers, help our restaurants, support educators, give mall businesses a hand at this time.”

Whitmer said that leaders haven’t been able to take action and it is “crucial for us to come together” and pass a targeted state-based economic stimulus plan that will provide direct financial support.

“Michigan is facing a budget shortfall of up to a billion next year so we got to make some hard choices but right now prioritizing our family, our frontline, and small businesses while avoiding spending too much on non-critical projects,” she said. “This virus has infected more than 350,000 Michiganders and sadly taken the lives of over 9,000 in our state … this virus doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, young or old. … This virus demands that we all work together to protect the people we serve.”

Whitmer added that the next couple of months will be difficult and she knows people are tired of the pandemic.

“We’ve been fighting this a long time. We have to continue to be resilient to see this through… I’m not going to sugarcoat this, the next couple of months are going to be hard.”

Whitmer said with COVID-19-related deaths “dangerously high” and with Christmas around the corner the numbers will be looking a little dismal and she is finding answers.

“[I] spent a lot of our Sunday trying to make sure we’re asking the smartest people to give us council as we are forging our path in Michigan,” she said, adding that too many people traveled on Thanksgiving. “We will see numbers increase because of it … too many people are considering traveling for Christmas … even with our targeted temporary actions we expect to see numbers increase.”

Whitmer added that she will continue working around the clock trying to make “your job a little less hard.”

“I will continue to follow the data closely … the good news is there is hope on the horizon,” she said of the vaccine. “We’re going to get through this. We’ve come this far [just] a few more months and we will see the light at the end of this tunnel. So let’s mask up and take care of one another.”

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