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Michigan returning to work will be 'phased in carefully,' Whitmer says

The governor said reopening the state will likely go in phases, starting with the lowest risk industries and regions first.
Credit: State of Michigan
Governor Whitmer Provides Update on COVID-19 in Michigan

LANSING, Mich. — Re-engaging the Michigan economy will take time, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer emphasized during her press briefing on Friday, April 17. 

"There's a lot of anxiety and the most important thing that anyone with a platform can do is to try to use that platform to tell people we're going to get through this," Whitmer said. "And we will re-engage our economy when it's safe."

It's been just over a month since Michigan officials starting taking aggressive action to rein in the threat of COVID-19, which has put 1 million Michiganders out of work and shuttered countless businesses. The state is faced with both a health crisis and an economic crisis, the governor has said. 

Meantime, the case count remains high; the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported more than 30,000 positive cases of the virus on Friday and the death toll has reached over 2,200. 

"We're not there yet," Whitmer said. "The rate of infection remains high, especially in certain parts of our state. And the threat of a second spike that overloads our hospitals is still very real if we don't get this right."

The governor teased a plan to reboot the workforce that will be explained late next week that will likely start by reopening "low risk sectors." This includes factors like whether workers interact with the public, whether workers are inside or outside, whether workers are in close proximity to each other and if they share tools, Whitmer explained. 

It's also possible, depending on the data, that certain regions that are not as hard hit could open earlier. All of these elements will contribute to the state's assessment on reopening Michigan. 

"It's going to be really important that we are re-engaging in waves, and it is going to take a while before everyone is back to work and the way that we think of it," Whitmer said. "And even then, our lives, our lives may be very different. We may be wearing face masks, we may have new precautions in the workplace that that weren't there before."

The governor cautioned that without a strategic plan to reopen businesses, Michigan could face an even more devastating second wave of COVID-19 that could lead to a second stay at home order. 

The current order is set to be lifted on May 1, and Whitmer said Friday morning she hopes that certain restrictions could be relaxed by then. 

While Whitmer has emphasized the need to move slowly, she has faced pushback from Michiganders who either outright disagree with order or have issues with specific elements of the stay at home order. 

RELATED: Trump tweets 'LIBERATE MICHIGAN,' echoing Lansing protesters

A couple thousand people gathered in Lansing on Wednesday to demonstrate their dissent against Michigan's stay at home order. Criticism has ranged from people urging Whitmer to reopen the state soon to anger over Whitmer's ban on motorized boating. President Donald Trump also chimed in Friday, saying in a tweet "LIBERATE MICHIGAN."

Michigan recently joined a coalition of seven Midwest states that have agreed to work together to reopen their economies. This will be accomplished through a leveling out of new cases, expanded capacity to test and trace COVID-19, sufficient health care capacity to handle an influx of patients and observing best practices regarding social distancing. 

"This doesn't mean that our economy is going to open all at once. It doesn't mean that these states are going to take the take the exact same steps of the exact same time," Whitmer said. "But what this does mean is that we are all now working together to make sure that we are making data driven decisions, and protecting people in our region so that we don't see a second wave of COVID-19."

Are cases plateauing? 

Michigan's chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said that the rate in the growth of new cases has plateaued. Friday, there were 760 new cases reported, which was the third time this week they dipped below 1,000. 

"These are positive signs and it means that social distancing is working," Khaldun said. "A plateau in cases still means there are a lot of cases and deaths occurring, and we have to be mindful of this as we move forward with our response."

Both the governor and Khaldun emphasized that they will be keeping an eye on the data as the state develops a plan to start reopening. 

In Friday's briefing, Whitmer showed two maps of Michigan: one of Michigan's current status with COVID-19 and one that displayed the original projections if a stay at home order was not enacted. The second scenario shows Michigan would have 46,000 cases right now compared to 30,000. 

"Social distancing remains the single most important thing we can do to prevent this disease from spreading and to save lives," Khaldun said.

Credit: State of Michigan
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used this model to show how social distancing has flattened the curve in Michigan.

Some portions of the state will have a different curve than others, Khaldun said, and that will be a factor in determining how things are opened back up. 

One important element in getting Michigan restarted is expanding testing. The state recently opened or grew 13 testing sites across the state. And health officials have expanded the list of testing criteria so that more people can clear the bar for testing. 

However, it still remains a hurdle for officials. Michigan has tested much fewer people than states with a comparatively similar case rate. Khaldun pointed to a lack of supplies, like swabs, to process tests.

"This week, we continue to work with our lab directors across the state to understand what the challenges are," she said. 

Both state officials said a plan on how Michigan will progress will be unveiled next week. 

"It is my fervent hope that we do what we need to do to it right so that we do it safely and don't ever have to think about a stay at home order again," Whitmer said. "But it's going to take time. And people are going to need to be patient and this will happen in waves."

Watch the full press briefing here

Gov. Whitmer's update on state's COVID-19 response

Watch: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and MDHHS Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun will provide an update on the state’s response to COVID-19.

Posted by 13 On Your Side on Friday, April 17, 2020

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