Governor Whitmer On What's Ahead In The Fight Against COVID-19

Apr 3, 2020

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer began the week, mourning the passing of more than 100 Michiganders, including Democratic state Representative Isaac Robinson who died at age 44 from suspected complications with COVID-19; Whitmer ended the week fresh off the cancellation of school—desperate for more equipment, health workers, and considering an extension of the stay at home order that has shuttered life as we know it across the state.

By Friday afternoon the state’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 exceeded 12,000—with more than 88 percent of cases falling in and around metro Detroit. The state of Michigan now has more cases of COVID-19 than the nation of South Korea. WKAR’s politics Reporter Abigail Censky asked Governor Whitmer what the state will need as it confronts the incoming surge of patients. Below are highlights of their conversation.

Staying Home Eliminates Asymptomatic Transmission

“You can already be carrying this virus and feel fine, and feel fine for the whole duration of it. But your roommate, your family member, your spouse may have a very different reaction. They it could be deadly to them.”

In a tele-town hall Thursday night Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, said it wouldn’t hurt people to wear masks or face coverings when leaving home. While wearing masks was not initially advised by the Centers for Disease Control—President Trump announced Friday evening the CDC is now recommending the use of non-medical masks, bandannas, and cloth face covers to tamp down on asymptomatic transmission. Earlier Friday Mayor of hard-hit Detroit, Mike Duggan, advised people to wear masks when out in public.

Still Not Enough Tests

“You know, we're doing about 600 or 700 right now, because we just don't have enough tests. If we had that we still would need the swabs to simply conduct the test. Those are by and large manufacturers in Italy—which has been completely shut down. And so, we're having to procure each of these pieces in order to get the kind of data we really need to make educated decisions.”

As Michigan nears the apex of coronavirus cases and death toll, projected to be in late April or early May—Governor Whitmer continues to plead for testing. However, because of piecemeal availability of parts, kits are not widely available for those who are severely ill or without a physician’s order in the state.

Earlier in the week, following persistent media requests, public health officials in the state began disclosing racial data of cases. The incomplete data set shows that thus far, the disease has disproportionately affected black Michiganders. 35 percent of those infected in Michigan are black. But, Whitmer was quick to provide a caveat to that percentage saying, “I will also say that, you know, the testing, we're focusing on geographies where we know that there's some community spread, and we are testing people that are sick. And so, it's hard to say that COVID-19 is more prevalent in one racial subgroup than others, because we don't have robust testing.”

Stay At Home, Again

“There is a report in the New York Times that shows which states went on stay at home early, and what the reaction is done. And Michiganders are doing their part. I'm really heartened by that and it probably will require that we do it for a bit longer. That order will be coming in, in the coming days.”

Whitmer frequently cited New York Times reporting on social distancing, that shows Michigan citizens are complying with the executive order to stay at home unless part of the critical workforce. Many similarly impacted states, like Louisiana and New York, have already extended their stay at home orders—bracing for a surge in patients. According to some models, Michigan is currently 8 days away from the peak projected death toll, but has not yet extended the order. Whitmer said she’s likely to do the same soon.