Whitmer: ‘Well above 100’ COVID-19 cases in state

Gov. signs order halting foreclosures

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19, March 18, 2020 | Susan J. Demas

At Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest COVID-19 press conference update Wednesday afternoon at the State Emergency Operations Center, Whitmer alluded to many more imminent positive tests for the disease than the state had already reported just two hours earlier.

“So many things are changing at such a rapid pace,” Whitmer said. “… A week ago, we were standing here with two cases, and now we are well above 100 cases.”

A statewide coronavirus hotline is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1-888-535-6136. Information can be found on the DHHS website or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website.

According to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, that number is at least 110.

“We know that so far today, there are at least 30 additional cases for COVID-19 here in the state of Michigan, and we have many more tests that are running right now,” Khaldun said.

This number is even higher than the state lab’s official testing results as of 2 p.m. Wednesday — mere hours before Whitmer’s press conference — which sat at 80 total cases.

On average, the state has been reporting about 10 new cases per day.

Whitmer could not offer further details about the first death from COVID-19 in the state, which was reported earlier Wednesday. That patient was a man in his 50s who passed away at a Wayne County hospital this morning. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19, March 18, 2020 | Susan J. Demas

As for the question of whether a shelter-in-place order could be on the table in Michigan soon, like there is in northern California impacting 7 million people, Whitmer declined to commit to the idea. But she left open the possibility that it might happen in the future. Under that scenario, travel would be limited for essentials like groceries and medical care.

“Clearly, things are moving rapidly.  … There could be a time that we might take that step, but at this juncture, there’s nothing that I’m announcing on that front today or in the works,” Whitmer said.

Currently, COVID-19 tests processed in the state lab provide results within 48 to 72 hours. Khaldun said that by the end of this week, she expects that the state lab will be processing over 200 samples each day.

New: First Michigan person dies of COVID-19

“We sent out 500 test kits over the past week … to medical providers across the state,” Khaldun said. 

Khaldun said she did not have numbers of tests, hospital beds, ventilators and other medical supplies that are currently available or will be needed in the future, but said the state is currently working to obtain that information.

Khaldun said that the state continues to face a limited capacity of tests for the disease. As a result, the highest-risk individuals are prioritized for testing and medical treatment.

“We are working through other channels for opportunities for expanded testing with this prioritized approach,” Khaldun said, later adding that the state is working with private labs to integrate their testing data into the MDHHS’ daily reported data from the state lab.

“I think that it is very possible you’ll see an order mandating that sharing of information so that we can have a better handle on this,” Whitmer said of the private lab data.

Whitmer said she is having her team reach out to World Health Organization (WHO) officials about obtaining more tests, as President Trump told governors this week that they should seek out solutions on their own.

Trump attacks Whitmer on Twitter after she asks feds for more support

She also said she is concerned about the system being overloaded and not having the number of tests that the state believes are necessary.

“We’re still waiting on the federal government to give us more,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer noted that the prioritization of tests is one reason why she has not undergone a COVID-19 test. She said that she feels healthy, isn’t symptomatic and hasn’t been exposed to anyone with the disease to her knowledge, so she is not a high priority for a test. 

Whitmer urged all Michiganders to follow this lead, and save the tests for only the highest risk individuals and people with symptoms and/or known exposure to infected people while the state is still low on testing supplies.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun gives an update on COVID-19, March 18, 2020 | Susan J. Demas

“The social distancing measures that the governor has enforced are the only way we are going to be able to slow the spread of this disease,” Khaldun said. “It is difficult, but it’s really the only and most important thing that we can do as a society to protect ourselves.

“I’m confident that if we implement these strategies collectively, we will be able to do the right thing and prevent the spread of this disease,” she said.

Khaldun added that the department’s new statewide hotline for answering COVID-19 related questions — which launched on Saturday, only four days ago — has already received more than 15,000 calls as of Tuesday.

Negative tests

Up until this week, the state had been reporting out a full breadth of case data in addition to the number of positive tests. This included the number of negative tests, cases under investigation, individuals under assessment/monitoring and more.

But a new case reporting format announced Monday by the department saw the end of that. The daily results now only list the number of positive cases per county, as well as a breakdown of the gender and age of the patients and how many have been hospitalized.

Whitmer: We could halt elective surgeries during COVID-19 outbreak

As for whether the rest of that data will be brought back, particularly the negative tests, Whitmer said there are concerns that the numbers can be misconstrued.

“We’re having an internal debate on that, because the reporting of negative tests can communicate, inadvertently, a message that there’s more negative than positive, and people might take something away from that,” Whitmer said. 

“Sometimes tests that are negative have to be run more than once, and that would be two negative tests on one person. And so the takeaway is complicated. That being said, I do think that there is some discussion about bringing back that number, because so many people in the press have asked for it,” she said.

Foreclosure ban

During the press update, Whitmer announced yet another executive order as part of her response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Signed on Wednesday, Executive Order 2020-14 moves the tax foreclosure deadline from the end of March to the end of May, or 30 days after Michigan’s state of emergency order is lifted; whichever comes first.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19, March 18, 2020 | Susan J. Demas

“There are people right now who are out of a paycheck. They’re terrified of losing their home in the coming weeks. I will not sit back and let them live in fear,” Whitmer said. 

“… Starting today, no one will lose their home due to tax foreclosure until this epidemic has abated.”

As the Advance previously reported, Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree said Monday that the state’s largest county won’t foreclose on any homes in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

National Guard called up

Whitmer also announced she was calling up the Michigan Army National Guard to assist DHHS with assembling and loading critical personal protective gear, such as gloves, gowns and face shields. Once packaged, DHHS will deliver the supplies to various local public health departments.

“The Michigan National Guard has been involved with the COVID-19 response from a planning and coordination standpoint since the SEOC was stood up,” said Whitmer. “The men and women of the Michigan National Guard are part of the fabric of our communities and I am confident they are ready to support state and local agencies as this response continues.”