Breaking: Michigan gets 100K N95 masks, federal disaster declaration

Coronavirus testing site in Detroit | Ken Coleman
This story will be updated with more details and comments.

More than 100,000 N95 masks arrived in Saturday’s shipment from the strategic national stockpile to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and more supplies are supposed to be on their way.

“This morning we received 112,800 N95 masks in our shipment from the strategic national stockpile w/8k more on the way. Great news for our health care workers. We’ll keep working hard along with FEMA and the White House to get more of the PPE we need to keep Michiganders safe,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wrote on Twitter Saturday morning.

Attorney General Dana Nessel, who has been working with Whitmer on myriad executive orders, including the stay at home order issued Tuesday, praised the governor’s action.

“This is what it looks like when you have a Gov who works 24/7 for months at a time because she knows nothing is more [important] than saving the lives of her state residents,” Nessel wrote on Twitter. “In 2018, voters in MI wanted a [government] that cared about people again. Well-you got that. Thank you @GovWhitmer.”*

In addition, just one day after Whitmer submitted a letter to President Trump on Thursday requesting a major disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the request was granted. That included additional funding to the state to set up field hospitals or other health care facilities, and provide assistance for meals, housing relief and mental health services.

On Saturday, the White House announced that Trump had on Friday declared that “a major disaster exists in the state of Michigan and ordered federal assistance to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts” in the areas affected by COVID-19. Federal funding also is available to state, tribal and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, for all areas in the state of Michigan impacted by COVID-19.

Michigan has the fourth-highest number of cases in the country at 3,657. There have been 92 deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, as of 3 p.m. Friday, although state officials believe the actual number of cases is much higher. There were 2,856 cases as of Thursday afternoon. Detroit is considered a national hot spot with 1,075 cases and 23 deaths.

The governor’s office said that while Michigan made a broad request for aid in every Individual Assistance and Public Assistance program from the Individual Assistance category, funding was approved for the Crisis Counseling Program and funding for Emergency Protective Measures from the Public Assistance Category was also approved.

“This is a good start, and it will help us protect Michiganders and slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Whitmer in a news release. “I’m hopeful that the president will review my request for individual assistance programs that would provide meals to families who need them and rental assistance and temporary housing for families. I look forward to the federal government’s continued partnership as we work to fight this virus.”

The Crisis Counseling Program is a direct-support program to provide services for those whose mental health has been impacted by the spread of COVID-19. The federal government also granted Whitmer’s request for emergency protective measures, including funding for transporting and pre-positioning equipment, Emergency Operation Center (EOC)-related costs, medical supplies and personal protective equipment, medical care and transport and childcare. Whitmer’s request for Hazard Mitigation assistance to help provide relief during planning for recovery in the long-term is currently under review, per her office.

The $2 trillion, bipartisan congressional package Trump signed on Friday includes Unemployment Insurance Assistance and Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programming (D-SNAP) under the Stafford Act. However, the governor’s office notes that FEMA can also provide aid in these areas where they do not overlap with existing programs. Michigan requested assistance for both Disaster Unemployment Assistance and D-SNAP that have not yet been approved, Whitmer’s office said.

FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor named James K. Joseph as the federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

The White House said additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further assessments.

Trump brags he told Pence not to take Whitmer’s calls on COVID-19 help for Michigan

The N95 masks and disaster declaration come after Trump has repeatedly personally attacked Whitmer during press conferences, in TV interviews and on social media, as recently as Friday night.

As the Advance previously reported, Trump lashed out at Whitmer and other governors during his evening press conference on COVID-19. He even bragged that he’s directed Vice President Mike Pence — his point person on the COVID-19 outbreak — not to respond to her requests for federal assistance.

“Don’t call the woman in Michigan. It doesn’t make any difference what happens,” Trump said during a press briefing Friday afternoon. “… You know what I say? If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.”

Trump later attacked Whitmer on Twitter Friday night. And yet, he still signed the disaster declaration that day. And the masks came in from the federal stockpile.

Whitmer has refrained from personal attacks, but has — like bipartisan governors and local leaders across the country — strongly criticized the lagging federal response.

The Advance will have more on this story as it develops.

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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.