Khaldun: Michigan’s COVID-19 fight likely will last until 2021

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

Beating COVID-19 will be a long-term effort that will likely stretch into next year until a vaccine or antiviral treatment is developed, Michigan Department Health and Human Services (DHHS) Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said Wednesday.

During a news conference with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Khaldun announced Michigan now has more than 40,000 cases and 3,600 deaths from COVID-19 but is seeing a statewide plateau of cases.

Khaldun said she is pleased to see the progress being made across the state, and that the plateau in cases reflects that social distancing measures are working.

Khaldun added that COVID-19 testing has increased across the state as well, adding that DHHS now administers about 6,800 tests per day, which is up about 50% from last week.

She also had good news to report about hospitals in Southeast Michigan — the biggest hot spot in Michigan — noting they have more personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies like gowns, masks and gloves after some were running dangerously low weeks ago.

“Most [hospitals] have a one- to two-week supply of PPE right now,” said Khaldun.

Hospital utilization for COVID-19 cases is on a downward trend in Southeast Michigan, but Khaldun warned Michiganders to remain vigilant, as some counties on the West side of the state are seeing an increase in cases.

Khaldun added that COVID-19 cases are still being reported at places where people congregate, like nursing homes, homeless shelters and some workplaces. DHHS will continue to work with local health departments to make sure people in those places are being tested and that workplaces, homeless shelters and nursing homes are putting appropriate protocols in place to protect employees and residents.

Khaldun reiterated that people shouldn’t delay seeking medical care if they need it.

“If you’re having severe symptoms like chest pain or difficulty breathing, you really should seek medical care,” said Khaldun.

Khaldun also encouraged people who need to have cancer screenings, or any other treatments performed to speak to their doctors about how they can get the procedures done safely.

“Our hospitals are open, and we don’t want unnecessary delays in medical care,” said Khaldun.

She also asked Michiganders to continue practicing social distancing and wear homemade masks when heading outside.  

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During Wednesday’s conference, Whitmer announced her decision to allow workers in the construction industry to get back to work on Thursday, May 7.

That update came after she unveiled the “MI Safe Start Plan” on Monday, which is the state’s step-by-step process for allowing industries to reopen as it continues to monitor fluctuations in COVID-19 case rates.

Under the plan, only businesses that pose the lowest risk will reopen at first. Last week, she permitted lawn services, garden shops, landscapers and nurseries to reopen, as long as they followed enhanced social-distancing rules.

Michigan Labor and Economic Opportunities (LEO) Director Jeff Donofrio highlighted the importance of keeping workers safe across the state during the state’s economic recovery and re-engagement process, and that LEO has had three areas of focus during the pandemic. 

The focal points are helping to flatten the curve of transmission and stop the spread of COVID-19, to provide those emergency financial assistance and relief to people and businesses during the pandemic and helping with the recovery process and re-engagement of the state’s economy. 

Donofrio said that the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) will be heavily involved with setting, enforcing and educating employers and workers about workplace safety as people get back to work. MIOSHA also will continue to monitor and investigate workplace safety and compliance for health standards during the pandemic, as well.

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“MOISHA’s role is going to expand as we begin to re-engage the economy,” said Donofrio.  

Donofrio added that MIOSHA will work closely with the Michigan AFL-CIO, a state federation of labor representing 1 million active and retired members, during the re-engagement period.

Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber also spoke about the work he’s been doing with the Michigan Economic Recovery Council (MERC), which is focused on getting Michigan on track to recover from the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and to stage the recovery with keeping the health of Michigan workers in mind.

He also called on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to pass the“COVID-19 Heroes Fund” plan from U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.). Workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 could receive a pay increase of $13 per hour under the plan.  

Bieber said he’s spoken with workers in Michigan who have expressed their fears about heading back to work too quickly during the pandemic.

“Going back to work isn’t going to be like flipping on a light switch. Workers are going to be very apprehensive,” Bieber said, “and there’s going to need to be a whole lot of patience shown [for] everyone.”