Whitmer, Ford CEO announce 4 million free masks for vulnerable Michiganders

State COVID-19 outbreak reaches ‘plateau’

Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett joins Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's press update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday rolled out a major new initiative to provide 4 million free protective face masks to Michigan residents.

The “MI Mask Aid” effort — a partnership between the state, Ford Motor Company and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — will primarily target Michigan’s most vulnerable populations, including low-income residents, seniors, schools and homeless shelters.

“This partnership is going to save lives. Wearing a mask has been proven to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 by about 70%, according to one estimate,” Whitmer said during her Friday update on the state’s COVID-19 response.

“This is a moment where our country needs us and we’re stepping up,” said Ford Motor Company President and CEO Jim Hackett.

The initiative is a product of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, chaired by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist III, which Whitmer created by executive order in April.

“As of yesterday, we’ve lost 6,289 lives to COVID-19,” Gilchrist said. “2,457 of those are Black Michiganders. And these are people — these are not statistics and numbers.”

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Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Robert Gordon noted that 1.4 million free masks have already been distributed statewide, and the state’s new distribution effort will help even more vulnerable populations receive the protection they need from COVID-19.

“Even if the mask doesn’t block all droplets from getting to you, it can block some of them, and that can make the difference between getting COVID asymptomatically and getting COVID and ending up in the ICU [Intensive Care Unit],” Gordon said.

Michiganders can call the COVID-19 hotline at 888-535-6136 to see where they can find a mask distribution center near them.

State outbreak reaches ‘plateau’

Five months into Michigan’s COVID-19 outbreak, Whitmer says the state is doing “much better” than other states that are still struggling to contain new growth of the virus.

“MLive reported yesterday that despite being one of the hardest hit states early on, our state currently ranks 40th in the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases per capita,” Whitmer said. “…Our average infection rate for the last month was half that of Ohio and Indiana and Wisconsin.”

Whitmer and DHHS Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun both noted that although there was another rise in cases recently, Michigan appears to have reached a leveling-off period.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

“After a rise in COVID cases in July and early August, our case numbers have begun to plateau,” Whitmer said. “…We appear to have stopped the incline, but we’re now plateaued and we want to see that become a decline.”

Khaldun said she is “cautiously optimistic” that Michigan is trending in the right direction, although the spread of COVID-19 continues to vary region by region. She also pointed out that the state recorded the highest number of COVID-19 tests yet, with over 38,000 tests in a single day.

Overall, about 3.2% of those tests have yielded positive results.

Khaldun warned that it is also very important to continue viewing daily cases as part of an overall trend, rather than making conclusions based on one day of unusually high or low new case numbers.

“What we also know that even if the trend is stabilizing, it only takes a few people to create an outbreak and have the disease spread rapidly in a community,” Khaldun said.