In a press conference on Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discussed tentative success in flattening the COVID-19 rate of growth curve in Michigan as well as the necessity for state-wide cooperation in all efforts to return to normal economic and physical health.

Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health for the state of Michigan, and Jeff Donofrio, director of the Department of Labor and Economic Activity, also shared insight from their respective areas of expertise on how to help Michiganders navigate this public health and economic crisis.

After daily, thorough analysis of the numbers, Whitmer said she is cautiously optimistic that the aggressive efforts taken by the state and all its residents are starting to show some success. 

“The curve is looking as though it’s starting to flatten, that means all of these incredible measures we’ve taken may really be starting to work, we know that that’s the goal,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer added the state government is working extensively to facilitate a return to normalcy. She emphasized that people should not anticipate an indefinite halt to public life.

“Every day, we are writing the plan so that we can re-engage safely at the appropriate time, because not one of us wants to go through this again,” Whitmer said. “We have a few tough days ahead of us. But those days where we can resume some normalcy, they are on the horizon if we keep doing what we need to do to get past this moment.”

To summarize new actions taken since her last public update, Whitmer announced her request for assistance from the federal government in expanding affordable health care access.

“Today, I joined a coalition of 12 governors who asked President Trump to allow for a special enrollment period of at least 30 days on the federal health care exchange,” Whitmer said. “We worked with nearly all of the state’s insurance companies to waive cost sharing, including copays, deductibles and coinsurance for COVID-19 testing and treatments.” 

Whitmer added Michigan has begun a massive undertaking to expand statewide testing for COVID-19 as well as to provide support for people who may be struggling with mental health during this time.

“We announced 13 new expanded COVID-19 drive through testing sites that will provide greater access to residents across Michigan, and a new lab will help speed up getting results,” Whitmer said. “Starting today, the Department of Health and Human Services is launching a state-wide hotline for Michiganders whose mental health has been impacted by COVID-19. The hotline will operate 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.”

The governor proceeded to implore those who may believe the stay-at-home order doesn’t apply to them to be mindful of their fellow citizens. She also asked Michiganders to avoid spreading false information. 

“COVID-19 can be carried by a person without any symptoms for days and that’s precisely how it continues to spread,” Whitmer said. “Just because you live in an area with a few cases doesn’t mean it can’t spread rapidly and impact your family and friends and neighbors. I just ask that those who are protesting these orders do so in a safe manner so that you don’t get sick and you don’t subject our first responders to risk either, and please do not disseminate demonstrably inaccurate information or prey on other people’s anxieties.”

Khaldun also highlighted the apparent flattening of the COVID-19 curve, encouraging mindfulness of disparities between different geographical areas of the state.

“We are starting to see early signs of a plateau in the rate of growth of COVID-19 cases here in the state of Michigan,” Khaldun said. “As we move forward with fighting this crisis, we must be mindful that different areas of the state may be different as it relates to the number of cases of COVID-19 when those cases develop and how fast the growth rate is.”

Khaldun announced the state is expanding its testing criteria to include a range of symptom severities. He acknowledged racial disparities in the testing and treatment of COVID-19 across the state. 

“I’m excited to announce that today we are now expanding our testing criteria even more so that people with mild symptoms regardless of where they work are able to get a test now,” Khaldun said. “It’s also an important part of understanding the racial disparities that we’re seeing when it comes to cases and deaths across the state, and it will be important to look at that as we work with the Michigan coronavirus task force of racial disparities."

Donofrio addressed concerns regarding the state’s economic well-being, in particular the alarming spike in unemployment and need for insurance coverage. 

“We are committed to making sure that every eligible Michigander who needs unemployment insurance benefits will get them,” Donofrio said. “Most individuals who are eligible to file claims have done so, to date we know that $350 million has been paid out to almost 600,000 Michiganders.”

Though the state has made progress in addressing the growing demands, Donofrio said the public health crisis must be resolved for the economy to begin a return to normalcy. 

“We understand the deep economic pain associated with COVID-19, and we appreciate your patience as we work to process the historic need for benefits,” Donofrio said. “We are committed to getting our economy back up and running, but we need to make sure we get this health crisis right. Flattening the curve of transmission is the most important thing we can do to minimize the long-term economic damage and get our economy back to work.”

Daily Staff Reporter Hannah Mackay can be reached at mackayh@umich.edu.  

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