Whitmer responds to first COVID-19 death in Michigan

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 - 4:48pm

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Asha Lewis/Daily

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the first death due to the novel coronavirus in an update on the state’s response to the virus Wednesday afternoon.

Beaumont Health confirmed a man who tested positive for COVID-19 died early Wednesday morning. The man, who was in his 50’s and had an underlying health condition, was being treated at a Beaumont hospital facility in Wayne County.

In the press conference, Whitmer said the state is making decisions based on the best science to slow the spread of the virus.

“Our administration and our partners and state government are working around the clock, working to slow the spread of coronavirus,” Whitmer said. “Michiganders are some of the most resilient people in the nation, and we have faced and overcome serious challenges before … We’ve gotten through these times together, and we will get through this as well.”

On Thursday, Whitmer ordered a shutdown of all K-12 schools in the state until April 5 and banned all events with more than 250 attendees on Friday. The governor also issued an executive order on Monday to close all restaurants, bars and entertainment venues in Michigan to attempt to slow the spread of the virus. 

Whitmer emphasized the actions she has taken within the past week in response to COVID-19 are temporary. She said all Michigan citizens have a role to play to mitigate spreading the virus and its impact on our economy.

“These are tough and necessary steps that we are taking to ensure that we reduce the spread of this virus,” Whitmer said. “We know that by taking aggressive action, we are saving lives.”

Whitmer encouraged Michigan citizens to practice social distancing and to take precautionary measures to reduce the spread of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend people wash their hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, avoid close contact with other people and stay home if they feel sick.

Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), emphasized protecting those most at risk, including the elderly and immunocompromised. She said state labs in Michigan have a goal of testing 200 patients for COVID-19 a day, which they plan to be able to accommodate for by the end of the week.

“This is a very serious situation,” Khaldun said. “As the situation continues to develop, we expect more cases, and unfortunately, we expect more fatalities.”

Khaldun said the MDHHS sent 500 tests to medical providers across the state throughout the past week. She said the state is working on getting comprehensive data from hospitals on resources.

As of Wednesday, there have been 80 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Michigan with seven of the cases in Washtenaw County. Two cases of the virus have been confirmed in student apartment buildings Vic Village-North and ArborBLU.

The University of Michigan began the shift to online classes on Monday for the remainder of the semester in response to COVID-19. The University also canceled commencement and all study abroad programs scheduled for the Spring and Summer semesters.

Daily News Editor Barbara Collins can be reached at bcolli@umich.edu