Whitmer urges masks as Michigan’s coronavirus cases rise

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Saying that Michigan’s coronavirus outbreak is “moving in the wrong direction,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer again pleaded with residents to wear masks whenever they leave their homes and to practice social distancing.

“We are now at our peak when it comes to daily new cases. This peak is higher — is higher — than what we saw in April,” the governor said at Wednesday afternoon press conference. “We need to take this seriously. We need to double down on wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing.”

She drew a correlation between the increase in cases Michigan is seeing with the state Supreme Court striking down the law upon which her executive orders for the virus were based. But she also reminded everyone that while her mask mandate was tossed out, there is still one in effect that was issued by the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

To drive home her point, she said everyone at her coronavirus briefings will be wearing a mask throughout rather than taking them off while speaking at the podium. The exception is sign language interpreters, whose facial expressions are key in conveying meaning.

But, Whitmer said, “at the end of the day, you don’t need an executive order or a court to know what it is we need to do in this moment.”

“The good news is that we know what it’s going to take. We’ve done this. We crushed the curve in the spring,” she continued, listing the key actions of wearing masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing.

While the Democratic governor said she was ready to work with the Republican-led Legislature on new coronavirus response measures, she also dismissed comments from Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, about aiming for herd immunity. Whitmer said reaching herd immunity without the intervention of a vaccine would be “inhumane” and citing a letter from health experts saying doing so would cause 30,000 more deaths in Michigan. She said the experts agree controlling the spread of the virus is a better plan.

In all, the virus has infected 150,989 people in Michigan in the last seven months and been linked to 7,086. That’s 1,597 more cases than the previous day and 33 additional deaths.

The governor was joined the coronavirus briefing, her first one in weeks, by the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. Khaldun said the state and nation are in a “critical time.”

“Michigan is not as severe as many other states, but we have many reasons to be concerned,” Khaldun said.

The rate of new cases per million people per day has increased more than 80% in the last month, she said. The highest regional rates are in the Upper Peninsula, southwest Michigan and West Michigan.

Kent County alone saw 185 new cases in Wednesday’s update from the state, bringing its total to 12,094 since the start of the outbreak. It also confirmed one more death for a total of 177.

The following West Michigan counties also confirmed additional deaths:

  • Barry County: One more death for a total of six; 507 total cases.
  • Berrien County: One more death for a total of 80; 2,227 total cases.
  • Calhoun County: Five more deaths for a total of 57; 2,119 total deaths.
  • Cass County: One more death for a total of 24: 804 total cases.

In Wayne County, where things were the worst at the start of the outbreak but have since improved, there were four more deaths for a total of 2,862 and 186 more cases for a total of 35,770 since the start of the outbreak. Oakland County has had 19,014 cases (142 more than the previous day) and 1,177 deaths (no change). Macomb County has had 16,412 cases (138 more) and 1,021 deaths (four more).

Hospitalizations are up statewide, with more than 1,200 adult inpatients suspected or confirmed to have it as of Wednesday. More than half of those are outside southeast Michigan, Khaldun said.

On Tuesday, labs in Michigan tested 37,147 samples for the virus and 2,013 came back positive, a rate of 5.73%. The percentages of positive tests each day have been up recently, with the seven-day average now nearing 5%. Kalamazoo County says its positivity rate is above 7%. In the U.P., the positivity rate is above 9%. For the bulk of August and September, the statewide percentages were closer to 3%, the threshold that public health officials say shows community spread is controlled.

The number of deaths each day is also increasing, with the seven-day average increasing from about 9 a month ago to 15, Khaldun said. While that is still much better than April, Khaldun said the figure is worrying.

Khaldun said there are nearly 400 outbreaks being tracked across the state. Most of them continue to be associated with long-term care facilities, educational settings and social gatherings. She also said the number of outbreaks linked to religious gatherings is rising, with more than 18 new or ongoing. She said she understands faith is important in facing a crisis and reminded everyone to wear a mask and social distance while worshipping.

“These are challenging times and the virus is spreading, but we really should not feel helpless. We have what it takes to get control of this virus and we’ve done it before,” Khaldun said.

She again listed the basic health safety practices, but also said that “just because something is permitted, it does not mean that it is a good idea to do it.” She urged people to choose carry-out over dining in at a restaurants and watch at movie at home rather than in the theater.

MDHHS on Wednesday also released guidance for traveling and gathering safety during the holidays, at the same time urging people to stay home to slow the spread of the virus.

Khaldun and Whitmer also reminded people to get their flu vaccinations to help combat the yearly case increase and make more space in hospitals for coronavirus patients.