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Whitmer addresses first Michigan COVID-19 death, concerned about test kit supply

March 18, 2020
Governor candidate Gretchen Whitmer speaks during the Know Your Vote event on Oct. 11, 2017, at Case Hall. The event was hosted by the MSU Democrats and the MSU NAACP.
Governor candidate Gretchen Whitmer speaks during the Know Your Vote event on Oct. 11, 2017, at Case Hall. The event was hosted by the MSU Democrats and the MSU NAACP. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the public March 18 following the first death from COVID-19 in Michigan. Whitmer was also joined by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health.

A male in his 50s who tested positive for COVID-19 died Wednesday morning at a Beaumont Hospital in Wayne County, according to a statement from the hospital. Beaumont Health officials said he had underlying health conditions.

Whitmer repeated health recommendations such as washing hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, coughing into your upper arm, and remaining six feet apart from others. Social distancing is also encouraged, especially for those who are immunocompromised.

Whitmer declared a state of emergency in Michigan on March 10, following the first two reported cases of COVID-19 in Michigan. According to Khaldun, 30 cases have been reported in addition to the 80 total cases confirmed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Confirmed cases range in individuals from children to the elderly, with a majority in those over 60, Khaldun said. She said some of these cases have a history of travel or close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. However, there are individuals without a history of travel who contracted the virus, which Khaldun said means there is likely community spread occurring.

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

Whitmer said the state is concerned about the number of test kits available.

"We don't have enough tests. We don't have enough resources to process the tests, just in terms of the ability to run them quick enough," Whitmer said. "At this point, we are concerned about the system being overtaxed and we're also concerned about not having enough tests to do all of the tests that we believe are necessary."

The state is currently prioritizing who is tested for the virus on a case-by-case basis.

"The country overall was behind when it started testing and we are not going to be able to understand comprehensively how many people actually have the disease," Khaldun said. "That said, my state lab has been leading a collaboration with other labs across the state."

Whitmer also announced a ban on tax foreclosures while the state works to mitigate the spread of the virus.

"There are people right now who are out of a paycheck. They're terrified of losing their home in the coming weeks," Whitmer said. "I will not sit back and let them live in fear, so today I signed an executive order banning tax foreclosures while we work to mitigate the spread of coronavirus."

As COVID-19 cases have risen, Michigan State, the City of East Lansing and the State of Michigan, have ordered a series of precautions to mitigate the spread of the virus including the closure of bars and restaurants, a transition to online classes for MSU students until the end of the semester and the closure of city facilities among others.

"Michiganders are resilient. We are tough. We will get through this together. This is a chapter in a much larger story," Whitmer said. "How long this lasts depends on all of us and that's why every one of us must take the actions we can to mitigate community spread."

Correction: This story was updated at 10:43 a.m. March 19 to reflect that thirty reported cases in the press conference was in addition to data confirmed on the website

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