Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed questions from Michiganders via a virtual town hall March 26. After Whitmer's recent "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order, many Michiganders wondered about the economy, guidelines about travel, mental health and testing kit availability.
Whitmer was also joined by Dr. Norman Beauchamp Jr., MSU executive vice president for health sciences.
Whitmer announced the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order March 23, which began the closure of all non-critical businesses and the instruction of all Michiganders who are non-essential employees to stay home.
Currently, confirmed cases of COVID-19 total at 2,856 with 60 deaths, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. A concentration of cases lie in the Detroit area, though the virus spans over 50 counties.
Whitmer addressed questions about who is considered an essential employee
"So, what the order says essentially is that unless you are in a life-sustaining business, you should be home. You shouldn't be working. Businesses know that they should be closed if they are non-life sustaining," Whitmer said.
Banks and credit unions will remain open, as well as grocery stores and pharmacies, Whitmer said. Any business allowed to remain open should follow recommendations such as instructing customers and employees to remain six feet apart.
Beauchamp also recommended that essential employees and community members remember to wash their hands frequently, cough into their elbows and remain home if they are sick.
Whitmer emphasized the importance of taking the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order seriously
Whitmer explained that though Michigan expects more cases of COVID-19, some hospitals are currently at capacity.
It could be a few weeks before Michiganders see any changes in relation to the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order due to the community spread that has already happened.
"There is not a generation in our population that is immune from this," Whitmer said. "The more this spreads, the more people are going to die. The more people that are in our hospitals, the less likely it is for the person who has a heart attack that they're going to be able to get the care they need. Every one of us is impacted, and that's why it's so essential everyone takes this seriously."
Non-essential businesses remaining open will face consequences
"My message to business is this, the vast majority of businesses are doing the right thing by their employees and abiding by the order, and I thank them for doing that," Whitmer said. "But, let's be clear, this is not a recommendation. This is an order."
Whitmer said any non-essential business remaining open is risking the possibility of serious fines and losing licenses.
Additionally, Whitmer said childcare should only be provided for those deemed essential employees.
Driving around for non-essential purposes is not permitted
"We recommend you get outside and walk your dog, but jumping on a motorcycle and traveling is not permitted under this order. Getting out and driving around just to get out of the house is not permitted, either," Whitmer said.
Michiganders are allowed to participate in outdoor activities, such as taking a walk, but are required to stay six feet away from others.
Essential travel purposes include going to the pharmacy, grocery store or hospital.
Whitmer addressed concerns about the closure of K-12 schools
The closure of K-12 schools is extended to April 13 under the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order.
Whitmer said a plan to address the consequences of school closures will be announced within the next "week or so."
"I'm working with the state legislature as well as the Michigan Department of Education to make sure we put together a plan that really ensures you get the education you need but protects your health," Whitmer said.
Whitmer said whenever schools will be able to reopen, she is working to make sure students can move to the next grade.
Concerns about state income tax deadlines will be addressed tomorrow, Whitmer said.
"I know the federal government has extended the deadline, we're seriously looking at doing that for Michiganders, as well," Whitmer said.
Michigan does not have enough personal protection equipment or testing kits
Testing facilities are currently prioritizing which people are tested for COVID-19, Whitmer said.
Personal protection equipment, or PPE, are the one-time use tools that healthcare professionals use during treatment, such as gloves or masks. Whitmer said the state of Michigan does not have enough of these items to support rising cases of COVID-19.
Whitmer said the lack of tests and PPE emphasize the importance of the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order.
Whitmer said the importance of staying homes lies in reducing community spread and avoiding the overwhelm of hospitals.
"We've got to give our health systems a moment so that they can build out and meet the needs and get the PPE and build up our testing capacity," Whitmer said. "And that's why it's so important that every one of us does our part and stays home and really dramatically decreases the number of trips we're even making to the grocery store."
Whitmer says aggressive actions minimize economic damage
In order to assist those affected by unemployment, Whitmer has loosened the restrictions in applying for unemployment assistance and banned evictions and foreclosures until the pandemic subsides.
"If we don't take this on, this aggressive virus on, with aggressive measures, it will extend the length of time that we are confronting it," Whitmer said. "And that's why taking aggressive action now is actually the best economic decision we can make."
Dr. Beauchamp addressed mental health concerns
"We haven't seen something like this in many of our lifetimes and the idea that it causes stress, it causes anxiety, it causes fear and that can then lead to this incredible sense of feeling lost and anxious," Beauchamp said.
Beauchamp said measures to support mental health include getting the right nutrition, reaching out to ask for help when needed and maintaining connections.
It's important to recognize that many Michiganders struggled with mental illness before the COVID-19 crisis, Beauchamp said.
Beauchamp recommended looking out for each other, reaching out to mental health providers if necessary and using platforms like MSU Extension to remain connected.
"We know that tough times don't last, but tough people do," Whitmer said "We have been here in a crisis before. What the country needs is country men and country women to pitch in, to collectively rise to the occasion."