Thursday, September 24, 2020

Gov. Whitmer announces expanded testing facilities, mental health hotline for Michigan residents

April 13, 2020
<p>Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the MSU College Democrats on Sept. 18, 2018, at Wells Hall. State News file photo.</p>

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the MSU College Democrats on Sept. 18, 2018, at Wells Hall. State News file photo.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer held a press conference Monday, providing updates on case numbers and efforts being made at the state level.

Whitmer was joined by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun and Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio.

As of Monday afternoon, Michigan saw a total of 25,635 positive COVID-19 cases and 1,602 deaths. Whitmer said these numbers give reason for cautious optimism that the rate of increase is appearing to slow down, though more data would be required to determine whether or not this is truly a trend.

With the trajectory looking like it is starting to flatten, Whitmer said the measures that have been taken could be starting to payoff.

“People in our state are paying a price for the decisions we have to make in this moment. I understand that incredible hardship that people are going through, the worry about your job, the depression of isolation,” Whitmer said. 

Whitmer leads coalition calling on the Trump administration to expand access to affordable healthcare during COVID-19

Today, Whitmer 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 healthcare exchange. She said it is essential to remove barriers as quickly as possible to ensure more Michiganders have access to life-saving healthcare.

Whitmer said they have worked with nearly all of the state’s insurance companies to waive cost sharing including co-pays, deductibles and co-insurance for COVID-19 testing and treatments.

Consumers with these plans will not be charged cost-sharing for any COVID-19 related medical treatment including primary care visits, lab testing, emergency room visits, ambulance services and FDA approved medications and vaccines when they become available.

New COVID-19 drive-through testing sites across the state

Thirteen new expanded COVID-19 drive-through testing sites and a new lab have been announced throughout the state that will provide greater access to residents across Michigan and a higher efficiency in testing results.

The new drive-through capacity will include two large scale sites in Detroit and Flint, aiming to serve 750 and 250 people each day respectively, Whitmer said.

New drive-through sites will also operate in Atlanta, Bad Axe, Battle Creek, Bay City, Benton Harbor, Jackson, Kalamazoo and Traverse City. According to Whitmer, this will likewise significantly expand drive-through test sites currently operating in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Saginaw.

MDHHS mental health hotline for those impacted by COVID-19

Beginning Monday, the MDHHS will launch a state-wide hotline for Michiganders whose mental health has been impacted by COVID-19. Whitmer said the hotline will operate seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Residents can reach the hotline at 888-733-7753.

“We know that under these unprecedented times, people have a lot of stress and anxiety and fear and sadness so we want to make sure that if you are experiencing that, you’ve got some resources,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer said additional steps on this front will be announced later in the week.

There are two crises being confronted during this time, she said — a public health crisis and an economic crisis.

“We at the state level are developing plans to safely phase in the reengagement of Michigan’s economy when it is safe to do that,” Whitmer said. “This is an all-hands-on-deck effort. It is going to be a data-driven approach based on facts, based on science, based on recommendations from experts and epidemiologists and economists.”

Whitmer said they will be analyzing data everyday to ensure we are ready when it is time to reengage. There are four factors which will be taken into consideration including a sustained reduction in infection rate, an enhanced ability to test and trace COVID-19, sufficient healthcare capacity to handle resurgence and best practices in the work place.

Khaldun said the 13 new or expanded testing sites across the state will increase testing capacity by 40% once fully operational.

According to Khaldun, last week, they expanded testing criteria so that individuals who are critical infrastructure workers can receive a test when needed. Today, they are further expanding testing criteria so that those with mild symptoms are able to get a test, regardless of where they work.

“This availability of new testing supplies and expanding capacity means we can now expand testing significantly, which will be critical to guiding our public health response,” Khaldun said.

Moving forward, Donofrio said they are committed to making sure every eligible Michigander will receive unemployment benefits.

Donofrio said this is the largest number of individuals seen filing for unemployment in the state’s history. Over one million residents have filed for benefits, making up over one-quarter of the state’s work force.

To date, Donofrio said, $350 million has been paid out to almost 600,000 Michiganders.

“We also know that this is of little comfort to those individuals who are worried about their economic future and still have not been able to file for unemployment benefits," Donofrio said. "We understand that this is frustrating and we want to help.”

Donofrio said claims are back-dated to reflect the date on which the employee was laid off due to COVID-19, regardless of how much time has passed. The date filed will not impact the amount of benefits received.

Those not previously eligible for unemployment benefits, including small business owners, self-employed, gig-economy workers, 1099 independent contractors, can now apply for unemployment benefits, Donofrio said.

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