With help from prominent Michigan State University coaches, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reinforced the necessity of masks, in addition to unveiling a grant program for small businesses, at a press conference Wednesday.
Football coach Mel Tucker, women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant and men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo appeared in a PSA video with coaches from the University of Michigan to encourage the use of facial coverings.
“Today, I’m here because we’re not Democrats or Republicans, and today I’ll also say I’m not really a Spartan or a Wolverine,” Merchant, who accompanied the governor at her press conference, said. “We are Michigan people. ... We’re asking each and every one of you, please, to wear a mask.”
Izzo said he jumped at the opportunity to participate in the initiative after feeling “a little disappointed” about how some people are handling the wearing of masks.
“The bottom line is, let’s all mask up for Michigan and show this country the state that really does work together and masks up together,” Izzo said.
The renewed emphasis on mask-wearing comes after a rise in COVID-19 cases across the entire state.
According to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS, Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state has recorded 71,197 total COVID-19 cases and 6,085 deaths, as of July 15.
The state has experienced its largest increase in new cases since May 14, reporting 891 additional cases today.
The age distribution for cases has also changed, Khaldun said. Now, the group reporting the highest amount of new cases is the 20-29 age group.
The high concentration of cases in this age group is one factor in why case numbers keep rising while death numbers are staying relatively low. Khaldun said the 20-29 age group tends to be healthier and therefore more able to combat the virus, though fatalities may still occur.
“Young people have to understand that they are not immune to this disease,” Khaldun said. “Young people can get very sick from this disease, they can be hospitalized and they can even die.”
Khaldun said the wearing of masks to stop the spread of the virus is “not a joke.”
“This is not about politics,” Khaldun said. “Just wear your mask because you want to live, and you want to protect those around you.”
According to the governor, widespread use of face masks will ultimately result in less death and quicker progression into the next phases of the MI Safe Start Plan.
“If all of us mask up, every kid will be in school this fall,” Whitmer said. “If everyone masks up, we’re going to see our numbers plummet, and our economy’s going to get stronger. If everyone masks up, we’ll move the whole state in to Phase 5 and reengage in a way that will be the envy of every other state in the nation.”
Additionally, Whitmer detailed the Michigan Small Business Restart Program, to which $100 million of federal conoravirus relief bill funding will be directed.
The grant program, with grants up to $20,000 each, will support small businesses and nonprofits that have experienced a loss of income during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to CEO and President of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation Mark Burton, 30% of the restart grant funds will be allocated to women-, minority- or veteran-owned businesses.
Eligible businesses can complete the single, statewide application here. The application window will be open until Aug. 5.
Burton, too, expressed the importance of masks to help the economy.
“The best way to help with economic recovery across the state is to mask up,” Burton said. “Practice social distancing and follow directives. The only way we can ensure full economic recovery is to mitigate this threat to public health.”