As COVID-19 numbers skyrocket across the state, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a press conference Thursday that bipartisan and congressional support is needed to help those continuing to be impacted by the coronavirus.
With new COVID-19 restrictions in effect Wednesday, closing indoor dining at bars and restaurants, in-person learning for high schools, colleges and universities and other recreational activities, Whitmer called on the federal government to provide the necessary support to protect vulnerable families, frontline workers and small businesses.
These actions, she said, are both targeted and intended to be temporary, following the steps public health experts say are needed to avoid overwhelming hospitals and reaching death counts like we saw in the Spring. Compliance also protects essential medical workers and first responders, Whitmer said.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive, said Michigan hospitals are close to becoming overwhelmed and are, on average, 79% full. The state currently has the fourth highest number of patients hospitalized in the country behind Texas, Illinois and California, Khaldun said.
Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 3 million Michigan workers have applied for unemployment benefits, Whitmer said. Currently, more than 600,000 individuals are still receiving benefits and nearly 80% of those workers rely on the soon-to-expire CARES Act programs for support.
As case numbers continue to rise across the state, Whitmer said more layoffs are likely to come, pushing the already high numbers up once again. She urged Michigan legislature to extend unemployment benefits beyond Dec. 31 of this year.
“If Congress does not act, almost half of a million people in our state could lose access to these critical benefits that have served as a lifeline for these people and their families,” Whitmer said.
Ahead of Thursday’s conference, Whitmer and Democratic leaders in the Michigan House and Senate sent a letter to President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Mitch McConnell, Senator Chuck Schumer and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, urging swift action to pass a COVID-19 relief bill, as federal funding for the CARES act is set to expire.
“The President has spent more energy spreading untruths about the election outcome than he has listening to health experts and protecting American people,” Whitmer said.
Next week, Whitmer said the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, or MEDC, will roll out an initiative urging Michiganders to support local businesses across the state.
Whitmer underscored this initiative, calling for a bipartisan support package to aid restaurants and their employees who are struggling as a result of the pandemic. Additionally, she urged residents across the state to show their support by ordering takeout and delivery from local restaurants as well as shopping at local businesses.
“If we switch one in ten of our out of state purchases to local stores, Michigan would gain 1.2 billion dollars in increased economic activity,” Whitmer said.
When the spread of the virus was contained in the summer, Whitmer said the percent positivity rate was around 3%. Now, it is nearing 14% as of the most recent report, though Whitmer said continued movement in the right direction may make it possible to be back to 3% by Dec. 8.
One thing that can be done to prevent further spread, is avoiding gatherings outside of one household for Thanksgiving, Whitmer said.
“We are doing our part when we protect our loved ones and stay apart this holiday,” Whitmer said. “We are preserving future holiday gatherings together by taking this seriously now, by not gathering with people outside of your household this Thanksgiving. It’s an act of kindness and love.”
Gathering indoors with people outside of our homes and not wearing masks is exactly how this virus spreads, Whitmer said.
Khaldun agreed and said it is likely if you’re gathering for the holiday, the virus will be around the table with you.
“Bad decisions made at Thanksgiving will mean that people will be mourning the deaths of their loved ones by New Years,” Khaldun said. “So, I would rather make smart decisions now and look forward to next year when we can celebrate them again together, alive.”
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