Gov. Gretchen Whitmer started off her latest press conference with a startling figure.
“Over the weekend, the American death toll hit a grim milestone, surpassing 500,000 Americans, half a million Americans," she said. "It’s staggering. It matches the loss of life felt during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, combined.”
Joined by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun and Meridian Public Schools Superintendent Craig Carmoney, the press conference turned to focus on the return to in-person Pre-K through 12 education. Whitmer said that putting children back in school is essential due to the volume of resources that schools provide.
“According to data from the CDC, anxiety and depression rates are up and child immunization rates are down,” Whitmer said. “Schools are often the first place that children receive a vision and hearing screening, to quickly address some of the most basic barriers to learning, both services that have been on pause during remote learning. Staff who are specially trained to detect and address child abuse and neglect are unable to do so remotely.”
She also said that schools provide the necessary environment for social and emotional development.
On top of this, Whitmer said that parents have had to put a strain on their own lives in order to step in to fill the gap created from learning at home.
“Working families have been spread too thin over the past year, often taking on the roles of parent, teacher and employee all at the same time, it’s just not sustainable,” Whitmer said. “Parents rely on schools as places for their children to learn while they're working inside and outside their homes.”
On Jan. 8, Whitmer asked school districts to reopen in-person learning by Mar. 1. Most schools are already doing so and more are expected to meet Whitmer’s guidance.
“As of today, 83% of school districts are currently back in-person according to a report from our research partners at EPIC (Education Policy Innovation Collaborative) and 97% of school districts will be back in person in one way or another by March 1,” Whitmer said.
She said that no correlation between school reopenings and community spread of COVID-19 has been observed. She encouraged school districts to continue to enforce mitigation strategies such as masking, social distancing and hand washing.
Whitmer also said that in order to do so, her COVID Recovery Plan must pass through the state legislature. Whitmer introduced the plan on Jan. 19, which has been held up in the Legislature since.
“We must pass the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan,” Whitmer said. “It spends over $5 billion that has already been appropriated to us in a bipartisan bill that was signed by Donald Trump in December.”
Whitmer said the plan would allocate money to support healthcare workers and the return to public school. It would also purchase more tests and vaccines.
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