Whitmer eyes more reengagement but stays mum on specifics

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LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — As Michigan’s coronavirus outbreak continues on a downward trend, 607 more cases were confirmed Thursday, bringing the total to 56,621 since March.

Additionally, according to state data released Friday afternoon, the state recorded 34 more deaths linked to the virus for a total of 5,406.

“We’ve seen numbers decease in much of the state. That is cause for optimism,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a Friday briefing.

>>Slides from briefing

The governor said if the trajectory of the outbreak remained the same, she expected to further ease restrictions in coming days. But she didn’t list specifics, a timeline or any benchmarks, reiterating that “context matters” in reviewing the data and making decisions. She anticipated a call Saturday with other officials to discuss what would happen next.

She again warned against moving forward too quickly, saying doing so would lead to a “devastating” second wave of infections and necessitating strengthened restrictions again.

In Wayne County, where the state’s outbreak has been the worst, there have been 20,227 confirmed cases (168 more than the day previous) and 2,425 deaths (15 more). Oakland County has had 8,311 cases and 975 deaths. Macomb County has had 6,616 cases and 793 deaths.

Within the Michigan Department of Corrections, there have been 3,749 confirmed cases (145 more than listed the day previous) and 66 deaths. Testing of every inmate in the state wrapped up last week and results have been coming back for days.

In Genesee County, where Flint is, there have been 1,998 cases and 250 deaths.

Kent County recorded one more death for a total of 80. It has had 3,596 cases, 56 more than the day previous.

Ottawa County saw two more deaths for a total of 33. It has had 759 cases.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said at the Friday briefing with the governor that the state had updated its reporting structure for cases at long-term care facilities like nursing homes to align with federal guidelines.

“As of this week, with 91% of facilities reporting, we know that 4,949 cases of COVID-19 have been in nursing facility residents across the state. And preliminarily, we know of 1,216 deaths,” Khaldun said, calling the impact “devastating.” “Almost 23% of all COVID-19 deaths in Michigan are in nursing facility residents and we think with improved data reporting, that percentage is likely even higher.”

The state’s website breaks down the cases by facility, but not the deaths. Khaldun said she’s not yet prepared to post that data, saying she can’t currently confirm its accuracy because of how deaths have been reported. She said hopes to be able to provide that data soon.

The state on Friday rolled out a new website, MI Symptoms, designed with help from the University of Michigan, where people can log how they are feeling daily to help identify COVID-19 symptoms. State officials said businesses can use the free application to help determine whether employees should be in the workplace, and health officials will also use it to help track outbreaks.

Urging “patience and vigilance” in the fight against the virus, Khaldun reminded people to continue practicing 6-foot social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands frequently.

On Wednesday, the most recent day for which state data is available, labs in Michigan tested 17,399 samples for coronavirus and 4.9% came back positive. In the region of the state that includes Grand Rapids, 2,421 samples were tested and 5.6% were positive. In the region that includes Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, 894 samples were tested and 5.7% were positive.

“The cumulative percent of positive tests in the state remains at about 13%, but for the past seven days, the average is just over 4%. That is really good news,” Khaldun said. “We’ve also nearly reached our seven-day average goal of 15,000 tests per day.”

With the expansion of criteria earlier this week, more people can now get tested for the virus. To find a testing site near you (there are more than 250 statewide), go to Michigan.gov/coronavirustest.

“As we continue to aggressively increase testing and the downward trend in cases continues across the state, in the upcoming days, we will be able to move forward different regions of the state in the next phases of the MI Safe Start plan” for economic reengagement, Khaldun said, though she also did not provide specifics.

>>MIStartMap.info

Whitmer has made slow, cautious steps in reengagement. Retail shopping by appointment only resumed Tuesday in the lower half of the state and nonurgent medical, dental and veterinary procedures were allowed to resume Friday.

As more businesses get back to work, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more commonly known as MIOSHA, on Friday rolled out a new webpage, Michigan.gov/COVIDWorkplaceSafety, containing resources for implementing COVID-19 precautions in workplaces.

Whitmer has been called to testify before the U.S. House Oversight and Investigations on how governors have responded to the pandemic. She will be joined by Govs. Asa Hutchinson, R-Arkansas and Jared Polis, D-Colorado, at the Tuesday remote hearing.

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, coronavirus has infected 1.7 million people across the United States and killed nearly 102,000.

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