LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — With 497 new cases of coronavirus confirmed Thursday, the total in Michigan has surpassed 50,000, though state officials note that the rate of rise in new cases and deaths continues to decline.
“We are closely watching several areas, including places where we know that there are outbreaks,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said. “We know that outbreaks can easily spread to the rest of a community, so it’s very important that we continue to do aggressive testing, contact tracing and containment in these outbreak settings.”
The outbreak remains the worst in and around Detroit. Wayne County has had 18,882 confirmed cases and 2,192 deaths. Oakland County has had 7,994 cases and 896 deaths. Macomb County has had 6,274 cases and 729 deaths.
In Genesee County, where Flint is, there have been 1,835 cases and 229 deaths.
Within the Michigan Department of Corrections, 2,227 prisoners have tested positive for the virus and 56 have died.
Kent County had five more deaths over the day prior, bringing the total to 53. It added 78 cases for a total of 2,705.
There was one more death in Kalamazoo County for a total of 41. It has 679 cases.
Ottawa County also had one more death for a total of 24. It has 501 cases. Twenty of the cases are at the MediLodge at the Shore nursing home in Grand Haven.
There was one more death in Muskegon, bringing the total to 22. It has 452 cases.
On Wednesday, the most recent day for which state data is available, the state tested 23,647 samples for coronavirus, 10.7% of which came back positive. While that positivity percentage rose by more than 4% over the previous day, the number of tests also increased by about 65% — nearly 9,300 — over the previous one-day record.
In the region that includes Grand Rapids, 2,860 tests were run (833 more than the previous day) and 7.2% were positive. In the region that includes Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, 1,330 samples were tested (486 more) and 8% were positive.
Michigan ranks seventh nationally in the number of tests conducted daily, state officials say, and with help from the federal government labs can run up to 30,000 tests daily. They want to test 450,000 people for the virus this month.
COVID-19 presents with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Everyone who has coronavirus symptoms and essential workers who are not showing symptoms can get tested. You can find a testing location near you on the state’s website and get information on how to set up an appointment.
Dr. Khaldun said there are more than 200 testing sites statewide.
GOING BACK TO SCHOOL
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday created the Return to Learning Advisory Council, which will help work out how K-12 students could get back in the classroom, hopefully in the fall.
“We know that this crisis has taken a toll on us all, including our students,” Whitmer said at a Friday afternoon briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center near Lansing. “And it’s taken a toll on tens of thousands of educators who are uncertain about their jobs, the safety of returning and what it looks like to meet the needs of their students.”
The council will look at safety and equity across districts’ different needs, helping to make sure community members can have a say in what happens with their school, public health officials are involved in discussions and that there’s enough support for students who didn’t get a traditional education late this school year.
The 20 or so council members will include teachers, administrators, health officials, parents and students, and the group will work with national nonprofit Opportunity Labs. You can apply to be a member on the state’s website before May 20.
They will report to the COVID-19 Task Force on Education, which Whitmer created in March. That task force will provide frameworks for districts to use in responding to the virus.
“I can’t predict what’s going to happen in June, much less what’s going to happen when we want to return this fall, but what I can tell you is that we will continue working tirelessly to ensure that we have a plan to navigate next steps,” Whitmer said.
She said local districts will have discretion about when exactly to go back to in-person instruction after the state gives the all-clear.
As she urged unity, Whitmer was joined at her briefing by clergy members of varying religions who offered blessings for front-line workers fighting the virus, state leaders charged with responding to the crisis and the people of Michigan.
The state has launched a hotline to field questions from businesses going back to work — 855.SAFEC19 (723.3219) — and issued guidelines for both workplaces and employees explaining necessary safety procedures.
Landscapers, construction workers and manufacturers have already been allowed to return to work. On Friday, Whitmer said research labs could return with safety practices in place. The Detroit automakers are restarting plants Monday.
Calls continue to increase for the governor to allow dental practices to resume routine care and places like barber shops and salons to reopen. Some businesses that have been shut down for weeks have started breaking closure orders. A barber in mid-Michigan who reopened had his license suspended. A salon in Holland reopened Friday. A drive-in movie theater near Coldwater planned to reopen Friday night.
Whitmer has emphasized that her executive orders carry the force of law and she expects them to be followed, but when questioned by reporters has consistently refused to state outright she will strengthen the so far limited enforcement. On Friday, she reminded everyone that we will reach a point where all businesses can reopen, but that the process must be slow and cautious to prevent a second spike of the virus.
Restaurants and bars want to be allowed to reopen May 29, the day after the governor’s current restrictions on service end. On Friday, the Michigan License Beverage Association released a guide for bars and restaurants to reopen with safety measures in place.
“We were supportive of Governor Whitmer’s initial orders to temporarily close bars and restaurants for the greater good – the health and safety of Michiganders,” MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis said in a statement. “However, the extensions have shut us down for too long. It’s time to start opening back up or many businesses will remain shuttered forever.”
The group representing bars and taverns said they are already highly regulated and know how to follow safety rules.
Whitmer has so far been unwilling to set specific case number benchmarks for moving forward in her six-phase plan to reopen the economy, saying there are too many factors at play for that, but on Wednesday indicated that assessing those thresholds would become more clear soon.
On Friday morning, a Michigan Court of Claims judge heard arguments in the Republican-led Legislature’s lawsuit against the Democratic governor, in which lawmakers claim Whitmer has overstepped her bounds by extending emergency response to the virus without their input.
**Correction: Due to a transcription error, a previous version of this article included an incorrect number of testing sites statewide. Dr. Khaldun actually said there are more than 200. The article has been updated and we regret the error.