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As COVID cases rise, Whitmer urges social distancing, federal economic relief


Celebrate separately so you can spend next year’s holiday season “together, alive.”

That was the message from Michigan Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun on Wednesday as she and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave what Whitmer said was their final news conference before Thanksgiving.

“It is very likely,” Khaldun said, “that if you are gathering for Thanksgiving, the virus will also be around the table with you.”

The pair again asked people to cancel large holiday gatherings, and Whitmer called upon Michiganders to “shop local” while urging federal lawmakers to pass an economic relief package as businesses and workers brace for continued economic duress as much of the nation ramps up social distancing orders to contain the worsening pandemic.

“Every person in this country is depending on our federal government to step up here,” Whitmer said.

She also trolled Republican state legislative leaders, who have repeatedly complained that Whitmer has not included her in her pandemic response, to “share their plans” for responding to Michigan’s worsening pandemic.

“I am hopeful that when the Legislature returns from their hunting break, Republicans will share their plans for addressing these items,” she said.

Credit michigan.gov
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun

After the Michigan Supreme Court limited Whitmer’s ability to rule by executive order during the pandemic, the Legislature struck a deal with Whitmer to continue expanded unemployment insurance eligibility through December 31. With that cutoff date looming, Whitmer said another extension “should be of the first orders of business” when the Legislature returns from its break.

Nearly 3 million Michigan workers have applied for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began, she said, and more than 600,000 are still receiving benefits.

Whitmer and Democratic leaders in the state Legislature sent a letter to President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders on Thursday urging them to pass a COVID-19 relief bill to help states, businesses and workers weather the pandemic’s economic crisis. She said she asked Michigan’s Republican legislative leaders to sign on to the letter but they declined.

Joining Whitmer onstage were three Lansing-area small business owners — Bryan Torok and Gabe Jones of the Smoke ‘N Pig BBQ and Kendra Patterson of Michigan Barn Wood & Salvage — who urged Michiganders to shop at local businesses.

“We want to welcome and accommodate you however you feel comfortable,” Patterson said, later adding “let’s keep our money circulating in Michigan’s economy.”

The comments come as Michigan is in its second day of new statewide restrictions aimed at stemming the virus’ spread, and a day after the state epidemiologist warned that the state’s contact tracing tracing system is “becoming overwhelmed.”

New restrictions include canceling in-person classes at high schools and colleges, banning eat-in dining at restaurants and bars, banning indoor crowds of more than two households or 10 people, and urging Michiganders to work from home if possible.

“We are doing our part when we protect our loved ones and stay apart this holiday,” Whitmer said. “You’re preserving future holiday gatherings together by taking this seriously now.”

Fear of a worsening crisis prompted Michigan Medicine and more than 100 other U.S. health care systems to launch a public relations campaign aimed at convincing people to wear masks that they say are the best hope of stemming an “alarming increase” in the virus’ spread in Michigan and across the nation.

“Despite what you might have heard about COVID-19 being not a big deal, that is simply not correct,” said Marschall Runge, CEO of Michigan Medicine and dean of the university’s medical school.

As of Thursday, 285,398 Michiganders had contracted COVID-19, and 8,324 had died. The state’s positive test rate was 12.5 percent.

Matthew Hornik, president of Michigan chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, said pediatric offices across the state have also been “inundated with COVID testing.”

He urged parents to keep their children healthy by wearing a mask and social distancing, avoiding family gatherings and, importantly, taking children to get their flu shot and keep up on other immunizations, among other actions.

“We need everyone to do what they can to avoid preventable illnesses that will take up more beds in our hospitals,” he said.

Michigan Radio, Bridge Magazine, and The Detroit Free Press are teaming up to report on Michigan hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. We will be sharing accounts of the challenges doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel face as they work to treat patients and save lives. If you work in a Michigan hospital, we would love to hear from you. You can contact reporters Robin Erb rerb@bridgemi.com at Bridge, Kristen Jordan Shamus kshamus@freepress.com at the Free Press and Kate Wells katwells@umich.edu at Michigan Radio.

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