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Dr. Khaldun on Meet the Press: Reopening Michigan’s economy must be 'incremental, data-driven’

Michigan has the third highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the country

LANSING, Mich. – Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), made an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday morning.

Khaldun has been working directly with Michigan Gov. Whitmer to respond to the state’s coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

MORE: Coronavirus in Michigan: Here’s where we stand as of Sunday

In her interview with Chuck Todd, Khaldun explained why the governor isn’t racing to reopen Michigan’s economy amid the pandemic.

“(...) we are actually third in the country when it comes to states and the number of (COVID-19) deaths. While we’ve seen significant improvements over the past several weeks, our hospitals were over capacity, particularly in the southeast area of the state, several weeks ago,” Khaldun said. "So, while we are cautiously optimistic, we still think we need to be very careful.”

Governor Whitmer has received significant criticism for her stay-at-home order from Michigan residents who are eager to reopen the economy. Some critics have encouraged reopening the economy in rural areas of the state that aren’t experiencing extreme viral outbreaks like in southeast Michigan.

MORE: Tracking COVID-19 cases, deaths by Michigan county

While counties in western Michigan do have fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths than those in the east, Khaldun says it is still unsafe to reopen those parts of the state.

“We are still seeing, for example, on the western side of the state, that there are actually increases in the rate of rise of cases. We have several outbreaks there,” Khaldun said. “We also know, again, in some of our rural areas, the number of hospital beds is actually not what it should be. Many of our hospitals in rural areas are actually at capacity.

“Even in the southeast, quite frankly, even though we’re seeing a decrease in the rate of rise, we’re still seeing many many cases and many deaths every day,” Khaldun added.

As of 3 p.m. on Saturday, Michigan has reported 43,207 COVID-19 cases and 4,020 deaths.

Khaldun noted that Whitmer is currently developing plans for reopening the state’s economy amid the pandemic, and says that it will be done with an “incremental, data-driven approach”.

MORE: How Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is loosening restrictions of coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown

When asked about the pressure she and the government are facing regarding reopening the economy, Khaldun says that decisions will be made based on facts.

RELATED: Michigan Gov. Whitmer says decisions will not be political: ‘I’m not here to play games’

“This is certainly not personal. People hire me to give medical and public health advice and that is what I do," Khaldun said. “I talk to the governor and other folks in the governor’s office on a regular basis to tell them the facts: These are the number of tests that we are currently doing; this is where we want to be; this is what’s going on in our hospitals; and if we don’t do well with these social distancing measures, more people will die.”

Michigan’s current stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire on May 15.

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