LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer held a briefing Tuesday (Dec. 29) to discuss the state’s handling of COVID-19, a $106 million relief bill, unemployment benefits and more.
Here are our takeaways from the briefing. You can watch the full video above.
Whitmer announced she has signed a bipartisan $106 million relief bill that includes $55 million to help small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19. Grants of up to $20,000 will be available to Michigan small businesses that need support this winter, the state announced.
The relief bill also includes $3.5 million for grants of up to $40,000 each for live music and entertainment venues, according to Whitmer.
In addition, $45 million is available in direct payments for workers who have been laid off or furloughed due to the virus, the state revealed.
“I proposed this stimulus plan to the legislature in November because I know how much our families, frontline workers, and small businesses need relief,” Whitmer said. “This bipartisan bill will provide families and businesses the support they need to stay afloat as we continue working to distribute the safe and effective vaccine and eliminate COVID-19 once and for all.”
Whitmer said she also signed bipartisan Senate Bill 604, which extends unemployment benefits for Michiganders who have lost work because of COVID-19.
Those benefits have been extended from 20 to 26 weeks, the state announced. They are now available until the end of March 2021.
“No Michigander should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a global pandemic,” Whitmer said. “These bipartisan bills are an important step in providing immediate relief for working families, but there is more work to do. I urge the legislature to take further action to make this permanent. Forty states, including all of our neighbors, automatically provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment relief. Michiganders deserve better than a short-term extension that expires in March. It’s time to work together on a bipartisan, long-term solution for working families.”
Since March 15, the state has paid nearly $27 billion in benefits to nearly 2.3 million workers, according to the release.
Whitmer vetoes other items
When she signed the relief bill, Whitmer line item vetoed any items not subject to negotiated agreement.
Among those vetoed items was a proposed $220 million for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which is designed to help businesses fund benefits for laid off workers.
“General fund dollars must be used to fund essential services like vaccines and PPE, not to give tax breaks to big businesses,” the state said in a release.
According to the state, the Unemployment Insurance Agency has provided more than $900 million in tax breaks to businesses affected by COVID-19.
Whitmer wants the Legislature to pass a permanent extension of unemployment benefits and an increase in weekly benefits.
State’s COVID-19 trends
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, updated the state’s case, hospitalization and positivity rates.
Khaldun said all three metrics continue to show positive movement, a trend that started in early December.
Right now, the state’s case rate is at 279 per million people per day, a number that has been declining for more than 38 days, according to Khaldun.
Test positivity is down to 8.4% statewide. It has been declining for “multiple weeks,”, Khaldun said.
As of Tuesday, 13.8% of inpatient hospital beds across the state are being used for COVID-19 patients, Khaldun said. That number is down from 16.5% the previous week.
The average number of deaths per day has dropped from 123 last week to 107 this week, according to the state.
‘Progress is fragile’
While reiterating that Michigan’s numbers continue to move in the right direction, Khaldun cautioned that the state is far from out of the woods.
The case rate is still four times what it was at the start of September. Test positivity is still almost three times what it was at that time.
“What we are seeing in the data is not a cause to celebrate,” Khaldun said. “While Michiganders are going a great job bringing our cases down, that progress is fragile.”
She said it only takes one gathering for COVID-19 to start spreading through a household and all of its close contacts.
“While we are certainly moving in the right direction, let’s all do our part and remain vigilant,” Khaldun said. “Let’s just get through the rest of this holiday season and give ourselves the strongest start to 2021 without a surge in cases from the holidays.”
Whitmer says numbers improving ‘because of actions we’ve taken’
Whitmer attributes Michigan’s improving COVID-19 trends to the restrictions handed down by the state.
“Since my last press briefing, our numbers have continued to improve,” Whitmer.
According to the governor, Michigan’s focus on science-based action, along with cooperation from residents, is responsible for the improving numbers.
“Now, because of the actions that we’ve taken, and because so many Michiganders have done their part, our numbers are better than all of our Midwestern neighbors,” Whitmer said. “These numbers are encouraging.”
As daily COVID-19 cases decrease in Michigan, Whitmer was asked what the state is looking for in terms of a threshold for loosing some of the MDHHS restrictions still in place.
Whitmer cited percent positivity, hospitalizations, case rate and mobility data as metrics to watch going forward.
Even though most of the numbers are on a “continuous decline,” they aren’t close to where experts would like them to be, she said.
“They’re still high, but they have been moving in the right direction,” Whitmer said. “If that continues to be the case, then certainly we would feel that there was lower risk in terms of reengaging other sectors of our economy.”
Mobility data from Christmas will be a significant factor in decisions going forward, Whitmer revealed.
Testing numbers down
Khaldun said the state’s overall testing numbers are actually down in December, which is a contrast from previous months that saw daily tests steadily increase.
Michigan is averaging 37,307 tests per day over the past week.
“If you need a test, you should get one,” Khaldun said. “This means that if you have symptoms, or if you have been around someone who has symptoms, or around someone who has COVID-19, you should get a test.”
There are more than 300 testing sites in Michigan, and many offer free COVID-19 tests.
Whitmer encouraged Michiganders to stay home for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, citing the decreased travel over Thanksgiving and Christmas as a reason for the slowing spread of the virus.
“I’m asking that everyone continue to do what you have been doing,” Whitmer said. “Stay home for New Year’s. Maybe get some takeout. Support your local restaurants and local businesses, but stay close to home and celebrate responsibly.”
She said Michigan is coming through the end of 2020 in a stronger position than many other states because of the cooperation from residents.
The first nursing home patients in Michigan began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations on Monday.
Nearly 140 patients and some of the staff at Rivergate Terrace Care Center were among the first to get their shots. The facility will receive another round of doses on Jan. 4.
“Yesterday, my administration announced that we have begun distributing these safe vaccines to skilled nursing home residents and staff,” Whitmer said. “These residents are among the first facilities to receive the vaccine.”
Whitmer said it’s important even for the people who receive the vaccine to continue wearing masks and following COVID-19 safety protocols.
“Remember, it will take some time for this vaccine to be widely distributed to everyone, and that’s why it’s important for us to all do our part,” Whitmer said.
Michiganders should start planning for when they can get their vaccines, according to Whitmer. It doesn’t matter whether you receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, she said.
Nearly 71,000 people have already been vaccinated in Michigan, according to Khaldun.
“Every area of the state will have access to the vaccine, whether you’re in a rural part of the Upper Peninsula or the Detroit or Grand Rapids metro regions,” Khaldun said.
Requests for legislation
Whitmer makes public requests of the Michigan Legislature during nearly every COVID-19 briefing, and Tuesday was no different.
The governor said she wants legislators to pass some public health protection, such as a mask mandate.
“This is a policy that has bipartisan support,” Whitmer said. “It would really improve compliance and assist law enforcement.”
She believes a mask mandate would allow Michigan to reopen sectors of the economy more quickly, saying residents would be more likely to follow the MDHHS order. It would also help authorities enforce the regulations, she said.