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Michigan is a long way from returning to normal, despite progress in coronavirus battle, Whitmer cautions


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a news conference Friday. - STATE OF MICHIGAN
  • State of Michigan
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a news conference Friday.

Although Michigan is making good progress combating the coronavirus, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday warned that prematurely reopening the economy and schools could cause a second deadly wave "that could make what we've just done look easy."

Since the coronavirus outbreak began two months ago, Michigan has recorded more than 50,000 positive COVID-19 cases and nearly 5,000 deaths. To put the death toll into perspective, Whitmer projected a large image of the interior of the Fox Theatre in Detroit behind her at a news conference.

"You look at that stage, and you know that nearly every empty chair represents a lost loved one of someone here in Michigan," Whitmer said. "Someone with a story, someone with children or parents, someone with colleagues. These are people who were a part of the fabric of our state. And it's so easy to look past this loss if it hasn’t hit close to home.”

Whitmer announced the creation of the “Return to Learning Advisory Council” to help determine when and how schools will reopen for 1.5 million K-12 students. Asked if schools will reopen later this year, Whitmer responded, “It’s my hope that we will have some form of in-person education in the fall.”

"It's dependent on how we perform in the interim,” Whitmer said. “Regardless, we have to have a plan driven by how we keep people safe so when we engage we are ready to roll.”

Public health officials are also worried about a troubling and sometimes deadly condition inflicting children who have been infected or exposed to the coronavirus. The illness, called “multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children” (MIS-C), has killed some children in areas hardest hit by the coronavirus, including Michigan. It was previously believed that the coronavirus affected older people the most.

“I want to emphasize that COVID-19 does not spare children,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s top executive, said Friday. “We know of the deaths of many children across the country and here in Michigan, and we are learning of a mysterious disease called MIS-C that is associated with COVID-19.”

Calling MIS-C “a mysterious and scary syndrome,” Khaldun urged doctors to “be on high alert.”

When it comes to professional sports, Whitmer said fans are likely going to be watching their favorite teams on TV at first because packing stadiums and arenas likely won’t happen until there is a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19.

"I think we can have sports, but the way we observe them may look different for awhile,” Whitmer said.

With warm weather and Memorial Day approaching, Whitmer said she’s worried about a spike in cases if residents defy her social-distancing measures.

She suggested, “Sit outside, crack open a beer, and grill a steak” at home.

“People are getting restless; they are getting out and about,” Whitmer said." If we’re not practicing all of these important safeguards, all the sacrifices we just made could be in vain, and we could contribute to a second wave that might make what we’ve just done look easy.”

The state reported 38 deaths and 497 new cases Friday, a steep decline from a month ago, when the state averaged 150 deaths and 12,000 new cases a day.

For 29 straight days, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals has declined, falling from 3,918 to 1,256, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. During the same period, the number of COVID-19 patients on a ventilator decreased from 1,212 to 440.


The state is also closer to reaching its goal of testing 15,000 people a day. A month ago, the state averaged just 4,000 daily tests. For the past week, the state averaged 12,800 tests a day. On Tuesday, the state tested 14,242 people, the last day for which statistics are available.

“We got to get this right,” Whitmer said. “The stakes couldn’t be higher.”

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