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Michigan ramps up COVID-19 testing; state will borrow for unemployment payments ‘if necessary’ COURTESY PHOTO

Michigan ramps up COVID-19 testing; state will borrow for unemployment payments ‘if necessary’

BY Monday, May 11, 2020 05:13pm

Over the past two weeks, Michigan has roughly tripled its COVID-19 testing and plans further measures to reach up to 30,000 tests per day, state officials said today.

Between May 3-10, Michigan averaged 10,800 tests per day, ranking it sixth in the country. However, Michigan ranks 15th in the number of daily tests per 1 million people.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a press conference today that over the past two weeks, Michigan’s daily testing — from the state laboratory, local health departments and the nonprofit and private sectors — increased from about 4,000 a day to 14,000. More than 290,000 Michigan residents have been tested to date.

“Until there is a vaccine, social distancing is really the best and only tool that we have to prevent the spread. But we know that can’t be tolerated in perpetuity,” Whitmer said. “Accordingly, widespread testing is critical. Tracing and safety protocols are essential.”

The state also has increased testing among vulnerable populations in congregate settings, a strategy Kent County also has taken recently to help stop the spread of COVID-19, as MiBiz recently reported. While the effort in Kent County has shown an increase in positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths have not spiked accordingly.

The state has dispatched dozens of three-person Michigan National Guard “medic strike” teams at prisons, veterans hospitals and nursing homes across the state. Whitmer said today that Michigan has tested more prisoners for COVID-19 than any other state.

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said the rate of increase in new cases continues to slow. As testing increases, the number of positive cases continues to go down, she said. As of Friday, 7 percent of tests were positive.

“We’re definitely on the right trajectory,” she said. “We also know it’s not enough to increase testing alone.”

Following positive test results, the state also ramped up contact tracing, when hundreds of state employees and volunteers follow up with patients about recent interactions with others. The state plans to hire up to 1,000 paid staff to “create an army of contact tracers,” Khaldun said.

Unemployment payments

Responding to questions about the status of the state’s unemployment benefits trust fund, Whitmer said borrowing from the federal government to continue payments will be done “if necessary.”

Michigan started the coronavirus pandemic with a $4.6 billion balance in its unemployment trust fund, up from about $40 million during the Great Recession. However, the state has paid out more than $4 billion in benefits to more than 1.1 million Michigan workers since the widespread closures because of COVID-19. Michigan is among the top states for unemployment claims, with about 25 percent of the state’s workforce filing jobless claims.

“There are a lot of unknowns that will determine how we draw down the trust fund,” Whitmer said, including how many people return to work in the coming weeks and whether federal assistance is provided.

Christopher O’Leary, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, said last week he expects Michigan to pay out $9.2 billion in state unemployment benefits for the year starting March 21. He anticipates the state will need to borrow about $3.4 billion later this year to meet its obligations.

“We’ll do that if it’s necessary,” Whitmer said today. “At this point it’s not.”

Read 2190 times Last modified on Monday, 11 May 2020 17:25