Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants state lawmakers to enact legislation requiring people in Michigan to wear a face mask.
Predictive modeling indicates Michigan could have 100 or more deaths per day from COVID-19 by Christmas at the present rates. As infection and death rates increase and surpass those in the spring “when we had uncontrolled community spread” of the coronavirus, Whitmer will ask lawmakers to enact bipartisan legislation requiring masks in indoor public spaces and while attending large outdoor gatherings.
State law allows the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to mandate the use of face masks. The governor believes bipartisan action by the Republican-led legislature would “send a powerful message on the seriousness of this moment, the need for all of us to rise to this challenge, and the support for our economy and businesses to stay engaged because we all are doing our part,” Whitmer said during a press conference today.
“I’d love to see us codify a mask order. I think that it’s really important for people to see that we have to get the politics out of the simple act of masking up,” Whitmer said. “Something this important, this critical to saving lives, deserves the Legislature’s stamp of approval. It will send a resounding message that every one of us has to do our part.”
Whitmer cited how infection and death rates have grown steadily since the Michigan Supreme Court in early October struck down a state law she had used to issue numerous executive orders, including mandating masks to limit spread of the coronavirus. Lawmakers later enacted legislation restoring some of the actions that were set aside under the ruling. The Department of Health and Human Services as well issued new orders under the state Public Health Code, including mask requirements, to replace those set aside.
Whitmer acknowledged that most people wear face masks when out in public and the fatigue many people may feel from efforts to contain the coronavirus and COVID-19.
“People are tired. We are all tired of wearing masks. We are all tired of dealing with COVID, and yet ignoring the problem is making it worse,” said Whitmer, who also cited “political rhetoric” that has “created a lot of confusion and unnecessary suspicion around the efficacy of masks.”
“The most important thing we can do to get COVID out of our lives, or least get it under manageable numbers where we can continue to safely engage in other aspects of our lives, is to wear a mask,” she said. “We all have to be in this one together. It just can’t be some of us.”
A recent survey by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that as of the summer, 89 percent of Americans use a face mask. Whitmer said she’s heard anecdotally from employers with a presence in other states that “Michigan’s compliance is better than in any other state that they do business in.”
The U.S. on Wednesday for the first time recorded more than 100,000 new COVID-19 cases. Michigan has had nearly 198,000 confirmed cases and 7,470 deaths since the pandemic began last spring, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the Department of Health and Human Services.
The state today now sees more than five times the number of new daily cases than in early September, Khaldun said.
“We are very concerned about what we are seeing across the state with COVID-19,” she said. “We really are at a tipping point right now when it comes to COVID in the state.”
The present infection rate statewide now stands at 261 cases per 1 million people. The
Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo areas far exceed the statewide rate. Grand Rapids now has 370 cases per million and Kalamazoo has 331, Khaldun said.
Hospitalization rates do not yet exceed the spring, “but they are rapidly rising,” Khaldun said. And “as has been the case throughout the pandemic, as hospitalizations go up we expect deaths to follow within a few weeks,” she said.
The state’s death rate from COVID-19 is now twice that of early September, Khaldun said.
Michigan on Thursday recorded 5,710 new COVID-19 cases and another 51 deaths. Predictive models showing 100 deaths per day by the end of December is “if we don’t do anything else, if we don’t change our behaviors,” she said.
Given the present rate of the coronavirus’s spread, employers “that can have their employees work from home right now, should be doing that,” Khaldun said.
“For those companies that really must have their employees come to work, they should be making those workplaces as safe as possible and enforcing physical distancing and mask requirements,” she said.
Local health departments across the state are investigating 590 outbreaks, the largest number since the pandemic began.
Outbreaks are tied to settings such as long-term care centers, grocery stores, schools, office buildings, manufacturing plants, construction sites, health care, and social gatherings, Khaldun said. She cited outbreaks this fall from funerals, birthday parties, weddings, recreation and sporting events, a high school banquet and sleepovers.