A coalition of Michigan business and health care leaders recently warned that the state is at a “dangerous tipping point” in the COVID-19 pandemic and “at risk of losing ground it has sacrificed for months to gain” as the number of new cases again rose each day. As of July 16, Michigan had 71,842 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a daily increase of 645 cases. On the previous day, the confirmed cases jumped by 891, the highest single-day spike in two months. The death toll from the virus stood at 6,101 people, according to the state. The recent uptick in cases also led Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to strengthen an executive order requiring masks to be worn in public indoor spaces and large gatherings, which took effect on July 13.
The coalition includes Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health, whose leader — Tina Freese Decker — is also part of Whitmer’s Michigan Economic Recovery Council that’s been advising the governor throughout the pandemic.
Freese Decker spoke with MiBiz about the coalition’s concerns with the state’s position four months into the pandemic.
What does this coalition want people to keep in mind about where we are in this crisis?
What we need to know is what we’ve been practicing and should be practicing on an ongoing basis, which is that the safety and prevention measures work and we need to keep practicing those. Hand sanitizing, wearing a mask, being six feet apart. Although some of those are difficult to do, it has proven to help protect yourself and others. It’s taking responsibility to do those three prevention practices that will help us continue going forward.
COVID-19 is with us and it’s going to be with us, and we hope to have therapeutics or a vaccine, but we need to figure out how to manage this as we go forward and rely on those preventions and safety measures.
As you look at the data of the recent weeks, what concerns you the most?
I believe we have the opportunity to all come together and take the collective actions to practice safety measures and these prevention measures. If we do that, I’m not as concerned. We’ve done so much with helping those vulnerable populations. We could do more, but we need to make sure we continue to focus on this because if we relax on some of these measures, we could get back to where we were before. I know West Michigan. I know we can do better, and I know we can stand together, protect each other and think about each other and practice these measures.
For people who have been resistant about wearing a mask in public, how do you convince them otherwise?
In health care we’ve always been focused on healthy behaviors, and it’s hard to change to healthy behaviors. My focus has been you’re doing this to protect yourself, but you’re also doing it to protect others, and how do we think and care about each other and each other’s safety.
Are you hopeful that the rise in new daily cases that Michigan has seen of late can get turned around and get going in the right direction?
I believe that in West Michigan we want to keep people safe and we want to do the right thing. We’re starting to see an upturn in the numbers and now is the time to make sure it doesn’t go up. In other states we’ve seen it go up quickly, so we just need to make sure we’re watching this and keep doing the things we know how to do and that we know work to make sure we keep this at a lower level.
What has been the focus of the Michigan Economic Recovery Council?
We came together to help us think about how we turn back to ‘open,’ because we wanted to make sure that we were preparing for this, that we were looking ahead, thinking about the future going forward. I think it’s been helpful in providing some forward-thinking ideas about where we are and getting us prepared so that we continue to live as we want to with these prevention measures. I do see it will continue for a while. I believe it should only continue for as long as it’s being beneficial, but it has been good to get together with the other members to share observations, to share data and to put together our recommendations on what would make sense for us.
Is there a proper balance to strike between protecting public health and protecting the economy now that much has reopened?
There is a way and that’s focusing on these prevention measures. I think that we can be accountable and responsible and still live our lives, but we need to do these prevention measures to protect ourselves and to protect others for this time period.