This Is How Gretchen Whitmer’s Plan Can Save Michigan
“That woman from Michigan” is succeeding despite the President’s sabotage attempts
Donald Trump can’t stand Gretchen Whitmer.
Like New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Washington’s Jay Inslee, the Michigan governor has focused on saving lives instead of rushing people back to work. That’s helped turn the state into one of the country’s COVID-19 success stories.
Despite terrible early losses, Michigan has already reached the third stage of Whitmer’s six-step reopening plan. It could move to Stage 4 by the end of May.
Detroit’s early battles
That’s not how it looked for the first six weeks of the crisis. The Detroit area had one of the nation’s first four significant outbreaks, along with New York City, Seattle, and New Orleans.
Most of Michigan avoided intense infection levels — four counties in the Upper Peninsula have not had a single recorded case. However, the southeastern corner, centered on Detroit, is populated densely enough to overwhelm low numbers elsewhere.
For much of April, the state was third in the nation in deaths and among the top five in cases. They’ve now fallen to fourth in deaths and seventh in confirmed cases.
However, they still have the highest case fatality rate in the nation, with 9.6 deaths per 100 confirmed cases.
It’s not just deaths
Looking only at death rates, the state’s recovery seems unclear. A chart of daily deaths looks more like an EKG than a steady decline. However, that’s misleading. The Michigan Department of Health is continuously reviewing death certificates in an attempt to categorize coronavirus cases correctly. Any discoveries are added to the state’s count on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
For example, the daily announcement on Saturday, May 8, showed 133 deaths, but fewer than half (66) were new reports. The rest were reclassified cases from previous deaths.
If you smooth out the data using a rolling average, the state had a flat peak of around 140 deaths from April 15–28. That has fallen into the 60s in the first week of May.
The state is tracking cases by onset date to help with tracing programs, and that has also shown a steady decline since peaking in early April.
The drop is more evident in Michigan’s hospitalization figures.
Since the state began publishing daily data on April 12, the number of cases requiring inpatient care has dropped from 3,986 to 1,437 (64%). There are 57% fewer patients requiring critical care and a 61% decline in ventilator usage.
The data is even better for Metro Detroit, one of the hardest-hit areas in the country. Hospitalizations are down 69%, with a 60% drop in critical-care cases and 63% fewer patients on ventilators.
Testing finally takes off
One of the reasons for Michigan’s recent success has been a vastly improved testing regime.
Whitmer’s public feud with President Trump left the state without much-needed supplies, resulting in a drop in tests in mid-April. That came just as the death count was peaking, increasing the problems between the state and federal governments.
On March 30, Michigan did 7,307 tests — about half the number recommended by a Harvard study on safely reopening states. Instead of growing from there, though, the numbers fell as low as 3,188 tests on April 11. Tests didn’t top 7,000 again until 7,449 on April 22, but they have continued to grow. The state hit 10,000 for the first time on April 29 and nearly hit the Harvard goal on May 7, finishing with 14,257.
At the same time, the number of positive tests has plummeted. After peaking around 40% in the first week of April, the positive rate has been in single digits since May 1. On May 8–9, the state did more than 25,000 tests at a positive rate of 6.9%.
Whitmer delivers a road map
That brings us back to the Governor’s six-stage program for reopening the state. The state was already at Stage 3 when the plan was released on May 7, but it is possible to recreate the timeline.
Michigan’s first case was reported on March 10, and Whitmer immediately declared a state of emergency. She banned public gatherings on March 13, which was also the last day of K-12 schools. Business closures began on the 16, three days before the first recorded death, and a complete lockdown took effect on the 23rd.
That was the official start of stage 1 (“Uncontrolled Growth”), which lasted until mid-April. By that point, case numbers and hospitalization numbers were consistently dropping, and there were surplus ICU and ventilator supplies. That allowed the state to move into Stage 2 (“Consistent Spread”).
However, the daily death rates were still in triple digits, and there were shortages of PPE and testing kits.
By early May, Whitmer was comfortable enough to release the report and move the state to Stage 3 (“Flattening”). The 15-page document provides a roadmap to the final three stages — 4 (“Improving”), 5 (“Containing”) and 6 (“Post-Pandemic”).
Michigan has almost met the qualifications for Stage 4, which will allow small gatherings and some business openings. Retail stores can open with social-distancing measures and reduced capacity, while offices can bring back workers who are unable to do their jobs from home. Restaurants and bars would remain where they are now — able to serve food via take-out, drive-through, and delivery.
While the state has met the first two criteria for Stage 4 — a sharp decline in cases, deaths, and positive test rates along with increased healthcare capacity, they are just starting on the final test. On Saturday, a $3 million contract was announced with Dan Gilbert’s Rock Connections to help run a large tracking program. That call-center company will manage more than 3,500 volunteers — a group working on getting lists of recent contacts from residents who test positive for COVID-19. Those contacts will be tested and put into quarantine for 14 days. If they show signs of the disease, their contacts will also go into self-isolation.
This system — not massive testing — is what South Korea used to avoid a significant outbreak. Their success was due to full contact tracking and isolation of the infected before they could widely spread the disease. Michigan, like most American states, is starting at a much later point in the pandemic than the Koreans, but hope it will allow relaxed restraints on businesses within weeks.
“That’s really the best and only way to contain this virus quickly,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s Chief Medical Executive.
How Michigan moves ahead
Once the tracking-and-isolation program is up and running, the state can move to Stage 4 of Whitmer’s plan — the end of stay-at-home orders. That stage will last until cases and deaths remain at low levels, and hospitals are prepared for a small second wave.
That’s when the state would move to Stage 5, which would allow larger gatherings and the full reopening of offices, schools, and restaurants. Masks and social distancing would be required, but recreational travel will resume.
Stage 6 — a complete lifting of restrictions — will only occur when either a vaccine or a highly successful treatment has gone into mass production. At that point, which isn’t expected until 2021, arenas and stadiums can bring back spectators for sporting events and concerts.
The end of the pandemic is still months away, but Michigan’s current efforts have been successful at slowing the disease. However, there are more protests planned for this week in Lansing in an attempt to force Whitmer to speed up the reopening process.
Dealing with the GOP and Trump’s “very good people”
The earlier, lightly-attended events received outsized media coverage because of the presence of guns and Confederate flags. That brought them to the attention of President Trump, who encouraged the protestors on Twitter and called them “very good people.”
Encouraged by the president’s approval, the Michigan GOP is also working to stop Whitmer’s plan. They took her to court over her use of emergency powers. If they are successful, it could force the state to reopen at a much quicker pace, setting the stage for a strong second wave of the disease.
That would be a shame, given everything Whitmer has done to get the state closer to a safe future.
(chart data from the state of Michigan’s website)