Lansing, MI–In a statewide Coronavirus update, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer admonished Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Coronavirus relief plan, saying it “does not give the adequate relief to millions of hard-working Americans who’ve lost their job as a result of the mishandling of this crisis.”
McConnell’s plan, the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools Act (HEALS), was widely panned by democrats for being too little too late and placing too much pressure on schools to return to in-person learning.
One of the largest points of contention for the piece of legislature has to do with the way it approaches unemployment benefits. Instead of continuing to dole out $600 for those on unemployment, HEALS will opt to pay 70% of a worker’s regular wage.
Whitmer went on to say the “complicated benefits system” would place greater responsibility on an already overburdened state unemployment agency.
She further stated that much of the funds allocated for state governments are contingent on schools reopening. Whitmer reiterated the importance of the MI Safe School Plan she released last month. “We’ve got to continue to follow the science. We can’t move unless we know it’s going to be safe to do that.”
In the questions portion of the address, Whitmer was asked about a specific date for school’s returning to in-person learning.
Whitmer responded by saying, “There’s not a perfect time that we will have the precise understanding that gives people notices … We all have to remain nimble.”
State Budget Director Chris Kolb echoed Whitmer’s sentiments regarding McConnell’s relief plan saying it is “woefully lacking in many ways. Notably with the absence of additional financial support to help states and localities with their collective budget shortfalls that are a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The governor’s address was followed by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, who said Michigan’s coronavirus cases have plateaued over the last two weeks. Hospitalization and death rates, she said, have also remained steady.
According to Khaldun, as of Tuesday, July 28, Michigan has had 76,176 confirmed cases and 6,170 total deaths due to COVID-19. Statewide the average amount of daily testing has risen to 27,000. That average is up 5,000 from the previous and meets the state’s daily testing goal.
Despite the positive numbers, Khaldun said, “we continue to see the percent of tests done that are positive slowly creeping up.” Last week’s test came back 3.7%, up from the previous week’s 3.6%.
Khaldun brought attention to 78 new outbreaks identified throughout the state last week. While the majority (31%) were associated with nursing homes and similar care facilities, she highlighted workplaces, restaurants, and childcare facilities as significant sources of outbreaks.
According to Khaldun, the second-largest catalyst was social gatherings, which made up 22% of the 78 outbreaks.
Officials in Flint have been similarly worried about social gatherings. A pop-up party in Flint last weekend drew about 3,000 people–and ended in gunfire and arrests. Following the event, Dr. Bobby Mukkamala said at a press conference that the shooting wasn’t the only dangerous element at the party. “You can be sure that a couple people are going to die. Not from bullets, but from a microscopic virus,” he said.
During her part of the presentation, Khaldun talked about the new public health texting platform. The initiative will allow public health workers to reach out through text to Michigan residents who may have come in contact with COVID-19.
Khaldun implored residents to be aware of incoming texts from public health staff. She emphasized the program will not ask for banking information or social security numbers but will inquire about possible sources of COVID-19 individuals may have come in contact with.
Kolb went on to say that without the necessary federal funds, there will be no way to make cuts to the 2021 state budget without there being an impact on essential services.
“Federal funding was key to balancing our current fiscal budget. But now that federal funding is gone and fiscal year ’21 is staring us right in the face,” Kolb said.
Sandy Baruah, president of the Detroit Regional Chamber was also present. He announced 15 major business institutions like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Association of Grand Rapids, all signed a joint letter to Michigan’s congressional delegation.
The letter asks for upcoming CARES act legislation to include “assistance to state and local governments to help states like Michigan address the needs of people and businesses.”