Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that Thanksgiving needs to look different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, encouraging Michigan residents to host virtual celebrations in place of traditional family gatherings.
“Thanksgiving is going to look different this year. It just has to,” Whitmer said. “Medical experts across the country strongly recommend that we do not host Thanksgiving with people outside of our own households. I know this will be hard, but we cannot afford for people to head to a family member, friend or loved one’s house for Thanksgiving, contract the virus, and bring it back to their communities.”
Whitmer pointed out that not hosting in person gatherings is about keeping each household’s own relatives safe.
“The best way to show your loved ones that you care about them this year is to do everything in your power to protect them during this pandemic,” Whitmer said. “The more people we have in our homes talking, eating, drinking, hugging, yelling at the Lions – the higher the risk of catching or spreading this virus, and the higher the risk there is that the people we love will die.”
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said that while she urges everyone to not travel, individuals should take precautions like quarantining for 14 days beforehand and not coming into physical contact with others if they must travel.
Khaldun also warned that tests, while very important, are not perfect and do not take the place of preventative measures since they measure just one point in time and it could take up to 14 days after being exposed to the virus before an individual becomes symptomatic.
“Please do not have a false sense of security about one negative test before you travel. Testing does not eliminate the need for prevention and things like wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining six feet of distance of others,” Khaldun said. “If you are smart now, you may be able to have a nice holiday with your loved ones, alive, at this time next year.”
More than 10% of all COVID-19 tests in Michigan are coming back positive.
“This is very concerning, because unlike in the spring when only those who are very ill could obtain a test, now anyone who wants a test can get a test. We are performing over 45,000 diagnostic tests per day – that’s the fifth largest number of total tests for any state in the country,” Khaldun said. “To have more than 10% of those tests coming back positive is alarming and means that this virus is out of control. There is wide community spread of COVID-19 across the entire state.”
Michigan has broken its record for daily cases of COVID-19 nine times in the last month, including on Thursday, reporting 6,940 new confirmed cases.
There are 747 active outbreaks of the virus in the state, the highest number since the state began tracking outbreaks – and 25% more than just one week ago. Those are linked to things like long-term care facilities, schools, restaurants, bars, offices and small social gatherings.
Because of the sharp increase in cases, Khaldun warned that contact tracers are struggling to keep up.
“Because there are now so many positive cases and those cases each have so many contacts, it is taking longer for us to reach all of them,” Khaldun said. “This means that there may be people walking around who are a close contact of a positive case and they don’t even know it. In fact, only 28 percent – less than a third – of the positive cases that we are investigating were in quarantine at the time of their diagnosis. This means that over two thirds of positive cases are out and potentially spreading the virus to others.”
Khaldun warned that “we are potentially looking at some of the deadliest, most grim days of this entire pandemic ahead of us if we do not collectively change our behaviors.”
Whitmer put a visual to that warning, noting that with the rate at which people are currently dying from the virus, the country is experiencing a loss similar in scale to the 9/11 terrorist attack every three days.
“Try to imagine ten 737 airplanes crashing to the ground every single day. That’s what we’re facing. A 9/11 every three days. No one is safe from this virus,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer encouraged everyone to think carefully about whether to partake in activities that were not allowed earlier in the pandemic but are now, like dining in restaurants, visiting indoor movie theaters or hosting small social gatherings.
“Just because you’re allowed to do something, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that it is a smart thing to do,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer warned that if people don’t voluntarily change their behavior to slow the spread of the virus, additional regulations may need to be reinstated.
“Right now, my team and I are following the numbers closely and strongly considering all actions that we can take to keep Michiganders safe,” Whitmer said. “But every one of us has to play a part. We all have a personal responsibility to do our part.”
Whitmer said she is open to working with the Republican controlled Michigan Legislature on a plan to address the pandemic, but noted they shot down the idea of codifying a mask mandate that is currently in effect through an order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“They’ve not shown an appetite for that – or, frankly, for anything else. In fact, they’re not in session, I think, until December. This is the worst week of COVID we’ve ever had. And two weeks from now, we’re going to see our numbers continue to climb without significant action by the people across our state,” Whitmer said. “I know that there are many who hope we can find common ground bipartisanly on this; I would welcome that. But at this juncture, we are facing incredibly dire circumstances. And it may be necessary for us to take some quick action here.”
Michigan had 236,225 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Tuesday, and 7,811 people have died from the virus.
Of the confirmed cases, 8,198 are in Genesee County, and 337 people in the county have died from the virus.