Whitmer: Patients in Michigan are 'fighting for their lives' as cases grow to 110

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — On the day of the first reported death tied to COVID-19 in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told reporters Wednesday that others in the state who have been diagnosed "are fighting for their lives."

"People need to take this seriously," Whitmer said during a press conference at the state's emergency operations center. "We had someone die today because of COVID-19. There are other people that have been diagnosed that are fighting for their lives.”

The press conference came about three hours after the first reported death of a Michigan patient with COVID-19. The patient was a man in his 50s at a Beaumont Health hospital in Wayne County.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan's chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health, said she expects more fatalities and more cases.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Michigan had reached 80 by Tuesday night, according to data released by the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday. But health policy experts say the number of cases is actually much larger because not everyone with the virus is tested.

Khaldun said there are least 30 additional cases confirmed in Michigan as of Wednesday afternoon. That would mean the state has 110 cases, up from the 80 total reported as of 2 p.m. Wednesday.

"A week ago we were standing here with two cases and now we are well above 100 cases," Whitmer said. "We’ve been working incredibly hard to marshal all the resources we can to support people in this tough time.”

The state still is working to incorporate private lab data into its daily positive test count, but some "technology and communication" issues have so far stood in the way, Khaldunhe said. 

"It is very possible you'll see an order mandating the sharing of information so that we can have a handle on this," Whitmer said.

Once the private lab numbers are added, it is likely there will be a significant jump in total positive tests if Oakland County is any indication. 

At the same time the state reported Oakland County had seven new cases, the county reported Wednesday it had 43 new cases — in part due to those added private lab tests. 

The state is also working to get a tally of what types of emergency resources are available at state hospitals, Khaldun said. 

"We are working with our medical providers as we speak to get comprehensive data regarding beds, gowns, gloves, masks and testing supplies … and ventilators as well," Khaldun said.

Whitmer noted efforts to reduce the impact of closures on working residents throughout Michigan through tax foreclosure deferrals and expanded unemployment benefits. But the closure of Detroit automakers' factories will have an "impact on our economy," she said. 

"These are people who work hard and they are the backbone of the Michigan and the American economy," Whitmer said. "I know this was not an easy decision for them.”

In the last week, the governor has moved to limit the spread the virus in Michigan. On Thursday, she shuttered Michigan's schools for three weeks. She's also banned public gatherings of more than 50 people and closed bars, movie theaters, workout facilities and dine-in service at restaurants.