Pence: People of Michigan will have resources they need

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

President Donald Trump briefly stood in front of a bar graph of COVID-19 cases in Metro Detroit Sunday night as his administration highlighted efforts to combat the virus's spread in Michigan.

Michigan now has the third most confirmed coronavirus cases of all U.S. states. During a White House press conference, administration officials repeatedly discussed their efforts in the state.

President Donald Trump and Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, stand in front of a chart of COVID-19 cases in the Detroit area during a briefing on Sunday, April 5, 2020.

"Michigan and Illinois are in the forefront of our thinking," Vice President Mike Pence said at one point. "And at the president's direction, we're going to make sure the people of Illinois, the people of Michigan have the resources, equipment and support that they need."

Pence detailed conversations he had Sunday with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Duggan, he said, was "grateful" for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval of instant testing kits that are now being used in the city.

Duggan announced Monday that he reached an agreement with Illinois-based Abbott Laboratories to send five testing machines and 5,000 testing kits to Detroit. The machines provide results within 15 minutes.

"Mayor Duggan told me he was able to use the 15-minute test this weekend to test 150 first responders who'd been sidelined because they'd been exposed to the coronavirus," Pence said. "They all got the 15-minute test. They're all back in the line of duty and the mayor couldn't have been more grateful."

Duggan "had a positive and wide ranging conversation" with Pence Sunday afternoon, said John Roach, spokesman for the mayor's office.

Roach said said in the first two days of using the 15-minute tests, nearly 150 first responders tested negative and are being returned to the job while 30 others tested positive. The 30 who tested positive "are getting proper medical care," Roach said.

Duggan indicated he was grateful to Robert Ford, CEO of Abbott Labs, for making it possible for Detroit to be the first city to go live with the 15-minute tests and for the FDA's approval of the Abbott tests, Roach said.

Pence also touted Henry Ford Health System's large-scale study of hydroxychloroquine to find out if the drug commonly used to treat lupus can prevent COVID-19.

Pence said at the "president's urging" he assured Whitmer that the administration is "more than prepared" to make hydroxychloroquine broadly available through pharmacies and doctor's offices in the Detroit area.

The state of Michigan previously requested hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine distributions from the Strategic National Stockpile for use on certain patients with COVID-19. 

Also, during the briefing Sunday, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, showed statistics on confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in Wayne and Oakland counties, the two counties with the most cases in Michigan.

And Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who's leading the Federal Emergency Management Agency's supply chain task force, said he talked with the leadership of the Detroit Medical Center, Detroit's chief operating officer, Hakim Berry, and a health officer for Oakland County over the weekend to "understand their needs."

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said nationwide he has ordered Veterans Affairs hospitals to prepare to make 1,500 intensive care unit and acute care beds available for COVID-19 response. Wilkie specifically mentioned opening beds in Detroit and Ann Arbor but didn't specify a number. He also said a pharmaceutical trailer would be made available at the TCF Center in Detroit. The center will be used as an alternate care facility to help with to overflow patients from hospitals.

Detroit News Staff Writers Christine Ferretti and Beth LeBlanc contributed.