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Whitmer: State needs flexibility, not 'textbook-specific' marker to trigger reopening

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday the state intentionally left out specific numeric benchmarks to signal a transition from one phase to the next in her six-phase plan to reopen parts of Michigan and the economy. 

She said the state needed flexibility to consider a variety of factors when considering re-engaging parts of the economy, such as testing, confirmed cases, availability of personal protection equipment and human activity. 

"There's no textbook-specific number that will tell you it is safe to reopen a certain sector of the economy," Whitmer said during a livestreamed news conference. 

MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, May 13, 2020.

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun echoed the sentiment moments later, noting the context of the data is important.

"There's no special formula that will tell us how and when to reopen," Khaldun said. For example, a certain region may have an uptick in cases, but officials would have to drill down into what was causing the uptick to better understand the cause and consequences of the data, she said. 

"Is that associated with a specific facility, a nursing facility or a workplace? Or is it just widespread?" Khaldun said.

Without aggressive social distancing and the stay-home order, modeling predicted a median estimate of 32,000 more cases at this point in time and 3,480 more deaths, Whitmer said. 

"Not to mention that we would have likely overwhelmed our health care system, and so outcomes for those positive cases would have been worse," she said.

The state needs to remain "nimble" and be prepared to "pull back" on some areas where restrictions are lifted if there's a need to do so, Whitmer said. Social distancing in Michigan so far has helped to slow the virus' spread, she said. 

"If we had not taken the action that we did, more people would have died and the disease would have spread much further than it did," Whitmer said.

The governor's comments come as Lansing braces for what's expected to be a large protest and counter-protest Thursday at the state Capitol regarding her executive orders. 

The state disclosed 370 new cases and 40 new deaths linked to the virus in its daily report Wednesday, pushing the overall totals to 48,391 cases and 4,714 deaths, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com