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Whitmer extends emergency declaration in Michigan through Aug. 11

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer extended her state of emergency declaration for Michigan through Aug. 11, saying Tuesday that COVID-19 is "still a very real threat in our state."

The nearly four-week extension comes as the governor's office says every region in Michigan saw an uptick in new COVID-19 cases over the past three weeks as other states have experienced spikes in infections and hospitalizations.

On Tuesday, Michigan confirmed 584 new cases of the virus and six new deaths linked to it, pushing the overall case total to 70,306 and the death toll to 6,081.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, provide an update on responding to COVID-19 during a press conference on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

The emergency declaration is what gives the governor the ability to take unilateral steps to combat the virus, like her Friday executive order to require businesses to ensure customers wear masks. She also has issued orders to suspend indoor service at bars and to limit public gatherings.

During an appearance on CNN Tuesday night, Whitmer said the state is at a "critical" moment in its fight against COVID-19.

"We’re supposed to start school in 56 days," she told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "That is not that far off. So the conduct that we engage in right now is going to determine whether or not our kids get back into school in a meaningful way in person.

"That’s why right now it’s time to get more serious, push this curve back down."

In June, Whitmer extended the emergency declaration through Thursday.

Michigan confirmed its first cases of the virus on March 10.On that same day, Whitmer, a Democrat, issued her first emergency declaration because of COVID-19. Aug. 11 is 154 days after that first declaration.

Laura Cox, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, acknowledged Tuesday that Michigan is still under threat from COVID-19 but said Whitmer needs to begin working with the GOP-controlled Legislature to combat it.

"By continually extending her state of emergency order, she has intentionally circumvented the checks and balances our system of government is built on and given the cold shoulder to our legislative leaders who represent nearly 10 million Michiganders," Cox said.

New COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations remain relatively low in Michigan. And new cases and the percent of positive tests are well below the virus's peak here in April.

COVID-19 testing is performed at a former Sears auto center in Lansing on Monday.

However, the proportion of tests for the virus bringing positive results reached 3.4% last week and has been inching upward for five weeks, according to state data. Also, last week brought a seven-week high in new cases in Michigan with 3,415 reported. The last time Michigan reported more than 3,000 new cases in a week was May 17-23.

"COVID-19 still poses a threat to families across Michigan, and it’s crucial that Governor Whitmer continue to take swift action to save lives,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive.

While the virus hit Metro Detroit hardest in its first months, it's now reaching into other areas of the state. All of the 10 counties that have confirmed the most new cases per capita since July 1 are in West Michigan, northern Lower Michigan or the Upper Peninsula.

Kent County, which includes Grand Rapids, ranks second for new cases compared to overall population since July began. And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has zeroed in on the Grand Rapids area in particular as an emerging hot spot. 

The agency is sending an interagency COVID-19 response field team to the region to support local and state efforts to identify the root cause of infection spread at the community level, identify best practices and launch broader efforts to stop the spread, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. 

Menominee County in the Upper Peninsula ranks third. With a population of about 23,000, it has confirmed 31 new cases since July 1, according to state data.

The county is dealing with two small outbreaks: one at a congregate care facility and one involving a family where someone came in from out of state for a graduation, said Mike Snyder, health officer for the public health agency that serves Delta and Menominee counties.

Whitmer's emergency extension through Aug. 11 also comes as a legal fight continues in the Court of Appeals over her ability to declare emergencies without input from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Meanwhile, a ballot proposal committee called Unlock Michigan is circulating petitions to try to repeal one of the two state laws that allow the governor to declare emergencies.

As of Tuesday, Michigan ranked seventh nationally for COVID-19 deaths and 13th for confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

cmauger@detroitnews.com