Gov. Whitmer: Michigan in 'relatively early phases' with COVID-19

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday that the state, which reported its first cases of COVID-19 six months ago, is still in the "relatively early phases" of fighting the virus.

The Democratic governor made the comment during a question-and-answer session for the virtual Mackinac Policy Conference Conversations series, organized by the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at an online Mackinac Policy Conference event organized by the Detroit Regional Chamber on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

Daniel Loepp, president and CEO, of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, posed questions for the governor, including asking Whitmer where she thought "we're at" with COVID-19.

"We're still, I hate to say it, in the relatively early phases," the governor responded. "This remains a novel virus. We're learning an incredible amount about COVID-19 every day, every week."

Michigan reported its first cases of the virus on March 10. The state has now confirmed 107,812 cases of the virus and 6,539 deaths linked to it. As of Friday, 80,678 Michiganians were considered "recovered" from COVID-19 and hospitalizations remain relatively low, according to state data.

Michigan is in a stronger position going into a potential "second wave" of the virus, which some health experts speculate will arrive in the coming months, than it was in March, Whitmer said. Hospitals are better prepared and the state has built up a better supply of personal protective equipment, she added.

As for how along Michigan might be in combating the virus, Whitmer said she couldn't say precisely.

"I can't put a number on it because a lot of it depends on how quickly this vaccine creation happens and distribution," she said.

Whitmer's comments came Wednesday as the Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments in a legal fight over the governor's ability to declare an emergency and keep the declaration in place without input from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The emergency declaration is what allows the governor to take unilateral steps to combat the virus, such as shuttering specific businesses or requiring residents to wear masks. Republicans contend that Whitmer's extended and continued use of two state laws to declare emergencies violates the separation of powers in government.

In that court fight,a group of Michigan public health experts filed a brief arguing that the "health emergency" presented by the virus will continue until there's a vaccine. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has voiced optimism that a vaccine would be available by next year. But others say it could take years to decades longer based on the past development of other vaccines.

The Mackinac Policy Conference Conversations is a free series, organized by the Detroit cChamber and Detroit Public Television, offering local and national speakers from August through November  The events are inspired by the conversations traditionally held at the Mackinac Policy Conference, which is canceled this year because of the pandemic.