Whitmer on anniversary of 1st COVID cases: 'We'll beat this damn virus'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer commemorated the one-year anniversary of Michigan's first COVID-19 cases Wednesday by saying the state had been "tested" and "tough" in fighting the pandemic.

"Together, I know, we’ll beat this damn virus and rebuild our economy and communities back stronger than ever before," Whitmer said.

Over the last year, the state has confirmed 15,707 deaths linked to the virus, and the battle against it has led to job losses, school building closures and limits on public gatherings that have altered the daily lives of residents across Michigan.

As of Wednesday, the state had confirmed 601,284 cases since March 10, 2020. However, infection rates have dropped over the last month, and 1.7 million Michiganians have now received their first dose of the vaccine.

Whitmer has ordered U.S. and Michigan flags within the State Capitol Complex and on all public buildings and grounds across the state to be lowered to half-staff Wednesday to mark the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus in Michigan and mourn those who died from COVID-19. 

Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist also asked residents to turn on the lights outside their homes from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday in remembrance of those who've died because of the pandemic.

"In times of darkness, the light we seek resides in one another," Whitmer said Wednesday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announces the state's first two cases of coronavirus, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at the Michigan State Police headquarters in Windsor Township.

Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan's chief medical executive, had a cautious but optimistic tone during the press briefing. Breaking with tradition, the governor didn't take questions Wednesday from the media.

Khaldun said the state has experienced slight increases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and the percentage of tests bringing positive results in recent days.

Last week, Michigan reported 8,473 new cases, the second straight week with an increase. The Department of Health and Human Services has also tracked more than 500 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom and its first case of the B.1.351 variant traced to South Africa, with both variants believed to be more contagious.

"If these new variants become more prevalent, we risk having a rapid rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” Khaldun said. "So we're starting to see a slight reversal in some of the progress that we've made over the past couple of months."

But she and Whitmer also touted efforts to vaccinate Michiganians.

"The people of Michigan know what to do to fight this virus back," Khaldun said. "While our battle is not yet over, we have the tools we need to bring this pandemic to an end as quickly as possible."

Whitmer and Khaldun announced Michigan's first two cases of the virus at a 10:45 p.m. press conference on March 10, 2020. Khaldun said the state learned of the presumed positive results late Tuesday evening, "a couple of hours" before the emergency broadcast.

"These are the first known cases of COVID-19 here in the state of Michigan," Khaldun said a year ago Wednesday. "It is very likely that we will see more cases and that there will be community spread.”