Whitmer, Gilchrist, Dr. Khaldun join Town Hall stress urgency of masks, working together to fight COVID-19

To get your questions answered, FOX 2 hosted a virtual town hall with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday, July 8.

The governor answered your questions live on our Facebook page at 7 p.m. regarding COVID-19, the economy, and more. 

FOX 2's Roop Raj hosted the Town Hall and the governor joined virtually along with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.

The goal was simple: ask your honest questions to the governor and the state's leadership and we'll let them answer you directly. 

Going back to Phase 3?

One of the first questions was if Gov. Whitmer has plans to move Michigan back into phase 3 as cases rise. 

"It depends on you, the viewers. It is a dangerous virus, a novel virus which means we have never seen this before. Up to 30 percent who get COVID-19 never get a symptom that has it. That is why it is important that everyone has a mask," she said. "We have gotten a little with bars, we are looking at firming up our mask rules. You are required to mask when you are out in stores. That is the law of the land. It is incumbent on us to stay smart. What phase we land on, is dependent on us."

The Governor said she's considering actions in the future but is not going back to phase 3 but wants to tighten up phase 4. 

Racial disparity in cases and deaths

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist was asked about the racial disparity in cases and deaths in state.

"COVID-19 served as a highlighter to why some African-American communities have been impacted more. I have lost 23 people to me from covid19. They were from all walks of life but the one thing in common was they were all black," he said. "There were a number of factors for African Americans being disproportionately affected. Jobs were one factor … (But) dealing with some of those has (made) Michigan a real leader in delivering testing to the most vulnerable communities. The state of Michigan and Detroit have innovated drive-thru testing. Testing is the front door to treatment. The (state’s)  task force has really tried to address that."


How will we ensure the safety of teachers and students in schools, as well as school support staff in fall?

"First and foremost, our goal is to keep our children safe," Whitmer said. 

Whitmer said the state consulted a number of experts to discuss best practices. They created a team that was chaired by Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation. Over 1,500 people applied and 25 were chosen, with representation from across the state. 

“What they did was took the time to study to understand best pract to work with our health expertise to make sure we got this right,” Whitmer said.

She said she's watching everything very closely over the next eight weeks and gathered a number of experts to compile best practices for school to resume in the fall. 

Last week, Whitmer announced the Return to School Roadmap which is based on the phased reopening plan for the entire state that requires school boards to prepare for each phase.

"School boards are going to have to adopt these plans and submit them," she said.

So when the time for school to begin arrives in eight weeks, the safety measures depend on which phase the state is in, Whitmer said. If the state gets rolled back to phase three, they will not do in-person instruction, but if it remains in Phase 4 or higher, the state will resume in-person classes.

The governor said the safety measures will be determined at the local level -- school boards will need to have a plan for each phase the state could be in. They’ll need to adopt those plans and submit them to the state.

“These will have to be determined at the local level, and that’s why it’s so important parents are engaged,” Whitmer said.

COVID-19 in nursing homes

The governor has come under fire for a policy early on in the fight against the virus about nursing homes housing COVID-19 patients. Several commenters asked about that policy and Gov. Whitmer said it was made with the information on hand, at the time.

"We know that this experience has played out across the planet frankly but we’ve seen it in real-time here in the U.S., first in Seattle then of course across the U.S.," she said. "In every step of the way we've followed the CDC best guidance and our policies reflected that...we never once required that nursing homes took COVID-19 patients. Many chose to and when they did they took the CDC guidelines."

The governor said this was one of the many sad aspects about COVID-19 and said if she knew then what she knows now, she'd change that decision.

"At the time the CDC was the gold standard," Whitmer said. "Our nursing home death numbers are far too many but are better than in many other states. At the time we followed the protocols the cdc has prescribed. We always have a mindest we are going to be conservative and follow the science."

What daily numbers mean

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joneigh Khaldun addressed the daily number of cases that are released every day.

"What you see in the cases that come out that is a case, not a test. Each case is one positive test. We don’t put as much on one day of reported test results. Because the day that it comes to our health dept., it may not be relatable to the onset of our test cases," Dr. Khaldun said. "What we know from human nature is we have a dip in reporting, and today with the holiday, there is a backlog of labs that did not report until today. We are reporting antibody tests on our website as well."

Mask up

The governor has been pushing all of Michigan to 'mask up' as well as for the entire country to have a policy. The reason, she said, is simple.

"Masks are an easy, low-cost way to protect ourselves. We know if we all stayed in for two weeks COVID-19 would sputter to a halt. We go to work, the store, we are human beings. If we are masked up we can do all these things safely. You saw what happened at Harper's. They are inside, not wearing masks, they were raising their voices there was music and dancing. These are things that absolutely lead to the spread of COVID-19. We know if 2 people are wearing masks, the percentage of spreading COVID-19 goes into the single digits. Everybody should be masked up. This is a virus in which there is no cure and no vaccine. this one thing we know works, aside from staying inside and not going anywhere," Whitmer said.

Gilcrest said while many understand what masks can prevent, he challenges a different line of thinking: “It enables us to be able to do more things.”

By that he said he means it’s more likely children will be able to attend school in person, more people would be able to become re-engaged in their jobs, and more people could do more things in their communities.

“We don't need to have small thinking when it comes to what masks do,” he said.

Shut it down, again?

Lenore asked - why don't we just shut everything down for another 2 or 3 weeks to get a handle on the virus? Is there a compromise.

The short answer, yes, there is. We can still go out in public - with a mask.

“Wearing masks - that's the compromise that can keep us safe and can keep our economy engaged, it’s really that simple,” Whitmer said.

But she said the trajectory the state is on at this point in time is “troubling.” That’s why she said now’s the time to double down on wearing masks, washing hands, and staying home when possible.

The governor said the economic pain is a direct result of the public health issue. When it comes to those states that may have re-engaged too soon.

“They are going to pay a much more fiscal price for their lack of discipline ... we don't want to be them and we want to keep ours as minimal as possible,” she said.

Gyms staying open

Mathew asks: (along with others about what's going on with gyms) -- I own a small gym and have remained closed - yet gyms around us are opening and NOTHING is being done.

“Well I’d like to know what those gyms are because I think that we’ve got assistance from the attorney general’s office, assistance from local law enforcement -- they should at the very least be written tickets,” she said.

The governor said she understands it’s frustrating and not right that some people are breaking the law for their own financial benefit, while others are doing the right thing. 

And on top of that, “businesses that are willing to flout the law are those that aren't following the right (safety) protocols,” she said.