'Youth will not protect you': Gov. Whitmer says 1 in 5 COVID-19 cases are between 25 and 34, urges mask use

Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday is urging all Michigan residents to wear a mask saying not only is it the law, but it will save countless lives.

In a press conference Thursday to discuss the state's status in the fight against COVID-19 as the state reports its highest cases in six weeks, Whitmer urged everyone to put a mask on, specifically people in their 20s and 30s.

"Right now the law requires that anyone in an enclosed space requires you wear a mask," Whitmer said, saying that one in five COVID-19 cases are people between the age of 25 and 34.

"Youth will not protect you from carrying and spreading this virus to your friends and neighbors."

The governor said her office is looking into ways to enhance and strengthen the executive order that requires masks in public but made no announcements about it on Thursday.

When asked if she would impose fines or criminal charges on people for not complying, she said she doesn't want to take that step.

"The last thing I want to do is dole out lots of penalties. We're trying to get people to do the right things for the right reasons," she said. "Without a cure or a vaccine, a mask is the safest way to protect yourself from the spread of COVID-19."

Whitmer said people should urge their friends, neighbors, and family to 'mask up' or the state's COVID-19 cases and deaths will both increase.

"If we let our guard down, we could see a rapid increase in cases and deaths here in Michigan," she said. "That means more people getting sick and more people dying." 

On Wednesday, Michigan announced there were 610 more confirmed cases of COVID-19. This marked the first time Michigan was over 600 since May 29th and the highest the state has seen in a single day since May 20th. 

Cases are spiking throughout the state and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said that one area of concern is the Upper Peninsula.

"The Upper Peninsula is seeing the highest rate of cases throughout the entire pandemic," she said.

It's the growing number of new cases that has residents' eying where the state's next step could be on its MI Safe Start roadmap. As indicated when she first announced it, Whitmer said the hope is to shift regions in Michigan through 6 phases before as it straddles economic rekindling with public health safety. But that doesn't mean the state won't take steps backwards.

During a virtual town hall with FOX 2 Wednesday night, the governor said she'd look at tightening up loose ends in phase 4 before shifting the entire state to phase 3. As a recap:

  • Phase 3 'Flattening' means construction, manufacturing, real estate and outdoor work is permitted, while gatherings of people are not permitted
  • Phase 4 'Improving' means people can go into their office and other retail stores can reopen

Recent orders that allowed for more reopening meant residents could even dip their toes into phase 5, which allowed for restaurants and bars to start operating indoor service while K-12 schools could start teaching in-person.

Earlier this week, in an interview with CNN, Whitmer said she was prepared to 'dial back' the state if COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“We’re going to continue to monitor the numbers. If they keep moving up, we’re going to dial back if we have to. That’s the last thing any of us want. I’ve got to tell you, I want to reengage this economy more than anyone, but I’m not going to do it if it is too risky to do so, and that’s why we’re seeing focus on the epidemiology. I’m not going to be bullied into moving before it’s safe, and if we have to move back, we’re gonna," Whitmer said.

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

Whitmer has already closed indoor bar service after one notable outbreak at an East Lansing bar led to more than 150 new cases of COVID-19. She said she would consider deploying more restrictive face mask rules before closing down other sectors of the economy.

The most recent data offered by the state finds 65% of its hospital beds are occupied. The notable availability in hospital capacity serves as one of several good indicators for how severe the outbreak is in Michigan. Cases have continued climbing, but the state's death rate has remained low. So has its hospitalizations. 

But as is the repeating narrative with most COVID-19 related trends is the two-week delay that typically follows exposure to the virus. Which means often new case counts stem from activities that were ongoing about 14 days ago. Notable benchmarks these days are holidays like the 4th of July and Memorial Day when people traveled around the state, potentially bringing the virus with them.

It also takes about two weeks for trends to reflect policy changes like restaurant shutdowns and travel restrictions. 

FOX 2 will stream the press conference live at 11:30 on this page.