MICHIGAN — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer requested all flags be lowered to half-staff Wednesday and asked residents to turn their porch lights on from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., all in honor of the 16,000 lives lost due to COVID-19 since March 2020.
“Nearly every day in March made headlines news,” Gov. Whitmer recalled during a press conference in Lansing. “I’ll never forget the night when I got the call that Michigan had identified our first cases of COVID-19. That was March 10, 2020.”
One year ago today, she said.
Gov. Whitmer said that the first known case in the U.S. was back on January 21, 2020 in Washington state. By March 7, 100,000 cases were reported worldwide. A few days later, the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic.
“Then on the 23rd I issued a Stay Home, Stay Safe order. On the 27th, the first federal relief package was passed,” Gov. Whitmer continued. “During this time our hospitals were filling up. We were running out of PPE. There were also shortages of essential household supplies, lines at grocery stores, and confusion about how to stay safe from this invisible threat.”
Since then, over 16,000 people have died due to the virus. Even though Michiganders were able to flatten the curve twice, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said, cases are on the rise again.
“Statewide, test positivity has actually increased to 4.1 percent up from 3.4 percent three and half weeks ago,” said Dr. Khaldun, chief medical executive at MDHHS. “The case rate is now at 114 cases per million and has also increased over the past three weeks. We are also starting to see a slight increase in our hospitalizations and a little over 4 percent patient beds are being used to take care of patients who have COVID-19.”
Dr. Khaldun said that officials are seeing a rise in the new variants as well and warned that if residents don’t abide by CDC guidelines as things continue to open up, cases, hospitalizations and deaths may rise again.
“In total, more than 2.7 million of the three safe and in fact effective vaccines have been administered,” Dr. Khaldun said. “About 21 percent of people over the age of 16 have had at least one dose of the vaccine. And, we are getting more into the state every week.”
She said soon officials will be able to expand vaccine eligibility to people over the age of 50 with underlying conditions and disabilities. The end goal is to vaccinate 70 percent of the state, people ages 16 and up.
Gov. Whitmer described the year as ‘equal parts historic and heartbreaking,’ considering it also included global protests for racial justice and a presidential election. However, she stressed the importance of continuing to follow CDC guidelines in order to beat the virus entirely.
“We need to continue masking up and social distancing and washing our hands,” she said. “This is about everyone’s safety, not just our own.”