Whitmer issues urgent call for Michigan residents to wear face coverings

Tougher penalties for not wearing a mask and increased restrictions could come with higher infection rates
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a press conference on Michigan's coronavirus response.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a press conference on Michigan's coronavirus response.
Published: Jul. 9, 2020 at 11:48 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - As the number of coronavirus cases in Michigan continues rising, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an urgent call for residents to wear face masks and coverings as directed.

She didn’t announce any tougher restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus on Thursday, but she said the current trajectory is going in the wrong direction and could affect the prospect of allowing in-person classes at K-12 schools in the fall.

Whitmer called on Michiganders to be “polite, yet forceful” in encouraging others to wear masks.

“Human behavior is the thing that is going to determine the direction we are heading in,” she said. “We will do everything we can to encourage the right choices. But at the end of the day it is on us to do our part to educate the people around us, whether it is in the store, or in our household or in our workplace. We have to implore one another to step up and do the right thing.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, who is Michigan’s chief medical executive, said the Grand Rapids region currently is leading Michigan with 40 newly confirmed coronavirus cases per 1 million residents every day. The Detroit, Lansing and Kalamazoo regions are around 20 new cases per 1 million residents daily.

All other regions are below 20 new cases per 1 million people daily. However, Khaldun pointed out that the Upper Peninsula has seen its highest coronavirus levels during the pandemic over the past few weeks.

Bars, casinos, food processors and congregate care facilities have reported outbreaks recently. Khaldun said there is evidence of general community spread of coronavirus taking place, as well.

She acknowledged that testing has increased, but the rate of positive tests increased from 2% to 3% so far this month. Death and hospitalization rates remain low, but Khaldun said those statistics generally lag a few weeks behind a surge in coronavirus cases.

Khaldun said Michigan residents can get the state’s coronavirus levels under control and avoid the massive increases seen elsewhere in the United States by wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

“I know we can beat COVID-19, but it’s going to take everyone doing their part,” she said.

Whitmer issued an order early in the coronavirus pandemic requiring everyone to wear a mask or covering over their nose and mouth whenever they are inside an enclosed space. That order remains in effect, but no penalties are included for violations.

Outdoor gatherings also are limited to 100 people, who must practice social distancing and wear masks when close to others. Whitmer said she may consider toughening the mask rules at some point if coronavirus levels remain high.

“If we let our guard down we could see a rapid increase in cases and deaths from this disease,” she said.

Whitmer pointed to scenes over Fourth of July weekend from Diamond Lake in Cass County, where hundreds of people not wearing masks grouped close together at a sandbar party. She said Florida doubled its number of confirmed coronavirus cases from 100,000 to 200,000 in two weeks, including 11,000 new cases in one day.

Whitmer said young people from age 25 to 34 account for one in five new coronavirus cases.

“Youth will not protect from carrying and spreading this virus to your family and friends,” she said.

Michigan’s coronavirus numbers peaked in early April with more than 1,900 new cases in a single day. By mid-June, the number of cases each day dropped to fewer than 200.

However, the daily case numbers have increased to well over 300 per day -- except for a drop over Fourth of July weekend -- for most days so far this month. Wednesday’s total of 610 newly confirmed cases was the highest since May 19, which followed 543 last Thursday and more than 400 on three other days in July.

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