By Bria Brown

(CBS DETROIT) – Governor Gretchen Whitmer held a press conference on Dec. 29 providing updates on the State’s response to COVID-19.

Whitmer says because of the actions that Michiganders have taken, the state’s numbers are “better than all of our midwestern neighbors,” adding that the numbers are encouraging and will continue to be monitored.

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  • The governor is urging the Legislature to pass legislation to protect public health by requiring masks be worn in public to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
  • Whitmer said studies have shown that if everyone wears a mask until the vaccine is widely distributed, hundreds of thousands of American lives can be saved.
  • On Monday, Whitmer’s administration announced the distribution of the vaccine to skilled nursing home residents and staff.
  • On Tuesday, prior to the press conference, Whitmer signed a $106 million bipartisan relief bill and bills extending unemployment benefits to 26 weeks.
    • The relief bill includes $55 million to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19.
    • Grants of up to $20,000 will be made available to small businesses across the state that need support this winter. 
    • The relief bill also includes $3.5 million for grants of up to $40,000 each for live music and entertainment venues and includes $45 million in direct payments to workers who have been laid off or furloughed as a result of the virus. 
  • The governor also signed bipartisan Senate Bill 604 extending unemployment benefits for Michiganders who have lost work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic from 20 to 26 weeks until the end of March 2021.

When Whitmer signed the bipartisan relief bill, she line item vetoed any items not subject to negotiated agreement. That includes a $220 million giveaway of taxpayer money to the employer-owned Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund — a pool of funds designed to help businesses fund benefits for laid off workers. General fund dollars must be used to fund essential services like vaccines and PPE, not to give tax breaks to big businesses. The Unemployment Insurance Agency has also provided more than $900 million in tax breaks to businesses impacted by COVID-19. 

“I proposed this stimulus plan to the legislature in November because I know how much our families, frontline workers, and small businesses need relief. This bipartisan bill will provide families and businesses the support they need to stay afloat as we continue working to distribute the safe and effective vaccine and eliminate COVID-19 once and for all,” said Whitmer. “There is still more work to do to eliminate this virus and grow our economy. All Michiganders have a personal responsibility to do their part and mask up, practice safe social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings where the virus can easily spread from person to person. We will beat this virus together.

Here are updates from Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health.

  • Cases are now at 279 cases per million people and have been declining for more than 38 days. The state is still at a rate of more than four times than what data showed at the beginning of September.
  • Test positivity is at 8.4 percent and has been declining for multiple weeks, but the test positivity rate is almost three times more since September.
  • The Saginaw and Jackson regions have test positivity rates above 10 percent. These regions have seen a decline in cases, but they have the highest case rate in the state Khaldun said.
  • 13.8 percent of the state’s in-patient beds are being used to treat COVID-19 patients. This is down 16.5 percent from the previous week.
  • Deaths in the state are declining. There’s been an average of 107 deaths per day compared to 123 deaths per day the previous week.

“Overall there is reason to be cautiously optimistic, but it’s important that people do not get complacent,” she said. Khaldun says what is being seen in the data is not a “cause to celebrate.”

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“We are still identifying many cases across the state everyday and it only takes one gathering for it to spread through multiple households and their close contacts,” she said.

Khaldun also urged Michiganders to continue to get tested for COVID-19 if they have symptoms of the coronavirus or have been around anyone with symptoms. The chief medical executive added Michigan testing is the lowest now than it has been in recent months with only 37,307 tests on average in the past week. For more information on testing sites, visit here.

Vaccinations began two weeks ago in Michigan. As of Tuesday, nearly 71,000 people have been vaccinated in the state, Khaldun said and with Michigan beginning vaccinations in longterm care facilities, there are already over 490 clinics scheduled in these facilities in the upcoming weeks.

For more information or resources for the COVID-19 vaccine, visit here.

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