Detroit Regional Chamber

COVID-19 Tele-Town Hall with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

April 17, 2020 Detroit Regional Chamber
Detroit Regional Chamber
COVID-19 Tele-Town Hall with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Chapters
Detroit Regional Chamber
COVID-19 Tele-Town Hall with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Apr 17, 2020
Detroit Regional Chamber

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discussed the state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and the resources available to businesses. Gov. Whitmer then engage in a one-on-one discussion with Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Show Notes Transcript

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discussed the state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and the resources available to businesses. Gov. Whitmer then engage in a one-on-one discussion with Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Sandy Baruah:

Good morning everyone and welcome. I hope everyone is healthy and continues to be well and that you're staying home and staying safe. We know that this is a very difficult time every passing day it becomes more difficult to keep our lives on hold and to watch the painful scenes in our hospitals of our neighbors dying in record numbers due to this Corona virus. The dual threats to our health and our economic viability have never been greater. We have our greatest public health prices coupled with our greatest economic crisis and no one understands these dual crises more than the governor of our state who as chief executive is responsible for both as the health and safety of us all but also our economic health. I am so pleased to once again welcome to the Detroit regional chamber, the governor of the great state of Michigan. Gretchen Whitmer. Governor, thank you so much for taking your valuable time to join us this morning.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

Absolutely. I think this was an important conversation, so thank you for convening it Sandy and for the Detroit Regional Chamber. I'm joined today by uh, with Jeff Donofrio who is the director of our department of labor and economic opportunity. In the event that there are questions that , can jump in on and shed additional insight then . I welcome that and I hope you will as well. Yeah , we've spent nearly six weeks dealing with a crisis unlike any we've seen before. And clearly, Metropolitan Detroit has been hit hard. I know this has been difficult time for all of you and people across our great state. I know, that people are worried about their families and friends and loved ones. But also I know you're very worried about the impact this crisis has had on our economy. And I want you to know I am too, and that we , in this administration and partnership with leaders on this call are doing everything we can to get it right. I know that you all have a lot of valuable insights as to how we can reengage our economy. And I want you to know that we are listening and I look forward to hearing more from you directly today. As I speak to Sandy on that issue. So I want to thank the businesses who have stepped up to help us get through this time. We would not be nearly as equipped to tackle this crisis without the dedicated Michigan businesses who've contributed their time and manufacturing abilities. As of now, we've received three and a half million pieces of PPE from private donations a couple of weeks ago. We literally had less than a day's worth of personal protection equipment for our frontline healthcare providers in Southeast Michigan hospitals. Since then, we've seen Michiganders and businesses step up to donate PPE to hospitals in their areas and our state procurement office has been able to secure PPE through contracting from private businesses from around the world. We've gotten more shipments from the national stockpile and now have at least a few days worth of PPE in some cases up to nine or 10 days. We're hopeful that we can get to a place where we have at least a couple of weeks worth of PPE in our hospitals and that's a critical [inaudible] the thing as we contemplate our next steps, the recent number of businesses that have stepped up to protect people and in their area, it gives me incredible inspiration and confidence that we are going to get there . So I want to talk quickly about the economic crisis that we're facing. It's really important as we start to articulate our strategy for re-engaging our economy that we get it right. I know that this has been an intense and difficult time for businesses of all size in our state. I've heard firsthand from my friends who are small business owners who are worried they've spent a lifetime building their business and now after a few weeks are terrified that it may all be gone. It's heartbreaking. And I know, I know the stress that they're feeling is felt by a lot of people on this call and people across our state. And I know that larger businesses are facing serious risks too and I also know the individuals who are tied to these businesses as their employees are desperate to get back to work because we know, that's what we do in Michigan, right? Hard work is in our DNA. We're developing plans to safely phase in the re-engagement of our economy. Yesterday I announced the bipartisan partnership with seven Midwest States to coordinate the reopening of our region's economy. Uh, we joined , uh, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Governors on both sides of the aisle understand we've got to share our best Intel and be regionally open to communication and, and sharing best practices. We know that our economies are relying on one another and we've got to work together to safely reopen them. So hardworking people can get back to work and businesses can get back on their feet without fear of a second wave, which would be devastating. We look forward to working with and taking a fact-based data-driven approach to reopening our economy in a way protect families from the spread of COVID-19. Our number one priority when analyzing when best to reopen and what it looks like as the health and safety of our people. When we make decisions based on facts and science data and recommendations from experts on health, business, labor and education, we will be successful. So we're going to closely examine the, at least these four factors when determining when it's best and how to re -engage . Uh , one is the same control of the rate of new infections and hospitalizations to enhance stability, to test and trace three sufficient healthcare capacity that's our hospitals to handle a resurgence if we had one, and four best practices for social distancing in the workplace, we're gonna closely coordinate to ensure that we get this right over time. What we're going to get back to work, a restaurant will reopen, things will get back to normal and we look forward to working together as one state and one region to tackle this challenge together. I want you to know, I'm also harnessing the expertise of healthcare , education, labor and business leaders here in Michigan. This is all hands on deck and bringing government business labor health altogether because we've gotta be on the same team. We can't just flip a light switch and return to life March 9th, the day before our first two cases of COVID-19 appeared in Michigan. We're going to have to be strategic and phase in certain sectors of the economy at a time. I value this group's input and trust. Trust your help to develop the plan that works for our families and our economy and keeps, keeps people safe. Our state is a state that is tough. We were built on hard work and innovation and grit . Our businesses and workers that you represent reflect who we are as Michiganders. I know we're going to get through this. It's not going to happen overnight, but if we continue to work together, we can shorten the amount of time we spend in this crisis. So I ask you for your best practices, your best thoughts and your support as we for now stay home and stay safe, but start to mindfully and strategically re-engage the autonomy that we all want to get back. With that Sandy, I'm happy to open it up.

Sandy Baruah:

Great . Thank you governor. So, governor , you've been getting high marks , from the public for your handling of this crisis. But as you know, businesses across the state, you know, our members and other business organizations , uh, are really concerned, especially the small and medium size businesses have become , increasingly concerned, even critical of some of your actions. Uh, what can you tell them about, you know, realizing that there's no way to get to zero risk about their ability to start reopening , sometime in the, in the foreseeable future that gives them confidence that their businesses will still be around?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

Yeah , so, I think that that's an important question, you know and an important premise, there's no way to get to zero risk. All we can do is mitigate risk and be really smart and inclusive as we navigate our next steps. The fact of the matter is COVID-19 is doesn't discriminate based on party line or state line. And that's why our regional strategic approach is really important. We know that we have made available support to individuals and small businesses alike as they're navigating these tough times, whether it's through unemployment or the small business administration. Uh, we have really stepped up to try to help people in this moment. I think that it's really important that we recognize Michigan has a lot of different regions, so we have a lot of different labor sheds, we have a lot of different types of businesses in our economy and so we're taking all of these factors into consideration as we talk about how we phase the re-engagement. We want to make sure that we're smart so that we don't have a second wave. Singapore was the gold standard when it came to , the stay home kind of locked down order that they had and then they just dropped it completely and have a second way that would be devastating for all of us. And so that's what we're trying to avoid and as we're navigating it, we are here to give small business some support along the way. Jeff, Donofrio from labor and economic opportunity I know is working overtime to make sure that that's available for small business.

Sandy Baruah:

Yeah, governor, I think that point about avoiding a situation where we reopen but have to shut down again. That is something that we all need to ensure that we avoid. So we thank you for making that, making that a priority. Uh, one of the areas, and this will not surprise you where we receive most of the most of our comments is regarding home improvement and outdoor activities. I think people understand why they need to stay home to stay safe, but they struggle to understand why they can't pick up paint or grassy to make their a stay at home time. Just a little bit more productive.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

Yeah, I get it. It's confusing to be sure why that's the case though is because we want to eliminate reasons for people to make additional trips. So if you are going to the store and you're at Meijer and you pick up a can of paint, that's fine. But to go to a flooring section of Home Depot specifically to take on a home project , is an added trip that is unnecessary for, to sustain life. I just used the graphic picture of a gas pump. If you're running to the store for a home improvement project and, and I get it, it's maddening to be at home and see issues you want to take care of and you can't do it. But if you're out there, you're stopping at a gas station to fill up. If you've touched that gas pump handle COVID-19 can stay active for 72 hours. So you think of this span of three days, how many people touch that same gas pump handle. That's our nurses and our doctors and our police and our grocery store workers, all of whom we absolutely need to go to work and to stay safe in that process. The more people that are out and about the longer COVID-19 will continue to spread. And the more people that will get sick and the more people that will die. And that's why any unnecessary trips really are, are not permitted right now to bring down the number of people that are sharing and spreading those, those germs. There was Mark Campbell was recently at the White House and he talked about going up North with his family for a ski break . Figured no one was there, they'd be safe. He got sick with COVID-19. And the only thing he could think of was he touched a gas pump when he , when he was filling up. That's precisely what we're talking about in terms of not spreading COVID-19. And every non-essential trip that's out and about , uh , continues to spread and, and makes it , you know , harder for us to get back to a place where we can start to re-engage our economy.

Sandy Baruah:

You know, governor, and you referred to this, what the public can't see is all the work that you are leading to plan for a smart we starting of our economy , and your comments this morning on national television about the possibility of relaxing, some of the stay at home measures were I think greatly appreciated by the businesses that we represent. Can you give our audience a bit of more of the insight of what you are doing with other business representatives and business leaders to smartly restart our economy?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

Absolutely. And I think, you know, as we go into next week, I've got three press conferences scheduled Monday, Wednesday and Friday we're going to continue to share more information with people so they can understand the thought process and, and all of the work that's going into understanding the data so that we're really smart about re-engaging in a , in a safe way. So I've been working with, u m, University of Michigan. Experts in epidemiology and health as well as experts from across the country. Everyone from Dr. Scott Gottlieb, people you see on television all the time because they are some of the national experts. We're also working with experts in business here in Michigan. So, I've engaged with Jerry Anderson and a group of leaders, many of whom might be on the phone to start really working through what do s afe practices look like in individual sectors of our economy. What is the real risk geographically? Where are people traveling the most to get to work when that work needs to be in person. These are all f actors that enhance or bring down risk. And so as we are determining which might be the first wave o f openings, they're being driven by these types of factors and what actions that employers can take to mitigate that risk both to their employees as well as their customers. One of the things that I'm hopeful is that leaders in different sectors are promulgating and coming together to share their best thoughts on that. My husband w ho's a dentist, he's been closed for, you know, a long time now I think five weeks, four or five weeks. He is, you know like a lot of small business people. He's got four employees and he's struggling. I share this with you because that's a job where you are right u p close and personal with people and that's maybe one of the most dangerous jobs that you can do, but the Michigan dental association is starting to promulgate best practices and know that they're paying attention and I think each sector is going to have an opportunity to help drive us. We are well into it right now and there's b een outreach. As we get into next week I'll share more and more each day so that people can really understand, you know, the regional aspect, the work aspect and the type of of work so that you can understand where there's the least amount of risk and where we can get started first and eventually each wave will come if we are successful and we will ramp back up to full production.

Sandy Baruah:

You know, one of the things I want to let the businesses that are on this line know that, you know, since I am a fairly close to some of that work that's taking place , uh, it is, it is very comforting , uh, to know what work is being done on behalf of the governor with the governor. Uh, the, you know, the desire the intensity that's being put into the economic issues is really there. And I know it's kinda hard to see sometimes, especially when you're sitting at home and not able to open your business. Just, I , I hope people understand that that work is, is intense and ongoing, and being very, very productive. So I'm governor, I thank you on behalf of businesses for that and I know you can't really talk too much about what's going on there, but it is very positive work. Uh , governor, just a couple o f last questions before I t urn it over to my friend Tammy Carnrike. Right. First and questions from the audience. U m, just quickly, what are you seeing in terms of infection and death rate trends? U h, in the state, are we leveling off yet?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

There are, you know, Dr. Joneigh Caldoun would caution me from going too far here, but we are seeing some really , um , hopeful signs and with our PPE acquisition going up and our testing ramping up, we're still not quite at the testing where we really need to be, but, and we may never get there. And that's why we've got to build in additional support so we can continue to ,you know , confident in our, in our strategy. But um, between that and the, what appears to be some leveling of new cases being identified and hospitalizations , um, we know that, you know , the stay home order really has had an impact. We were hosting FEMA and the army Corps of engineers and the federal department of health and human services at suburban showplace. The other day when we took a tour and you know , it was originally going to be a thousand bed build out, we've shrunk it to 250 beds and the FEMA representative said, it's because of the stay home order that , that we've saved our , our health care system and where we don't have to build this out as much as, as we were planning to. And so we'd have seen the curve flatten. Um, it's, you know, we'd need to see a sustained flattening to, to feel real confident about it and we don't want to pull too quickly and watch it grow again. But there are some very hopeful signs and that's why it's really important where doing all of this preparation for what re-engagement looks like. Because I am , I believe that we are going to be able to start , um, very, you know, methodically are re-engaging sectors soon.

Sandy Baruah:

With that , let me turn it over to Tammy Carnrike for questions from our audience.

Tammy Carnrike:

Thank you and thank you governor again for joining us today with a large business attendance in this town hall. You can probably not be surprised by this first question. Um, and if you can talk to as much as you can when you plan to reopen businesses.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

Yeah. So, well, thanks Tammy. I want to make sure people know that there's, you're all very enthusiastic about getting back to work and I gotta tell you I am too and really this is, this is tough stuff and no one's more anxious than I am about that prospect and that's why we have , um, engaged Nancy Schlichting and Jerry Anderson to help inform how we reengage and when that is, I thinking using the best medical information as well as the best strategy on the business front. I am hopeful that come may one, we will make some steps forward and as we proceed if that goes well and we continue to see progress that we then go into a second phase. I think what you saw from , um, the President yesterday was a, a guidebook to States and it was talking about phases, recognizing that you can't just do it all overnight. We have to come up with a plan for Michigan and I think Michiganders are the best ones to come up with that plan. And that's why we've been inclusive and thoughtful about how we, how we do this work and plot the strategy. And um, my hope is that we continue to see this number of hospitalizations and tests, you know , positive tests go down so that we can make these steps forward starting May 1st.

Tammy Carnrike:

Okay. Thank you very much, the next question isn't in regard to the great colleges that we have in the State of Michigan and how you see a Michigan colleges coming back from COVID-19 and then as a follow up to that any idea about the students that have requirements like an internship study abroad or clinicals that have been canceled? Has there been any discussions about that?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

I know that there are a lot of discussions going on at our universities. I'll say this, you know , my daughter is a high school senior and I'm getting these same questions in my household about does, what does the fall look like? My second daughter is a high school junior and she doesn't know when she takes the SAT, what college applications look like, when will they be due? I think that these are all important questions that we're working with the universities to make sure that they are in a position to, you know, inform the world what the strategy is, what we're going through is not unique to Michigan. And so there are going to be accommodations made , um, worldwide on all of these fronts. I can't tell you precisely how every school in Michigan will handle this, but I can tell you they are all grappling with it right now and, and plotting what their plan is. Um, my daughter, you know, keeps expecting to find out where she's going to live at the university of Michigan in the fall. And I'm trying to temper her expectations because I'm, I'm not quite sure what it's going to look like. And I know that Mark Schlissel is working diligently to come up with a plan and that's just one of our many fine universities. So we are, I'm mindful that this was a global pandemic. Every state in the nation is confronting this and one one way or another. And , um , I think accommodations will be made on, on most of these fronts . We'll know what they are in the coming month .

Tammy Carnrike:

Okay. Thank you. We are all very proud that you agreed to join a Midwestern coalition. Probably helped lead that , um, to help make decisions on when we start to open in , in our big region. Um, question is have you been coordinating it all with the province of Ontario about reopening the economy in addition to working with these Midwest States?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

That's a good question and I can't say that I have directly had those conversations as I can say I have with every governor that , has joined together and the announcement yesterday. But I think that that's that a really important point and I am going to follow up on that as soon as we get off this call.

Speaker 3:

Okay, that sounds good. Um, and so it's pretty clear by now that most people are staying home at least until April 30th and that's better for our health. Um, but if you can , um, could you talk a bit about how our longer stay at home orders might be better in the longterm for our economy too ? Is our health and our economy mutually exclusive?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

Yeah, they are absolutely intertwined. They're not mutually exclusive. And I think that there are some really informative graphs from the 1918 flu pandemic that , you know, we have as the United States went through, different municipalities have very different , quarantine rules. They called it, more called it quarantine back then , uh, with regard to how they treated a whole municipality and the ones that just put their foot right back on the gas when they thought that the worst was over, went right back into , um, you know, a , a pandemic situation that was, that was costs a lot of lives and of course prolong the pain. Uh , economically what I will do is make sure that we share that with you, Tammy , so that you can forward it onto your members. Cause I think that it's really , uh , an important article that kind of goes through what the experience has been and why it's really important to be strategic as we re-engage. I'm just dropping everything would set us up for a second wave as we've seen happen in Singapore as we saw happen in 1918 and I think the visuals from what happened in municipality to move municipality , um, are, are really powerful and, and help well to understand why it's so important to get this right. So we'll share that with you.

Tammy Carnrike:

Okay. Thank you very much. So you've had to be dealing with a lot of priorities in this crisis and making sure that you're protecting your residents and making right decisions to try and flatten this curve and keep social distancing. But one of the things we haven't heard a lot about, and I'm not sure how much time you're getting to even look at, but what effect is this overall gonna have on our state budget?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

Oh it's going to be tough, there's no question. The lack of economic activity is going to have a dramatic impact on our state budget. We think maybe to the tune of $3 billion in this c urrent fiscal year, which by the way ends at the end of September. U m, so we are going to have to make a lot of tough decisions. We've already done some belt tightening in terms of hiring f reezes that have been in effect for a w hile now in s tate government t o looking at how we might trim some of the current year b udgets. We are already of course, halfway into our budget year and to have that kind of issue that we're going to have to confront is going to be very hard. Every state in the nation is in this position as well. I would just share, we've been working as a group of governors across the country to you know, ask Congress and the white house to make sure that we've got flexibility in regards to the funds that are coming from the federal government to t he States. They've not given us a lot o f flexibility and it's going to be really important that we are able to make decisions based on the needs of our individual States as opposed to being told precisely what those needs look like from the federal government. And so this is a bipartisan effort of the nation's governors and I'm hopeful we're successful, but to the extent that there are people on the phone who are talking to your c ongresspeople and, and might encourage them to make sure we've got that flexibility, that would be really important. So we can continue to prioritize things like Michigan reconnect, which is a upskilling effort of o urs. It's going to be even more important now than ever.

Tammy Carnrike:

All right, governor, while we had a lot of questions here that we couldn't get to all of them, and so , uh , we'll make sure there's good follow up on them. And let me turn it back over to Sandy now.

Sandy Baruah:

Thank you Tammy. Uh, governor we're wrapping up here. I know you've got a very hard stop at 11. Uh , quick question. Uh, especially here in the Detroit Metro area, we have different counties taking on different sets of, of rules regarding public health, is that something that we can do something about in terms of, you know, kind of varying rules from state to state. I mean, excuse me, County to County.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

So we've really been trying to keep the County leadership close that we didn't have a patchwork of different policies. Um, so to the extent that that has happened, I just want you to know we recognize the challenge that comes with that and we've been really trying to keep it , um, homogenous in terms of what that policy looks like. So I'd love to follow up with you after this call. To find out precisely what you're seeing and where we can put our efforts. But yes, I think that's a shared goal we have.

Sandy Baruah:

Great. Thank you, governor. I'm going to turn it back over to you for some final words for our audience.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

Okay. Well, I just want to say this, I appreciate your making time for this conversation. I appreciate your questions and I understand the incredible stress that um, each of us, is confronting as, as leaders of, you know, in my role, but also in your role is as business leaders, a lot of lives are depending on you. You've made incredible investments in our state. And I think if we, if we get this right, we can reengage in a really smart way, that means we don't have to look back and come back into a stay home pasture . That's all of our goal. I know. And so to the extent that you can help encourage people to follow the spirit of the stay home order. So we continue to see these numbers of infections go down, we build up our resources and our hospitals. Those are critical components to us being able to safely re-engage. And I know that's what everyone wants of a swamp . So thank you for your leadership. We're going to send these resources to the chamber and they will send them out to all of you. So you can see some of these things I've referred to and I welcome any input you have in terms of how we make sure that as we reengage to keep our employees and our customers safe. Thanks Sandy.

Sandy Baruah:

No governor , thank you. And you know, I want everyone to know that, you know , that Governor Whitmer gets the economic side of this. So you and I have talked, you've talked to other business leaders. I just want to share our audience that these business and economic issues are top of mind for you and your team. And I also want you to know governor, that, you know, businesses across the state are ready, willing, and able to go back to work under a new set of rules. I think we all understand that it's not going to be business as usual when we're allowed to reopen. With that we want to thank you for your incredible public service and we know you and your team are working tirelessly, literally around the clock. Uh, and certainly our best wishes for good health to you and your family. Thank you governor for your time today. Thank you everyone. Have a great day. Take care.