``We've known for a long time that the single most important
weapon we have against this virus is the simple act of wearing a
mask,'' Whitmer said. ``Wearing a mask protects our families, it
protects ourselves, it protects our frontline workers, and our
most vulnerable members of our society.''
Her plea for help came as lawmakers opened a lame-duck session
following the election, in which Republicans retained their
majority in the state House. They also control the Senate.
``The Legislature has said time and time again that they want to
have a role, that they really want to be a partner in fighting
this virus,'' Whitmer said in a video news conference, calling
for a statewide mask law to be the first order of business when
Rep. Jason Wentworth,
a Republican who will become House speaker in January, said
Whitmer has failed to collaborate with lawmakers for months.
``It looks more like a press stunt to me than it does an actual
policy,`` Wentworth told reporters at the Capitol in Lansing.
More than 197,800 cases of COVID-19 and 7,470 resulting deaths
have been confirmed in Michigan, according to the state
Department of Health and Human Services. And 5,710 were
confirmed Thursday—the highest daily total yet.
``We're seeing more than five times the number of new cases per
day now than we saw in early September,'' said Dr. Joneigh
Khaldun, the department's chief medical executive.
About 43,000 diagnostic tests were performed daily over the past
week, she said. But the rate of positive results has been rising
for the past five weeks and is now at 7.5%.
More than 1,900 people in Michigan were in the hospital with the
virus as of Wednesday—nearly four times as many as at the end of
August, Khaldun said.
Models suggest that unless Michigan residents alter their
behavior, up to 100 will die each day from the virus by the end
of December, she said.
``We are really at a tipping point right now,'' Khaldun said,
warning that rates are ``rising exponentially.''
In about half the positive cases under investigation, the
patients had no idea where they were infected, she said. Local
health departments are tracking over 590 outbreaks that occurred
in settings ranging from long-term care facilities to schools,
factories and social gatherings.
Whitmer said part of the problem appears to be a growing fatigue
with the virus and masks, adding that political rhetoric had
``created a lot of confusion and unnecessary suspicion.''
``It does appear that Michiganders have started to let their
guard slip,'' she said, adding that she wasn't planning another
stay-at-home order like the one imposed earlier this year. Back
then, there was ``uncontrolled community spread`` and a shortage
of personal protective equipment, and it wasn't as clear how
helpful mask wearing could be, she said.
But the situation could worsen during the holiday season if
people have their usual large family gatherings and socials,
``It is killing us, it is jeopardizing our economy, threatening
our health care system,'' she said.
The governor also called on Congress and President Donald Trump
to agree on a relief package for unemployed workers, small
businesses and schools.
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration
is stepping up scrutiny of Michigan businesses' policies on
working remotely and will announce a new initiative next week to
educate and seek compliance with guidelines for offices, Whitmer
The agency can require improvements and fine businesses up to
$7,000 for requiring employees to report to work when they can
do their jobs remotely, she said.
Anna Liz Nichols contributed to this report from Lansing,
Michigan. Nichols is a corps member for the Associated
Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for
America is a nonprofit national service program that places
journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.