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During the State of the State address, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer highlighted the state’s accomplishments in combating COVID-19.
At times, she painted a rosier picture of the state’s achievements than warranted.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday called for bipartisan action to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and put the state on a path toward economic recovery.
The call came in a State of the State address delivered in the midst of continuing clashes with the GOP-led Legislature over her handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Whitmer highlighted what she sees as the state’s accomplishments in the face of a pandemic that has killed more than 14,000 Michiganders, and urged the Legislature to take action to speed the state’s recovery. But at times, she painted a rosier picture of the state’s achievements than warranted.
We took a closer look at some of her claims.
CLAIM: "We have performed over 9.6 million tests, which makes us 7th in the nation."
Michigan ranks among the highest in the nation for the number of tests administered, but much lower for tests per capita. Michigan is the 9th most populous state in the country.
As of Jan. 26, Michigan providers had conducted more than 9.3 million diagnostic tests, which are used to determine whether someone currently has COVID-19, and roughly 480,000 serology tests, which look for the possibility of previous infection. That brings the total to just over 9.8 million tests, so Whitmer’s number was accurate.
As for the rankings, it is difficult to compare, because some states report the number of people tested each day while others report the number of tests administered. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Michigan is among the nation’s leaders in tests administered, and ranks fifth among states that report their data that way. But per capita, Michigan lags. In the past week, it administered 3,920 tests each day for every 1 million residents, placing the state behind 22 others that report the number of tests administered.
CLAIM: "By acknowledging [the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color], we not only saved lives in Michigan, but around the country as other states learned from us."
In late April, Whitmer established the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, which has been hailed as a national model for addressing the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color.
In April, Black people — who make up 13.7% of the state’s population — accounted for 42.93% of COVID-19 deaths, according to a Detroit Free Press analysis. That share has decreased significantly since then. The death and infection rate among Black residents in the state has also declined significantly and converged with other racial groups. And Michigan seems to have bucked the national trend, as Black communities across the country continue to experience disproportionately high death rates.
Public health experts say the state as well as local governments can claim some credit for reducing racial disparities over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, but pointed to other factors, too, such as the embrace of mask-wearing among Black residents, the changing geographical spread of the virus and a surge in cases among white people.
CLAIM: "Michigan has administered over 800,000 vaccines, which makes us 6th in the nation. The number of vaccines we have administered has surpassed the number of recorded cases in Michigan."
Michigan ranks sixth in the country for the number of vaccine doses administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it is further behind — 20th place — on a per capita basis.
Of the 659,000 Michiganders vaccinated, 143,000 have received the required second dose.
CLAIM: "My plan includes a call on the Legislature to permanently extend unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks. This would bring Michigan in line with 40 other states."
There are actually 45 states that provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits to their residents under their regular unemployment systems, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Of those, 19 have extended benefits for an additional 13 or 20 weeks during the coronavirus pandemic.
In January, Whitmer’s line-item veto of a COVID-19 relief bill eliminated a temporary six-week extension of unemployment benefits. Her office said that the Legislature tied the benefits extension to funding, a move her office says it never agreed to. And now Whitmer is asking the Legislature to permanently extend aid to 26 weeks. The state’s regular unemployment insurance offers only 20 weeks of coverage.
The COVID Tracking Project, Michigan Overview, accessed 1/28/21
Michigan Coronavirus, Michigan Data, accessed 1/28/21
Office of the Governor, Executive Order No. 2020-55, signed 4/20/20
POLITICO, "Which states had the best pandemic response?," 10/13/20
Detroit Free Press analysis COVID-19 data
Kaiser Family Foundation, "COVID-19 Testing," accessed 1/28/21
The Detroit Free Press, "Why are racial disparities in Michigan’s COVID-19 cases and deaths shrinking?," 1/22/21
Michigan Coronavirus, COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard, accessed 1/28/21
Michigan Coronavirus, accessed 1/28/21
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States, accessed 1/28/21
The Detroit Free Press, "Whitmer unveils massive COVID-19 recovery plan, includes millions for jobs, schools," 1/19/21
The Detroit Free Press, "Political battle leaves new Michigan jobless with 20 weeks of benefits instead of 26," 1/4/21
Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, "Interim Report," November 2020