One year of pandemic
The first news releases from the state read like the prelude to a disaster novel.
“I have declared a state of emergency to harness all of our resources across state government to slow the spread of the virus and protect families,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a release announcing the first cases of COVID-19 in Michigan on March 10, 2020.
What came after has been unprecedented in the history of the state. As of Tuesday, 15,699 people have died from the coronavirus. Nearly 600,000 Michiganders have contracted it. Schools and businesses shut down for months. Regular life as we know it has changed dramatically and, maybe, permanently.
The state’s news releases grew steadily more urgent as the scope of the pandemic worsened.
“STAY HOME WHEN YOU ARE SICK,” reads a March 11 release on how to avoid infection.
In March 2020 alone, the state issued 140 releases announcing everything from school closures to advice for businesses considering laying off workers. Some days, the state sent out as many as 12 releases.
The releases came from the governor’s office, the attorney general, the secretary of state, the Department of Health and Human Services, and a range of other departments covering everything from workplace safety to the closing of state welcome centers.
Overall, they paint a picture of state government doing everything it could think of to address a unique public health emergency. At the same time, it is clear officials were working with limited information and a rapidly changing situation.
The first few reports of COVID-19 infections came out by news release. It quickly became apparent that method wasn’t sufficient, with dozens of new cases reported each day. The state switched to its online dashboard six days after the first cases were announced.
That dashboard illustrates the scope of new infections, which wouldn’t even peak until the second wave eight months later.
Still, those early days of the pandemic were notable for how quickly things changed and how ill-prepared we were for the changes to come.
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