By Jessica Mathews & Jon King /

Governor Gretchen Whitmer marked the one-year anniversary of Michigan’s first diagnosed cases of COVID-19 during a press conference Wednesday.

Whitmer said the state has been tested and tough in fighting the pandemic and fighting the virus is about the lives of real people– not numbers. The Governor recapped data and actions taken since the start of the pandemic. To mark the one-year anniversary, people across the state were asked to turn on their porch lights for one hour from 8 to 9pm Wednesday night to remember and honor lives lost to COVID-19. Whitmer said the one-year moment was a somber day and it’s hard to overstate how much everyone has been through, including a recession, a historic flood, racial reckoning, and an election.

Whitmer added that they’ll continue following science and data as make decisions on further engagements. However, that approach has led to an impasse with the GOP-led Legislature. Republicans tied about $841 million in previously allocated federal COVID funds to a measure she vetoed that would have ceded certain state pandemic powers solely to local health departments. Noting that GOP legislators had not negotiated with her, Whitmer vetoed $652 million in other aid, including $97 million in federal school funds, until a deal is reached. The House on Wednesday quickly passed bills to restore that funding, including $405 million in state funding for pandemic-affected businesses. But many Democrats voted no, pointing out — as the governor has — that GOP legislators did not include all federal funding for rental home and food assistance. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert, in a letter to state budget director Dave Massaron, said he was unwilling to meet and negotiate funding until the “administration agrees to meet with the Legislature to negotiate its epidemic orders.”

The state’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun commented that at the time, she knew the days ahead would be difficult but she doesn’t think anyone couldn’t have imagined just how challenging the past year would be. She said the virus has ravaged communities, exposed the atrocities of health inequities, and completely disrupted just about every aspect of people’s daily lives. Khaldun said over 15,600 Michiganders have lost their lives but fighting the virus is not about graphs, numbers, or percentages – it’s about real people’s lives.

Khaldun noted that we’re one year into fighting the virus but are not done as it is still very present across the state. It was stated that Michigan is starting to see a slight reversal in some of the progress made over the past couple of months. Khaldun said test positivity increased to 4.1% - which is up from 3.4 % three and a half weeks ago. The state is starting to see a slight increase in hospitalizations but also identifying more and more of the new variants. Khaldun said they’ve identified over 500 cases of the more-easily transmitted B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom. Two days ago, she said the state identified the first known case of a person infected by the new B.1.351 variant, which has been traced to South Africa. If cases become more prevalent, Khaldun cautioned there’s the risk of having a rapid rise in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

On a more optimistic note, it was noted that the state continues to make progress with vaccinations and the best way to beat the virus is to continue to work together. While the year has been hard, it was stated that the silver lining is the strong partnerships that have developed across multiple sectors such as government, business, academia, and healthcare to fight the pandemic.