Response to Public Safety Coalition

After speaking with Governor Whitmer, along with the other organizations, we received a response to Public Safety Coalition and their requests for law enforcement officers. Read the full letter below!

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office regarding COVID-19 and concerns on behalf of Michigan’s first responders. I deeply appreciate the work of first responders who are on the front lines every day working to save lives. We could not get through this without you.

As governor, my highest priority remains protecting the health, safety, and well-being of all Michiganders while mitigating the spread of COVID-19. This pandemic poses an immediate and unprecedented threat to the health and safety of this state, including first responders. Please see below for an update on priority testing, personal protective equipment, and Workers Compensation:

Priority Testing

I agree: Maintaining a healthy workforce of first responders is critical during this pandemic, and first responders must be a priority for testing. The Michigan Department of Health Human Services (DHHS) recently sent a memo to health care providers that state: “Given the continued expansion of COVID-19 testing capacity in Michigan, MDHHS is expanding the COVID-19 testing prioritization criteria to broaden the populations eligible for testing to include individuals with mild symptoms in certain circumstances. Specifically, health care providers should test any healthcare facility worker or first responder (even if they do not have symptoms).” The full memo is enclosed.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Bureau of Laboratories, was the first laboratory in the state-approved to perform COVID-19 testing. Since the beginning, our MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories have considered COVID-19 testing for first responders a priority and this test has always been and will continue to be, performed at no cost.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The shortage of PPE has been among the greatest challenges of this response. This shortage has placed healthcare workers and first responders at higher risk and has impacted our ability to provide the level of care needed for COVID-19 patients. My team and I are doing everything we can to buy, manufacture, and acquire PPE for workers on the front lines of this crisis. This has been an all hands on deck effort, and we are working around the clock with our partners in business and the federal government to secure as much PPE as we can for our first responders. We are still anticipating more deliveries of PPE and will not stop working until our first
responders have the supplies they need.

In late March, I signed supplemental budget bills to provide new state funding of $150 million to bolster response efforts. The state has already expended more than $130 million to secure more than 20 million masks, more than 2,000 ventilators, nearly 9 million ounces of hand sanitizer, more than 255,000 boxes of gloves, 2.4 million gowns, more than 2,000 beds, 210,000 testing supplies, 3,000 thermometers, 185,000 face shields, 22,000 cartons of disinfecting wipes, as well as other needed supplies. These supplies are available to first responders through Regional Healthcare Coalitions.

Also, as you may know, the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) is a federal program under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This program is intended to provide, among other things, PPE for healthcare workforce—which includes emergency medical services (EMS) personnel (including fire and police agencies licensed at the medical first responder level). Unfortunately, this program does not extend to non-medical law enforcement and public safety personnel. We are working hard at the state level to address this gap and will continue to work until a sufficient level of PPE is made available to all of our first responders and healthcare workers.

Workers’ Compensation

I agree that all first responders should be protected in the event that they are exposed to COVID-19 through their work with possibly-infected people. This is why the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and I have taken the following actions:

  • Shifted the burden of proof by creating a presumption of workplace exposure to ensure workers most at risk have access to workers’ compensation as a result of COVID-19 exposure.
  • Expanded UI eligibility to workers who are sick, immunocompromised, or quarantined.
  • Engaged with the employers to encourage implementation of the more flexible paid sick leave and paid family leave including the expansions contained in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Michigan statute places limits on the scope of workers’ compensation coverage. My actions have expanded protection for workers beyond those limits by expanding unemployment to make quarantined workers eligible for wage replacement protections that exceed workers’ compensation. With the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, UI benefits pay up to $962 per week, exceeding the Worker’s Comp cap of $934 of wage replacement. That means the vast majority of workers are better off with wage replacement from UI than Worker’s Comp.

Additionally, under workers’ compensation, an illness must be “characteristic of and particular to” employment in order to qualify as a compensable injury. As a result, emergency rulemaking by the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity sought to extend a presumption of workplace exposure to workers who face the highest transmission risk at work.

Employees of fire authorities and districts qualify as high risk by this definition and receive the benefit of the presumption extended by the current rule, per section (2)(1)(a). 911 operators and dispatchers, however, do not face the same transmission risk as colleagues who operate in the field and interact with COVID-19-positive people. Extending a presumption of workplace exposure to workers who do not typically interact with COVID-19-positive people would likely require a statutory change, therefore I would encourage you to work with the legislature to further extend coverage.

My team and I continue to evaluate every alternative path to ensure first responders have the protections that they need. I appreciate your outreach and we will continue to look for new ways to protect first responders. I am grateful for the critical work you are doing every day to keep us healthy and safe.

I appreciate your outreach and the work that first responders do every day to keep us safe and healthy. I have confidence in the strength and endurance of Michiganders when we work together, and know that we will make it through this crisis. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have further questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan

For More Information

Stay tuned to our website, social channels, and mobile app for continuous news updates. Please contact us if you have any questions or comments on this response to the Public Safety Coalition.

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