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Whitmer: Goal is to test 450,000 residents for virus in May

In a pool photo provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing, Mich., Monday, May 11, 2020. Protests against Whitmer have erupted in recent weeks as she has put in place restrictions on businesses and Michigan residents, including a sweeping stay-at-home order, intending to limit gatherings as a way to reduce the spread of coronavirus. (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP, Pool)

LANSING (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Monday she wants 450,000 Michiganders to be tested for the coronavirus this month, an average of nearly 15,000 a day, a critical goal because she said social-distancing cannot go on indefinitely until a vaccine is developed.

Testing is on the rise. Tests first surpassed 10,000 in a day less than two weeks ago and stayed above tha

t mark in eight of the next 10 days through Saturday.

Tricia Foster, the state’s chief operating officer, said the target is 30,000 tests per day in June and beyond — 2% of the population on a weekly basis.

“Until there is a vaccine, social distancing is really the best and only tool that we have to prevent spread. But we know that that can’t be tolerated in perpetuity,” Whitmer told reporters. “Accordingly, widespread testing is critical. Tracing and safety protocols are essential.”

Also Monday, the state said there were signs Michigan may have children with a mysterious illness possibly associated with COVID-19. Symptoms are similar to Kawasaki disease, a rare multi-system inflammatory disease in children. Signs to look for include a fever, rash, red eyes or red lips. Two young children and a teenager died recently in New York state.

“This is a situation that we will watch very closely here in Michigan. But it also really illustrates that we are still learning more about COVID-19, and we must remain vigilant as we seek to contain it,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive.

The federal government is helping the state aim for 30,000 daily coronavirus tests, Foster said. An initial shipment of swabs and other supplies arrived Monday.

As testing increases, its availability may broaden to additional vulnerable populations, those returning to work and contacts of people who test positive.

Prisons, jails, long-term care facilities and veterans homes currently are among places where people are being tested by National Guard medics. Michigan ranks 18th-highest among states on the number of tests per 1,000 residents, according to an Associated Press analysis of data collected by the COVID Tracking Project.

The state will partner with local health departments to hire up to 1,000 people to trace and reach those who may have come into contact with infected individuals. That is in addition to thousands of volunteer tracers who will supplement tracing being done by more than 300 county health workers and 100 state employees.

“Aggressive testing, contact tracing and isolation will be the only way we will get ahead of this disease,” Khaldun said.

The number of new coronavirus cases in Michigan grew slowly again, rising less than 1% to a total of about 47,500 since March. Deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, increased by 33 to nearly 4,600. More than 1,400 patients were hospitalized.

In hard-hit Detroit, 41 residents died from May 2 through May 8, compared to 167 from April 18-24, Mayor Mike Duggan said. Nearly 10,000 people have been infected.

“We are continuing to succeed at beating the coronavirus,” said Duggan, who plans to cut his daily briefings to three times a week.

The city has completed testing at 36 long-term care facilities, where the infection rate has been running at about 9%.

The next target: 70 senior apartment buildings with 10,000 units.

“This is going to be a massive undertaking,” Detroit health officer Denise Fair said.

Manufacturing plants that were forced to close due to the pandemic and the governor’s stay-at-home order were able to start reopening Monday. The measure is in effect until May 28 but is expected to last longer in some form as Whitmer gradually lets additional economic sectors restart.

Whitmer said there is “a chance” that different regions of the state may be allowed to proceed more quickly than others, depending on hospital capacity in those areas. The virus, though, “is still a threat” and present in 79 of 83 counties.