One year ago today, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called a late-night press conference just hours after Michigan’s presidential primary election. The state had confirmed the first cases of the novel coronavirus in Michigan. In the days, weeks and months ahead, schools, offices, restaurants, places of worship, concert venues and most other gathering places would close in order to try to slow the spread of the virus. Hospital ICUs would fill with sick and dying patients. Many others would lose their livelihoods. And the hope that we as a society would band together to get through all of this would quickly vanish as political leaders sought and took advantage of opportunities to politicize the deadliest public health crisis most of us have ever lived through. In total, nearly 16,000 Michiganders have died from COVID-19, and an untold number of others are still dealing with the long-term effects of COVID-19.
Now there’s some hope on the horizon. We have three vaccines approved for emergency use, the vaccine rollout is finally starting to gain steam and the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all trending downward. But we are not out of the woods yet. Do you remember what you were doing the day or days before everything came to a screeching halt? Are you feeling hopeful and optimistic one year later? Or are you still feeling wary or unsure of the future?
Listen: Dustin Walsh of Crain’s Detroit Business on looking back one year ago and the start of the pandemic in Michigan.
Dustin Walsh covers economic issues for Crain’s Detroit Business and recently wrote a piece in Crain’s titled, “The week when everything changed and how the business community lived it.” On looking back to this time last year, Walsh says that he was on vacation, escaping the chilly late-winter weather in Michigan. “The week that changed everything … I was in Florida with my family, I went to Disney World on March 12,” recalls Walsh, who adds that the upside of this strange time was that he got to spend time with his kids. “That’s time I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” but like many people, Walsh says the pandemic has become more challenging as time wears on. “It’s been a difficult and trying time as I try to navigate all of this and I think that’s the same for everyone,” says Walsh.
In discussing the ways that the business community responded to the pandemic, Walsh remembers watching China’s business sector react before the virus started to spread in the United States. “Watching the automotive industry change in China as things locked down [was interesting] … and by the time it reached the U.S., business leaders were like ‘OK, what now?'” says Walsh who adds “there was this knowledge vacuum,” in the early days of COVID that created a lot of confusion and uncertainty. He adds that the way the virus became a political issue also added to obstacles around clear public health messaging.