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Michigan governor proposes free college for front-line COVID-19 workers

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday proposed free college for health-care workers and others involved in the coronavirus fight, likening their service during the pandemic to soldiers who got a free education after returning home from the Second World War.

'It's the right thing to do,' says Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer previously said she hopes to gradually begin reopening the state's economy on May 1. (Michigan Office of the Governor/The Associated Press)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday proposed free college for health-care workers and others involved in the coronavirus fight, likening their service during the pandemic to soldiers who got a free education after returning home from the Second World War.

The program would require approval from the Republican-controlled state legislature. Whitmer, a Democrat, didn't disclose the cost during a briefing with reporters, but said the money would come from the federal government.

"It's the right thing to do for those who have served on the front lines of this crisis," said Whitmer, who mentioned child-care workers, grocery store employees and nursing home staff.

Separately, the governor said the state will spend $130 million to help child-care providers stay afloat, including those serving essential workers. Those getting a grant must reduce their weekly rates by at least 10 per cent and care for children of essential workers regardless of where parents work.

Grants start at $1,500 for home-based providers and $3,000 for child-care centres, but could be higher.

Whitmer had pledged to gradually ease restrictions on businesses. She said residential and commercial construction can resume May 7.

Michigan deaths attributed to COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, rose on Wednesday by 103 to 3,670. The number includes 1,008 deaths in Detroit. Confirmed virus cases rose about three per cent statewide to nearly 40,400.

It's the right thing to do for those who serves on the front lines of this crisis.- Gretchen Whitmer, Governor, Michigan

"More and more it is our elders who are bearing the brunt of this," said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, commenting on the deaths in his city.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, or death.

Major health-care providers in southeastern Michigan continue to report a drop in COVID-19 patients. Henry Ford Health System, which has five acute-care hospitals, said it had 377 patients, below 400 for the first time since late March.

Beaumont Health said it had 554 patients, plus 45 with virus tests pending, down more than 30 per cent since April 15.

Whitmer said temporary hospitals with 1,250 beds in Detroit and Novi won't be needed as patient loads ease.

"They're not filled, thank God," she said of the alternative sites.

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