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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Opinion | Michigan health officers should lead on disease, not politicians

We’ve had the pleasure of serving three Michigan governors from both political parties while heading the state’s Department of Community Health.

In that role, we dealt with measles, tuberculosis and foodborne illness outbreaks, as well as H1N1 (swine flu) – the last pandemic prior to COVID-19.

James Haveman, Janet Olszewski
James Haveman is the former director for the Michigan Department of Community Health under former Republican Governors John Engler and Rick Snyder. Janet Olszewski is the former director for the Michigan Department of Community Health under former Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Regardless which party is in charge, it is imperative public health experts are allowed to do their jobs unimpeded by bureaucrats and politicians at the local or state level. Promoting public health and safety and saving lives is our top priority and should not be a Republican or Democratic issue.

Public health emergencies are complex, fast moving and ever changing. That’s why local and state public health officials are specifically trained and possess the experience to understand emerging threats, and to swiftly deploy responses to save lives. 

Yet another ballot proposal dubbed Unlock Michigan 2.0 would hamstring public health experts to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19, Legionnaire’s disease and hepatitis after 28 days. 

This proposal is irresponsible because it shifts decision-making authority away from public health experts and places the decisions in the hands of politicians who are often ill-equipped for this role.  

Public health experts, not politicians, have the expertise to respond to public health crises. They don’t care whether the decisions they make are popular enough because their decisions are based in science and fact, not in a popularity contest that ends on Election Day.

Actions and policies to prevent the spread of infectious disease are not always popular. We’ve seen that plain as day with COVID-19 and continue to see that as cases rise once again. 

They are, however, necessary. 

Necessary to save lives, to reduce suffering and to protect all residents in our communities across Michigan.

Because of the headlines we read and what we are witnessing today, we are getting a good look at how future public health responses would play out if Unlock Michigan 2.0 is successful. 

Many people steadfastly oppose evidence-based policies that local health officials try to implement. Some even stand by while local health officials are demeaned and vilified for putting the health of their communities first.  

And now Michigan has its highest rate of COVID infection since the pandemic began.  

We can’t remain silent about this any longer. This is why as current and former public health officials we are raising our collective voices against Unlock Michigan’s dangerous proposal and urge Michigan voters to decline to sign.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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