LANSING -- Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is again battling the Trump administration and legislative Republicans over new COVID-19 restrictions that public health officials are praising as a smart and targeted approach to fight the surging second wave.
Whitmer and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon on Sunday announced a three-week “pause” to shut down portions of the state economy and discourage Thanksgiving gatherings.
Starting Wednesday, restaurants and bars must close their dining rooms again, high schools and colleges must cease in-person instruction, and indoor gatherings will be limited to a maximum of two households or 10 people through Dec. 8.
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“Every state should be following Michigan’s lead right now,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said Monday on CBS This Morning.
“Michigan is really doing what is absolutely essential. It’s amazing to me that other states are not following. I expect this week we are going to see a lot of other states step up and essentially put in very similar policies because we’re so behind the eight ball that we have got to get going.”
But Scott Atlas, a member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, blasted the new orders, writing on Twitter that “the only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept.”
Whitmer told reporters Atlas’ comments are “incredibly reckless considering everything that has happened and everything that is going on” in Michigan, where hospital officials last week issued dire warnings about capacity and staffing.
“We really all need to be focused on the public health crisis that is ravaging our country and that poses a very real threat to every one of us,” Whitmer said. “And so to see this, that’s really just shocking, but I’m not going to dwell on it because I’ve got a job to do.”
Whitmer also faced quick backlash from the Republican-led Legislature.
In a Facebook post, state Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford, wrote that he and a small group of conservatives are “calling forthwith for impeachment hearings for Governor Whitmer.
"Michigan voters know she has committed ... impeachable conduct.”
Myself and the following members: Daire Rendon, Beau LaFave, Ryan Berman, Shane Hernandez, John Reilly, incoming...Posted by Matt Maddock on Sunday, November 15, 2020
The movement doesn’t appear to have the support of GOP leaders, who sued Whitmer in May and celebrated when the Michigan Supreme Court invalidated an emergency authority law she had used to fight the pandemic early on.
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GOP leaders have criticized Whitmer repeatedly for implementing new restrictions without their blessing. The new orders come through the state’s health department, which Whitmer controls, after the courts ruled she lacked power to issue emergency orders without legislative consent.
“The people of Michigan deserve a seat at the table when major decisions like these are made, and those decisions are made better and safer when they do,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, said in a statement.
“As always, we stand ready to act in a bipartisan way when the governor decides it is worth her time. Until then, we are still reviewing the details of this order like everyone else.”
Whitmer fired back Monday morning, saying Republicans’ criticism “just doesn’t seem particularly serious because they haven’t done anything” to address the recent surge.
She noted the House cancelled session last week after multiple lawmakers contracted the virus. Sen. Kim Lasata, R-Bainbridge Township, potentially exposed colleagues as she attended session and committee meetings last week while awaiting results that came back positive.
The Legislature is not expected to meet again this month — Wednesday is considered a tentative day for both chambers — during a traditional hunting and Thanksgiving break.
Whitmer has spent weeks urging the Legislature to codify a statewide mask mandate, arguing that putting an existing public health order into bipartisan legislation would encourage more compliance across the state.
The governor said she again broached that idea with GOP leaders last week but was rebuffed.
“They dismissed the codification of what we all recognize as our best tool and offered up nothing else in terms of actions they might take other than doing some public service announcements,” she said.
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Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has promised a series of public service announcements that will feature local lawmakers stressing the seriousness of COVID-19 and urging residents not to fight businesses that must require customers to wear masks.
Shirkey first mentioned the PSA plan last Monday on J-TV in Jackson. Michigan has averaged more than 6,000 new COVID-19 cases a day since then, and it’s not clear if any of the announcements are ready to air on television or social media.
Bridge Michigan requested interviews with both Shirkey and Chatfield on Monday morning but had not heard back from their respective offices.
In a Sunday evening statement, Shirkey said Senate Republicans are “disappointed that Gov. Whitmer chose to go it alone, again” and said lawmakers “will continue working with our doctors and the medical community on ways we can combat this virus and are ready to work with the Governor when she decides to work as a team to fight this virus.”
Shirkey’s statement drew a rebuke from Robert Casalou, president and CEO of Trinity Health in Michigan, which includes the St. Joseph Mercy Health System and Mercy Health System.
“Mike, as a member of the medical community you claim you are working with, we don’t see you,” Casalou wrote on Twitter. “One phone call with our CMOs does not constitute working with us. We have told you we are in trouble but you decided that the pandemic was a good time to take a vacation.”
Mike, as a member of the medical community you claim you are working with, we don’t see you. One phone call with our CMOs does not constitute working with us. We have told you we are in trouble but you decided that the pandemic was a good time to take a vacation.— Rob Casalou (@CasalouRob) November 15, 2020
In a Monday morning press call, Whitmer disputed the narrative that she has fully shut GOP lawmakers out of the state’s COVID-19 response.
Some Republicans have been invited to “modeling calls” to examine data with Michigan Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun, Bureau of Epidemiology Director Sarah Lyon-Callo and University of Michigan experts, according to the governor.
“We have also made all of these experts available for one-on-one follow up Q&A,” Whtimer said. “[Republicans] have availed themselves of many hours of time of all of these experts, and I’ve been a part of these meetings and been on conference calls.
“They’ve been very involved. They still haven’t done anything though.”
Democratic and Republican governors in several states have imposed new COVID restrictions in recent days as the virus surges nationwide, with more than 180,000 new diagnoses and nearly 1,400 deaths on Friday alone. But Michigan’s appear to be among the most aggressive.
Dr. Tom Friedan, former CDC director under Democratic President Barack Obama, also offered praise for Michigan and what he called “excellent, evidence-based, nuanced action” to fight the latest COVID-19 wave.
“This is exactly the kind of action that can best balance saving lives and preserving livelihoods,” Friedan wrote on Twitter. “We know how to bring the economy back to life. We don't know how to bring people back to life.”
Excellent, evidence-based, nuanced action from Michigan. This is exactly the kind of action that can best balance saving lives and preserving livelihoods. We know how to bring the economy back to life. We don't know how to bring people back to life.https://t.co/XpCGnRTo9a pic.twitter.com/deN4FoVq0Y— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrTomFrieden) November 16, 2020