Michigan lawmaker, a critic of masks and Gov. Whitmer, contracts COVID-19

At least five Michigan lawmakers have tested positive for the coronavirus or believe they had the virus. The family of Democratic Rep. Isaac Robinson of Detroit believes COVID-19 contributed to his death in March.

LANSING — A Michigan lawmaker who has questioned mask efficacy and criticized Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s response to the pandemic has contracted COVID-19 as the virus surges through his Upper Peninsula district. 

Republican state Rep. Beau LaFave said Tuesday he is self-quarantining at his home in Iron Mountain, watching cable television and feeling “much better” after weekend symptoms including sweats, fatigue and muscle aches. 

“It felt to me like a sinus infection,” he told Bridge Michigan.

LaFave is at least the fifth state lawmaker confirmed or suspected to have contracted COVID-19 since March, when Democratic Rep. Isaac Robinson of Detroit died of what his family believed were complications from the virus. 

Fellow Detroit Democratic Reps. Tyrone Carter and Karen Whitsett have recovered after testing positive for COVID-19 early in the pandemic, as has state Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, who tested positive in early August. 

Additionally, at least two Senate staffers have tested for COVID in recent weeks, but they “did not have contact with other senators or staff” and quarantined “the required amount of time,” said spokesperson Amber McCann. A House spokesperson did not immediately disclose any additional cases among staff or members.

State Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, is self-quarantining at home after he contracted the coronavirus. (Courtesy photo)

LaFave is a critic of Whitmer, who was visiting the Upper Peninsula on Tuesday to urge mask wearing as a means to slow the spread there. 

LaFave said Tuesday he does not support any new restrictions on local businesses or residents.

“I think the people of the Upper Peninsula are incredibly intelligent, smart, kind people, and they are very capable of making decisions on their own,” he told Bridge. 

LaFave in July defended his decision not to regularly wear a mask in public or in the Legislature but said he was avoiding his parents and grandparents to protect them from potential exposure. 

As a 28-year-old, “If I get it, I’ll be fine,” LaFave told a panel of reporters on WKAR-TV, noting that COVID tends to be more deadly among older residents while arguing that most everyone would eventually catch the virus. 

“The masks aren’t going to save anybody,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

But last week, with signs the virus was spreading in the U.P., LaFave told Bridge he took the “utmost caution” while working in Lansing, where the House met multiple times to pass a state budget and other legislation. 

“I wore my mask all week on the floor as well as in caucus, and just generally avoided others,” he said. “I had a sneaking suspicion that cases were on the rise in my district, and the cases were getting closer to me.”

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, wished LaFave a “speedy recovery” and said in a statement that his team is “working with the House Business Office to make sure anyone who may have been in contact with him is informed.” 

Echoing President Donald Trump’s unproven claim, LaFave has accused China of “knowingly” unleashing the virus that was first detected there. He recently introduced legislation that would require the state of Michigan to invoice the Chinese government for any pandemic-related costs.

While he’s been critical of Whitmer’s policies, LaFave wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that he “never said this virus is a hoax.”

Since Sept. 1 the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in five western Upper Peninsula counties, including Dickinson, where LaFave lives, have tripled from 517 to 1,575. Deaths have risen from seven to 15.

With just over 130,000, the five counties have experienced the highest average daily case rates per 100,000 in the state — and some of the highest rates seen outside of metro Detroit at the height of the pandemic in April.

For September, the region has averaged 28 new cases a day for every 100,000, four times higher than the statewide rate of 7 new daily cases per 100,000 over the same time frame.

Whitmer noted those “concerning” trends Tuesday as she spoke in Houghton following meetings with U.P. leaders. Wearing a mask will help slow the spread and ensure the state does not have to tighten restrictions there, the governor said. 

“COVID is here, and it is a real threat,” Whitmer told reporters at a press conference. “And so the mask, which is universally adopted in a lot of parts of our state, is not I think worn here as frequently, and we want to increase that.”

Whitmer said she does not currently have any plans to change public health orders in the U.P. 

Michigan has learned a lot since COVID-19 cases peaked downstate in late April, Whitmer said, and can now “be a lot more refined on how we might address it, instead of just turning back and saying the whole place goes back a phase.”

Rising case counts in the U.P. have been partially driven by outbreaks at K-12 schools and universities. 

Michigan Technological University in Houghton has reported 50 total cases of COVID-19, including a new outbreak linked to 8 students, and this week closed down its campus to in-person learning until Oct. 12. 

Two preschools and a middle school in Escanaba reported new outbreaks this week linked to a combined 12 students. 

“Fortunately those are not the demographics that are hit hardest by this terrible disease,” LaFave said.

— Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed


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Tue, 09/29/2020 - 11:11pm

The point of masks is that you politely protect the OTHER person. To skip the mask is rude.
Many people may have COVID and not even realize they are "giving" this virus to someone who may not be able to survive. The selfishness of those who arrogantly deny basic courtesy has cost us our economy as well as lives.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 8:55am

Clearly, the lock downs did not work, unless the reason was to destroy the economy and then play politics with the virus. What needs to be done is that all wear masks, social distance, wash your hands, and go about your bizzness until a Covid shot is developed. Until then we will not beat the virus.

Almighty Dollar
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 7:37pm

The lock down was to prevent the medical system from getting overwhelmed, along with slowing the spread until we could communicate the options with the public. Over now thousand health workers have died. Were they supposed to keep dying because people didn't want to lock down and wear masks? Please.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 9:07am

LaFave: "If I get it, I'll be fine." And if anyone suffers or dies because I pass it on to them, that's their tough luck.

George Hagenauer
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 9:41am

There is actually no guarantee that a 28 year old like LaFave will be fine given that we do not know the long term effects of the disease or how it plays out over time (too early to tell). The virus can migrate to various organs and cause long term damage. Vaccination also may not provide a complete solution to the problem especially given the large number of people against being vaccinated (just follow sites dominated by pro-trumpers on Facebook). It is nice that the Upper Peninsulas Death rate so far is low given the large number of seniors in rural communities.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 3:03pm

One can say the same for HIV and the annual flu especial when spread the people with underlying conditions.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 9:36am

Pretty sad that people like this are representing the citizens of our state, but then there is The Trumper so I guess this guy thinks like him and enjoys watching people die. Masks save lives, grow up and act like a state rep with responsibilities and not like our President.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 9:43am

Rep. Beau LaFave is a reflection of his constituents, many (maybe most) of whom also don't wear masks or bother with social distancing.

LaFave represents the 108th Michigan State House District: Delta County (Escanaba), Dickinson County (Iron Mountain) and Menominee County (Menominee), three of the highest infection rate counties in Michigan. The six Michigan counties with the highest infection rate per 100,000 residents are all in the U.P.

Lawless is the word that comes to mind for the majority in this district. Local county boards and sheriffs have passed resolutions and made announcements that they won't enforce state laws they don't agree with: e.g. gun laws and more recently pandemic related law.

When you come to the U.P., you've come to a very different America. Be careful!

Anne B
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 9:54am

Unfortunately, La Fave is my rep. 28 year old arrogant tool. I really don't get why Repubs have made the virus pandemic political - if they really cared about their constituents, they woudl be bending over backwards to cooperate with the Governor and health officials by encouraging mask use, hygiene, social distancing, etc. Instead they give us platitudes and of course, 'thoughts and prayers'. Useless.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 3:12pm

What a self centered person. I wonder what number of people got the virus passed on to them because of his selfishness?

Almighty Dollar
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 7:35pm

"I'll be fine". We'll see. What happens if you find you have permanent heart damage a year from now? UP voters need to remove this ideologue.

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 9:44am

LaFave is a liar. In his statement he said: "Fortunately, I was following the strict protocols we have in place before I was tested, including social distancing, frequent hand sanitizing/washing, and wearing a mask." Yet there are pictures all over Facebook of him on Sept. 19th at the Gold Star Families Monument dedication not wearing a mask and not social distancing. That was 10 days before testing positive meaning he could've been an asymptomatic carrier who just passed COVID to a lot of elderly, higher-risk veterans.

He was also at a Michigan House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee meeting on Sept. 15th not wearing a mask.

"If I get it, I'll be fine" sure, but what about the group of older veterans you potentially just passed this to?

Sat, 10/03/2020 - 8:35am

Some people are too stupid for their own good!