April 24 update: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expected to extend stay-home order until May 15
April 22 update: Michigan Gov. Whitmer wants to extend stay-home order past May 1
Michigan Republican leaders are challenging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to loosen stay-home restrictions, saying it’s unlikely her executive authority will last past April 30.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, sent a scathing letter to Whitmer on Saturday, saying her restrictions on travel have made Michigan a “national outlier” for toughness and called on her to make changes that would allow more people to work.
And Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey on Friday said he doubts the Michigan Legislature will extend Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's current stay-home order beyond April 30.
The two, who control both branches of the Legislature, have asked Whitmer to relax some of her restrictions, which did not include an expanded list of “essential businesses” that most other states adopted.
That has left many upset and helped spark the protest in Lansing that drew national attention.
“I urge you again to reconsider your overly broad approach for the sake of the people we represent and bring Michigan in line with other states that are handling this issue more sensibly,” Chatfield wrote in his letter. “We can and must continue to improve our public health efforts, while also safeguarding civil liberties and the paychecks of Michigan families
Chatfield said people are reaching out to legislators “looking for a legislative check against the exercise of your authority.”
He called upon Whitmer to adopt the latest federal definitions of “essential services,” and said her restrictions should be based on whether activities can be done safely and not whether they are essential. Chatfield also called for regional restrictions, based upon infection rates, testing rates and hospital capacity in the eight state-identified emergency preparedness regions.
On Friday, Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told members of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce he still expects some restrictions on dining and social gatherings order expires and Michigan should be opened “incrementally, systematically, surgically and safely,” according to MLive, which first reported the remarks.
His spokesperson, Amber McCann, confirmed the remarks to Bridge on Saturday, saying “when asked, the majority leader commented that there is not support in the Senate Republican caucus to continue the governor’s stay-at-home order in its current form.”
The Democratic governor this week has said she is looking into reopening the state, which has been under a stay-home order because of the coronavirus since March 24. The state had restrictions on restaurants, bars and gatherings since March 16.
“Gov. Whitmer led the way by announcing a bipartisan partnership of seven Midwest states to coordinate the reopening of our region's economy. Michigan will have a responsible plan that prioritizes the health and safety of our citizens,” said Tiffany Brown, a Whitmer spokeswoman, in response to an email from Bridge.
On Friday, Whitmer indicated she would begin to lay out conditions for a reopening next week. The virus has infected more than 30,000 statewide and killed more than 2,200 as of Friday.
Whitmer has said Michigan won’t reopen until the rates of infection decline, the state has increased capacity to test people and track down those people the infected have been in contact with, and hospitals can handle any new surges in infections.
Since the first case of coronavirus in Michigan was confirmed March 10, Whitmer has issued dozens of executive orders that outline the current restrictions.
Whitmer, a Democrat, had wanted to retain that authority through June 10, but the GOP-dominated Legislature came to Lansing, many wearing masks, and extended it through April 30.
In the past week, since Whitmer issued new stay-home guidelines, Shirkey and a number of Republican politicians have called for a loosening of some restrictions and thousands drove to Lansing this week to protest the restrictions.
In talking with the Jackson business community, Shirkey acknowledged that even after April 30, some restrictions will still be necessary.
"This is just a wild guess here, but I’m thinking we’re six weeks away from even contemplating opening restaurants," Shirkey said, according to MLive. "It wouldn’t surprise me that we require people to go in and out with a mask on and they only take them off when they’re eating."
Governors across the country are talking about the process of reopening economic activity that has seen more than 1 million people apply for unemployment benefits in Michigan alone.
The Trump administration has issued guidelines on when and how the economy should be reopened, though there is a debate on elements of those guidelines, specifically on how much testing is required and whether states can meet those levels.
Whitmer told a national television audience Friday that states will need help.
By one estimate, states will need to conduct over 150 tests a day for every 100,000 people in a state to be able to quickly identify any new outbreaks and then isolate those people while tracking down and testing those they’ve had close contact with.
Michigan is now averaging about 39 tests per 100,000, even with expanded testing across the state.
"We need some assistance from the federal government when it comes to swabs and reagents and making sure that we've got the kind of robust testing that we need so we've got data that we can actually rely on," Whitmer told NBC News on Wednesday.