LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday she has the authority to issue a second stay-at-home order to curb the spiking coronavirus if necessary and called a comment by an adviser to President Donald Trump urging people to “rise up” against Michigan's latest restrictions “incredibly reckless.”
The Democratic governor spoke with Capitol reporters a day after announcing limits amid a surge of COVID-19 cases that has led to increased hospitalizations and deaths. Other Midwest states are facing similar second waves as the weather cools, and she has urged the public to “double down” with precautions to avoid a shelter-in-place order like what was instituted in the spring.
Whitmer responded to a tweet sent Sunday night by Scott Atlas, a science adviser to Trump, who urged people to “rise up” after the governor’s announcement. Trump himself has urged supporters to push Whitmer to reopen the state following virus restrictions, though many rules had been lifted previously. And 14 men have been charged in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap the governor.
“It’s just incredibly reckless considering everything that has happened, everything that is going on,” Whitmer said. “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.”
Atlas later tweeted that he “NEVER” would endorse or incite violence.
Under the restrictions that start Wednesday, Michigan high schools and colleges must halt in-person classes, restaurants must stop indoor dining and entertainment businesses such as casinos, movie theaters and bowling alleys must close for three weeks. Gathering sizes also will be tightened.
Whitmer called it a “targeted approach” informed by epidemiologists and public health experts. She renewed her call for the Republican-led Legislature to codify a mask requirement in law in part to send a unified message to the public, calling it “the best weapon we have against our common enemy." The proposed legislation is opposed by GOP legislative leaders.
She noted that lawmakers enacted laws keeping intact unemployment benefits and addressing other matters after the state Supreme Court's October ruling striking down a law she repeatedly used to respond to the pandemic, but said her administration can continue largely combatting the pandemic unilaterally under a health law.
“This is precisely the power that one of the justices pointed to in terms of actions we can and should be taking throughout this pandemic,” the governor said.
Michigan’s seven-day average of daily new cases has more than doubled from 3,113 to 6,684 over two weeks. It is up nearly five-fold from 30 days ago. Daily deaths also have surged, from 25 to 62, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The number of patients currently hospitalized, about 3,000, has risen six-fold in under two months.
Asked if the state can do anything to assist closed businesses and their soon-to-be laid-off employees, Whitmer again urged Trump and Congress to enact a relief law. She said she and the governors in a loose “compact” of other Midwest states — Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kentucky — will have a joint media event Tuesday.
Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan and a Republican former lieutenant governor, also called on Congress and the president to act.
“I think we have to expect that this will mean catastrophic failure for many of them (small businesses),” he said of the state order. “They’re just in no condition to weather these types of conditions, given the fact that some of them were required to be closed for five or six months earlier this year.”
In Detroit, an early virus hot spot where infection rates are lower than in the suburbs, Mayor Mike Duggan said businesses “are being shut down because of irresponsible behavior in the surrounding communities.”
Whitmer said GOP legislators have been included in calls in which health experts model cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Without aggressive steps now, she warned, Michigan could see 20,000 more deaths by February. The state has reported nearly 8,400 confirmed or probable deaths tied to COVID-19 and about 275,000 cases.
One in every 214 people in Michigan tested positive in the past week.
“The restrictions are absolutely necessary right now. The pandemic is out of control. Nurses are at their breaking point, so any help the public can give us would be great,” said Jamie Brown, a critical care nurse from Kalamazoo and president of the Michigan Nurses Association.
Associated Press writers Mike Householder in Detroit and Corey Williams in West Bloomfield contributed.
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