GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said a Michigan Supreme Court decision striking down her executive orders in response to coronavirus caused “chaos” and “confusion” created and could lead to a resurgence of cases.
“As a result of this action, the court’s action, the Legislature’s action, our COVID-19 cases could likely go up,” Whitmer said. “There will be uncertainty, there will be disruption and possibly greater risk to our economy, to our loved ones, possibly more people quarantined and more fatalities. We’ve seen that happen elsewhere.”
She said her actions led to a decline in cases in Michigan and a strong economic recovery.
“What this ruling … does not mean is that all the protections we put in place are gone. That’s just not the case. We have additional authority that I will use to continue to protect our families from the spread of this virus,” Whitmer said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference that focused primarily on the Nov. 3 election.
On Monday, her administration dodged the issue as the director of the state Department of Health and Human Services issued an epidemic order requiring masks in public, limiting gatherings and setting venue capacity limits, among other things.
“Fellow Michiganders, here’s what I need you to do: Keep wearing your mask, keep your physical distance to 6 feet from people you don’t live with, and wash your hands frequently,” Whitmer said. “Taking this action is essential to keeping our small businesses open and our schools open. Because COVID-19 didn’t stop being a threat just because of a court ruling or because we’re tired of it or because the Legislature’s not in town. We cannot squander the sacrifice that we’ve already made to get here and that’s why we all have to keep doing our part.”
The Mackinac Center, a conservative think tank that was involved in the lawsuit against the governor’s executive powers, said there is a good chance that it will take on the MDHHS epidemic orders.
“It appears to be an attempt to sidestep the Supreme Court’s decision,” Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, told News 8. “This new statute she’s trying to use for creating emergency powers has the same problems that the one that was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court does, and that is that it provides unlimited powers. It seems even in today’s news conference, the governor indicated it can be of unlimited duration and it doesn’t really have any checks on it. So that was all the hallmarks which caused the last law to be held to be unconstitutional. So it looks like, at least on first blush, this law has a lot of those similar problems.”
Wright said while MDHHS is separate from the governor’s office, its leader is appointed by and reports to the governor.
He said the pandemic has been going on long enough and there is enough data that the Legislature and the governor should be able to work together to form a response.
WHAT’S NEXT IN LANSING?
While the justices’ ruling seemed to require the executive and legislative branches to operate together in declaring an emergency for the virus and while both sides have said they’re willing to reach across the aisle, the relationship between the Democratic governor and the Republican-led Legislature is still frosty.
“I’m ready to work with the Legislature, but I’m never going negotiate when it come to doing the right thing and protecting the people’s health,” Whitmer said.
She also noted that the Legislature was designed to a certain point, to move slowly and deliberate carefully before making decisions. That’s a problem, she said, when action must be taken quickly.
Calling on the Legislature to return from October recess to work on coronavirus bills, Whitmer said the first thing to get done is passing a bill that codifies her executive order expanding access to unemployment benefits.
She said she was worried about a lack of interest among Senate Republicans to pass a statewide mask mandate, which Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, mentioned over the weekend in an interview with Bridge Michigan magazine.
“A mask remains the best tool we have to protect our lives and our livelihoods and our families,” she said. “I think that those comments show you a real disdain for science and ignorance of the epidemiology that we are up against.”
In a statement released later Tuesday, Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, said they would be bringing lawmakers back to Lansing to get to work on COVID-19 relief bills. They noted there are “a number of time-sensitive issues that will require legislative action,” though they were still working on a precise agenda.
“…The Senate and House are working together right now to review the governor’s numerous executive orders and determine which issues require immediate attention,” they said. “While the governor spends her time on the campaign trail and taking political jabs at legislative partners, we are putting together a smarter plan of action to provide certainty to Michigan families and move this state forward.”
The Senate is back in session Thursday and the House Oct. 13.
Michigan health officials on Tuesday announced an additional 903 cases of the virus had been confirmed and 22 more deaths related to it had been recorded. Of the 22 deaths, seven were discovered during a routine review of death certificates to find any that had not previously been reported.
Michigan has now had a total of 129,826 confirmed cases since the virus was first detected in Michigan in March and 6,838 deaths.
On Monday, labs in Michigan tested 25,581 samples for the virus and 881 came back positive, a rate of 3.41%. The number of positive tests is not the same as the number of new cases because people may be tested more than once. Additionally, testing numbers are from a single calendar date, while the number of new cases lists the increase since the last time the state compiled the data; these two time frames do not match up precisely.
Michigan is seeing an increase in cases, though the severity of the outbreak varies by region. Upper Peninsula counties, in particular, are seeing a large increase in their rates of new cases per million people per day. While Whitmer on Friday moved the region back in a reopening phase, she indicated Tuesday the MI Safe Start phase system was wiped away with the Michigan Supreme Court decision.
“While there are some great health systems in the U.P., they are not equipped to handle a major community spread outbreak and that’s why we have to take this seriously,” Whitmer said. “So we can’t get caught up in whether or not we’re still in Phase 4 or 5 in a particular region. The law of Michigan, by virtue of these epidemic orders, are that we have to mask up and we can’t congregate in large numbers. And I believe that there will be additional measures that the director (of MDHHS) will be taking in the coming hours and days.”
West and southwest Michigan are also seeing rising rates of cases per million people per day, though not as high as the U.P.
Kent County on Monday confirmed 71 more cases of the virus, bringing its total to 9,916. It saw one more death for a total of 173.
Citing positive cases, Lowell Middle School announced Tuesday is is going online starting Wednesday to allow the health department time to perform contact tracing. Middle school sports are canceled for now.
Branch and Calhoun counties also each saw one more death for totals of seven and 49, respectively. Branch County has had 595 total confirmed cases and Calhoun County 1,467.
In Wayne County, where the virus has hit hardest, there were 147 additional confirmed cases for a total of 33,569 since the start of the outbreak and three more deaths for a total of 2,834. Oakland County has had 17,147 cases (65 more than the previous day) and 1,162 deaths (four more). Macomb County has had 14,698 cases (55 more) and 984 deaths (one more).
While the numbers of deaths statewide each day remain low, Michigan is also seeing an increase in the number of adults hospitalized with the virus, with the number jumping by more than 120 since Friday.
“The numbers that we’re seeing are concerning and we are on the cusp of flu season and we have more contacts than ever with so many parts of our economy reengaged and in-person learning happening,” Whitmer said. “And that’s why we really have to take this seriously and not let our guard down now.”
IONIA COUNTY TESTING
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has it, health officials want you to get tested. You can find a testing site near you at Michigan.gov/coronavirustest.
In Ionia County, the local health department Sparrow Ionia Hospital are hosting a drive-thru coronavirus testing event Wednesday. It runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the health department on E. Adams Street in Ionia. You don’t need an appointment and Sparrow will bill you later.
People can also drive up to get their flu shot. Those wishing to get vaccinated should bring their insurance card; the health department will bill Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Blue Cross Medicare, Medicare Part D, and Medicaid. Underinsured people can still get vaccinated and while there is a $28 fee, officials say no one will be turned away if they can’t pay.
Health officials are urging people to get vaccinated for the flu this year to keep the yearly infection rate low and allow hospitals to focus on coronavirus.
“It’s more important than ever to get the flu shot this year. With COVID-19 still among us, this flu season presents a unique challenge to all of us in healthcare. Making sure we all get vaccinated for the seasonal flu will go a long way towards minimizing illness for us all this fall and winter. Getting the flu vaccine protects you, your family and your community,” Dr. Brett Reich the medical director for the Sparrow Ionia Hospital Emergency Department, said in a statement.