GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan was an early U.S. hot spot for coronavirus, in April routinely clocking more than 1,000 new cases and sometimes more than 100 deaths daily.
Since early June, things have been much better. That is, until about the last two weeks, when the numbers of daily cases have been ticking up and so has the percentage of positive tests.
“If you look across the country at what’s happening, Michigan’s in a stronger position than a lot of other states,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told News 8 Thursday. “But the fact of the matter remains we are seeing our COVID-19 numbers increasing in every part of the state of Michigan. That’s troubling because, of course, in less than 55 days, we’re hoping that our kids can resume in-person instruction. And if the numbers are going up and they stay in the same trajectory, that’s probably not going to happen.”
That’s why, she said, we have to “double down” on the safety practices health officials have advised: washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, staying 6 feet away from others whenever possible and wearing masks in public.
That last point, masks, has been one of contention among many, who view it as a political matter.
It’s not, Whitmer said.
“There’s ample evidence that shows masking up is a great way to prevent transmission of COVID-19,” she said.
She said she doesn’t want to have to move the state backward in its reopening phases, again shutting down schools and businesses, but indicated she would if the numbers warrant it.
“It’s on all of us to mask up and do what we need to do to prevent the spread,” Whitmer said.
She said she’s not interested in issuing widespread misdemeanor charges for ignoring her order to mask up in all indoor public places and any outdoor places where 6-foot social distancing cannot be observed. The goal, she said, has always been increasing compliance.
Several sheriffs have said they’re focusing on education rather than enforcement and some have said outright they won’t enforce the mandate, questioning its validity.
“I guess what I’m going to focus on is that the vast majority of people want to get this right,” Whitmer said. “We’ve shown that we are capable of doing this. We drove our numbers down. At one point, Michigan was leading the country when it comes to our containment of COVID-19. So I understand that there are people, perhaps they’re on the ballot this year or they don’t understand the law, but anyone who’s taken an oath to uphold the law needs to recognize that masks are the law of our state right now and it’s incumbent on every one of us to do our part.”
==See the full interview with Whitmer at the top of this article.==
The governor has used getting kids back in school as a carrot to encourage people to wear masks.
But assuming kids are learning in person, what will happen if cases are confirmed among students or staff?
“We’ve got over 800 districts in the state, which means we have unique challenges and opportunities in 800 different places and ways,” Whitmer said. “The districts will be coming up with (and) finalizing their plans in short order. Parents are going to be able to scrutinize it and know exactly what the protocol (will be) and what’s going to happen.”
She said protocols will likely be different based upon the nature of the case and size of the outbreak.
DID MICHIGAN MOVE TOO FAST IN REOPENING?
Whitmer was more cautious in reopening many of its businesses than many other states — gyms and venues still haven’t been allowed to welcome customers in much of the state and the Detroit casinos are still closed.
The governor did allow bars to reopen, but when cases started to increase shortly thereafter she closed indoor service again.
“People are questioning everything. Should we have moved faster? Should we have moved slower? Here’s what we know: Each additional thing that we engage increases our odds of COVID-19 spreading,” she said. “In terms of bars, we have seen across the country and certainly we saw at a place in East Lansing and some other places around the state that that is the place ripe for spread.”
She said no businesses want to be the site of an outbreak, and that patrons behaving safely can help prevent that.
The good news is the major automotive manufacturers, a linchpin of the state’s economy, haven’t seen large outbreaks. But Whitmer said they could be affected if it becomes necessary to reinstate tough restrictions, as they were at the start of the outbreak.
“The thing that I can’t control is the individual behavior of everyone in our state. I can tell you this mask mandate is the law of our state,” Whitmer said. “I’m asking everyone to please do their part so we don’t have to take those steps backward.”