Whitmer quashes shelter-in-place rumors, suspends evictions during COVID-19 crisis

By: - March 20, 2020 6:31 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19, March 20, 2020 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

At a COVID-19 press conference Friday afternoon, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shut down rumors about whether or not state leadership will issue a stay-at-home order in Michigan as other states have done.

A statewide coronavirus hotline is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1-888-535-6136. Information can be found on the DHHS website or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website.

Under such measures, residents are only permitted to leave their homes for limited reasons, such as seeking medical care, filling up their vehicles, taking a walk or buying groceries.

“If and when we are in a position where we think that is an important next move, I will absolutely communicate that personally to the public. We are not there,” Whitmer said. “If and when we get to a point where people are not adhering to the counsel of the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and best practices and we need to take another step, we will consider doing that when the time is right, but we are not there.”

On Wednesday, Whitmer first addressed the issue when responding to a question at a press conference. 

“There could be a time where we take that step, but at this juncture, there’s nothing that I’m announcing on that front today or in the works,” she said earlier this week.

At the time of publication, the state is reporting a total of 549 positive cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, but health officials believe the actual number of cases is much higher. There have been three deaths due to complications caused from COVID-19.


Earlier on Friday afternoon, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay at home order for the entire state starting at 5 p.m. Saturday through April 7. California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a similar order for the entire state on Thursday. On Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on all nonessential workers to stay at home.

“I recognize that not having plans to do something right now doesn’t mean at some point we might have to take more aggressive action,” Whitmer said. 

She said that she plans to continue talking with other governors, especially Pritzker. But for now, she is focused on monitoring the situation in Michigan as it evolves. 

‘Dismayed’ after MDE rules out waiving required instructional time 

In a memorandum Friday, Michigan Department of Education Deputy Superintendents Venessa Keesler and Kyle Guerrant announced online learning during the state’s mandated closure of all K-12 schools won’t count toward a district’s required instructional time.

“I know that the MDE put out a statement today. I was dismayed to see that, frankly,” Whitmer said. “We are going to work to make sure that kids are getting the equivalent of instruction as needed so that they can finish this year and have gotten the education that they’re supposed to get.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19, March 20, 2020 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

The memorandum said the MDE encourages schools to offer “supplemental learning opportunities to students using distance learning methods,” but it does not count toward in-seat time.

The governor’s executive order closed schools until at least April 5, and Whitmer said the “plan and hope is that we’ll be in a position to get back into school. 

“But, of course, we are very aware of what the science is and what the experience has been elsewhere, so we are working hard to ensure that we give kids the education that they need while they are not physically in the classroom,” she continued.  

Testing and medical equipment supply are improving, but not enough 

The state lab has tripled its ability to test in the past week, and can now do up to 300 samples in one day, according to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.

In addition to the state lab, hospitals and private labs are also able to do testing for COVID-19, which collectively brings the total number of tests to 100 a day.


However, Khaldun says that testing data still does not give health officials the full picture of the COVID-19 spread in Michigan. 

“Right now, to be honest, Michigan has so few tests that have been done, that the model is not actually going to be accurate to project out, like maybe some other states are able to do,” Khaldun said. “But that said, there are predictions across the nation that anywhere between 40% and 60% of the community will actually end up having this disease. But we are actively working on getting that more specific modeling data.”

The latest report of updated COVID-19 cases shows that it is especially dense in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. 

Khaldun said that the state expects a higher number of cases in those areas, because it is the most populated part of the state. She said due to the limited testing data she cannot confirm whether the high number means a higher concentration of the disease in that area.

As of a couple days ago, Khaldun said, the state had more than 1,000 ventilators — which COVID-19 patients with severe cases need — across all of the state’s regional health care coalitions. 

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump told a group of governors on a phone call to get medical equipment without the help of the federal government. Whitmer and other governors have been critical of Trump’s stance but have vowed to move forward.


“We are so far behind because, frankly, the federal government didn’t take this as seriously as they should have on the front end,” Whitmer said. “We are working to see how we can  increase the number of ventilators that are available in our state, and I feel like we’re making some progress. But if the federal government is able to procure ventilators and ship some of them to Michigan, we would be incredibly grateful.”

On Thursday, the governor announced Michigan’s licensed distilleries are permitted to produce ethanol-based hand sanitizers to help with demand. Coppercraft Distillery in Holland will be producing and donating over 10,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to health officials next week. 

Whitmer said she has also been in discussion with several business leaders across the state about their companies manufacturing medical equipment, such as ventilators, gowns, masks and personal protection equipment. 

Whitmer bans evictions during COVID-19 outbreak

Whitmer signed another executive order Friday, this time suspending evictions during the COVID-19 outbreak, and will remain in effect until at 11:59 p.m. April 17.

Executive Order 2020-19 allows all tenants and mobile home owners to remain in their homes even if they are unable to pay rent. 

“Families across the state are facing a number of uncertainties, from concerns about their health and well-being and that of their loved ones to when their next paycheck will arrive. Worrying about whether they’ll be evicted from their home, apartment or mobile home should not be on this list,” Whitmer said in a statement. “This executive order will ease a burden on families struggling to make ends meet and allow them to focus on what’s most important — staying safe and healthy.” 


The order also relieves courts from certain statutory restrictions to enable them to stay eviction-related proceedings until after the COVID-19 emergency has passed. 

“We continue to urge all Michigan families to remain focused on putting their health first and making smart decisions to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Jeff Donofrio, director of the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. “This order, in addition to Wednesday’s order extending the tax foreclosure deadline, will give renters and homeowners some peace of mind.” 

Earlier on Friday, Whitmer also announced an executive order directing that all non-essential medical and dental procedures be postponed until after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since declaring a state of emergency for COVID-19 on March 10, the governor has issued 15 other executive orders, three of which have been rescinded.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.