New: Whitmer consulting with epidemiologists on ‘shelter in place’

Michigan expected to have aggressive order on Monday

By: - March 23, 2020 7:37 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19, March 18, 2020 | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 10:22 a.m., 3/23/20

As neighboring Ohio on Sunday instituted a “shelter in place” order — notably a state with a Republican governor, Mike DeWine — there’s widespread speculation that Michigan will soon join the ranks of states with such measures.

Under “stay at home” orders, residents would be limited to leaving their homes only for essential services. Two Democratic governors, California’s Gavin Newsom and Illinois’ J.B. Pritzker, were the first to enact “shelter in place” orders.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer again declined in national television interviews Sunday to announce an order, but she has a press conference scheduled at 11 a.m. Monday. The Advance has learned that the “shelter in place” order Whitmer will institute will be among the most aggressive in the nation, but the governor’s office declined to confirm that.

“The Governor spent the weekend being briefed by epidemiologists from University of Michigan, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania. She is basing decisions on science and facts, and she is committed to doing everything we can to slow the spread of the virus and save human lives,” spokesman Zack Pohl told the Advance Monday morning.

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State officials announced Michigan has 1,035 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nine connected deaths as of Sunday. The World Health Organization reports there are almost 300,000 cases world wide and almost 13,000 deaths.

Michigan business groups over the weekend came out against shelter in place order, led by the most powerful, GOP-aligned Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which released a letter CEO Rich Studley wrote to the governor, a common tactic groups use to apply pressure on elected officials. The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the annual Mackinac Policy Conference, and the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM), which is run by former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley — who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018 — also opposed such an order.

“Quite frankly, we are concerned that an untimely or overly broad order would create unnecessary and long-term damage to Michigan’s economic health,” Studley wrote. “… We would urge you to allow businesses to continue operations unless there is a high public health risk to employees or the general public.”

The Chicago-based physicians’ group, the Committee to Protect Medicare (CTP), asked the President Trump administration to issue a national “shelter in place” order to “slow the runaway spread of COVD-19.” On Sunday, CTP asked Michigan business groups reconsider their position on such orders.

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“We are quickly running out of time and delaying a shelter-in-place order will only endanger people’s lives and the very businesses that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and its leader, Mr. Rich Studley, rightfully want to protect,” said CTP Executive Director, Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency physician in west Michigan who ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2018.

“The growing consensus among doctors, frontline medical professionals and public health experts agrees that we have come to the point where COVID-19 will continue its rapid spread, overwhelm hospitals and put lives at risk, including those needing care not related to COVID-19, unless we enforce social distancing by keeping people in their homes.”

After Ohio’s order came out, Crain’s Detroit reported several business groups are “actively talking” to the governor’s office about a stay at home order, as it seemed inevitable. Studley told Crain’s, “We’ve been working in cooperation with other business groups to try and make recommendations and suggestions, but I haven’t seen a final draft or the order itself.”

Sources confirm to the Advance that business groups have been sending “unsolicited memos” to Whitmer since last week on shelter in place.

Whitmer has repeatedly said that she’s concerned about the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, but her top priority is people’s health, as she’s closed many businesses, banned gatherings of more than 50 people, shuttered schools, extended unemployment benefits for some workers, extended some Medicaid benefits and more.

“Anyone who thinks Gretchen Whitmer is taking her cues from Rich Studley during a crisis like this doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about,” a source said.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.