Whitmer: Protesters flouting social distancing could ironically cause a longer stay-home order

By: - April 15, 2020 6:02 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

“I support your right to free speech, and I respect your opinions. I just urge you: Don’t put yourself at risk, and don’t put others at risk, either,” Whitmer said as she addressed the public during her latest Michigan COVID-19 update at Lansing’s Romney Building on Wednesday afternoon.

Just across the street, hundreds of protesters continued to gather at the state Capitol in defiance of Whitmer’s stay at home order and business restrictions. The event was promoted as a “gridlock” protest in which people would stay in their cars and honk, but quickly evolved into a public health risk as many people exited their cars and protested in close quarters — many without face masks.

“That’s how COVID-19 spreads,” Whitmer said of the protest. “The sad irony here is that the protest was that they don’t like being in this stay home order, [but] they may have just created a need to lengthen it, which is something that we’re trying to avoid at all costs.”

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Whitmer said that while she was “very disappointed” to see so many people congregate without following public health guidelines, she is pleased that the COVID-19 measures put into place statewide have otherwise been working to control the spread of the virus.

A significant indicator of this, Whitmer said, is the decreased number of hospital beds now needed at the Suburban Collection Showcase in Novi. The convention and exposition center has been slated to become the state’s second makeshift field hospital for COVID-19 patient overflow, with a capacity of 1,000 beds.

That will now be a 250-bed facility, Whitmer said.

“We’ll have the capacity to increase that if it’s necessary, but because of this stay home order, it might not be. And so we’re only building it out for 250 [beds] at this time,” she said.


In addition to what she described as the very early stages of a flattening curve, Whitmer noted that the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) now available to Michigan health care workers has vastly improved since the shortage just weeks ago.

This is largely due to individuals and businesses stepping up to donate millions of masks and other PPE since then. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also shipped more than 8,000 masks to Michigan on Wednesday.

Whitmer said that although this is a big step, she is still working toward securing multiple weeks’ worth of PPE to make sure the state doesn’t run into that problem again.

She also announced her newest executive order, EO 2020-50, which establishes precautionary measures in nursing homes to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Elderly people and those with underlying conditions are especially vulnerable to being more seriously impacted by the disease.


In response to Republicans and others who continue to push for businesses in the state to be reopened early, Whitmer said she will re-engage Michigan’s economy on a timeline backed by the best and most recent data and science.

Whitmer warned that, just as what happened in certain parts of the country during the 1918 influenza outbreak, lifting orders too soon could lead to a second wave of COVID-19 in the state and necessitate a second set of restrictions.

“As tough as this is right now, we know we don’t want to go through this again,” Whitmer said.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun emphasized that although the department is “very optimistic” that the measures being taken are slowing the rates of cases and hospitalizations in Michigan, “a plateau does not mean that we are out of the woods.”

“It would be premature to only look at a few days of data to make a determination that we should absolutely ease up social distancing measures,” Khaldun added, urging Michiganders to “stay the course” and continue following the guidelines in the meantime.

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Tests even for mild cases

The press update came with the news that anyone with even mild COVID-19 symptoms will now qualify for a test, which is a significant change from before when tests were more scarce. Khaldun encouraged individuals to contact their health care provider if they do feel symptoms.

Another shift in Michigan’s response on the health care front is the implementation of social tracing of COVID-19. This method of controlling the outbreak, which involves tracing the whereabouts and individuals that a symptomatic person came into contact with, was successfully implemented in South Korea early on and contributed to the country’s early success in “flattening the curve.”

Khaldun asked Michiganders to cooperate with public health workers who may call them to inquire about symptoms and recent places traveled.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.