Whitmer compares stay-home regulations to wartime sacrifices

By: - April 20, 2020 5:29 pm

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

Updated, 5:39 a.m., 4/21/20 with additional comments on the governor’s salary

In the last week, conservative criticism of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home order has gotten louder. However, she isn’t wavering that social distancing is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19, something advised by state and national health experts.

A large protest was held in downtown Lansing Wednesday. Several hundred people gathered on the Capitol lawn and thousands clogged roads in front of Sparrow Hospital, the only Level 1 trauma center in the region. 

Small corners of social media platforms are again planning protests, but Whitmer warns them to stay home.

“We know that [the Operation Gridlock protest] compromised health last week. We know that people came from all parts of our state and then returned to all parts of our state,” Whitmer said at a press conference Monday. “The thought that COVID-19 might spread because of a big gathering like that is real and it’s a concern. And while I respect people’s right to dissent, I am worried about the health of the people of our state. That’s what is driving every decision that I’ve made. None of this is easy, but it’s absolutely essential to save lives.”


Whitmer compared the statewide measures taken to fight the coronavirus to wartime sacrifices.

“To all the people that have disagreed with the actions that I’ve taken or feel their rights are being infringed, I want to say this: We are taking a limited action for a limited amount of time to save people’s lives,” She said. “President Trump called this a war, and it is exactly that. So let’s act like it. 

“In World War II, there weren’t people lining up at the Capitol to protest the fact that they had to drop everything they were doing and build planes or tanks or to ration food. They rolled up their sleeves and they got to work. We were all in this together, and it wasn’t indefinite. It was until we’ve beaten the enemy.”

Polling for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce conducted by the Chicago-based Glengariff Group on Wednesday and Thursday after the protest show Whitmer’s handling of COVID-19 at 57% positive and 37% negative. Trump is at 44% positive and 50% negative.

Whitmer said she understands that the economic shutdown will have a negative impact on the state’s budget. Last week, she, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf sent a letter to Trump asking for federal aid for state and local governments and noted Michigan’s budget hole could be $7 billion. The current Fiscal Year 2020 budget is roughly $60 billion.

She said she is going to “lead by example” by taking a 10% pay cut to her $159,300 salary, and she has asked her senior executive staff to take a 5% pay cut. A Whitmer spokesperson said the governor is donating her salary back to the Department of Treasury.*


Case rates plateau in most areas of the state

The numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise, but Whitmer and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun say positive effects from the state’s stay-home order are starting to show in the data. 

There are 32,000 positive cases of COVID-19 as of 3 p.m. Monday, although state officials believe the actual number of cases is much higher. Michigan now has 2,468 people who have died of COVID-19 after 77 new deaths were reported since Sunday. The state reports a case fatality rate of 8%.

Whitmer cites a study from Google that shows Michiganders’ mobility since February has decreased by 34% and a Facebook study that shows Michigan ranks fourth overall when it comes to the percentage of people in the state that have stayed home.


She said this is reason for “cautious optimism” and it is contributing to what appears to be a flattening of the curve. 

“We’re seeing a plateau in cases in most areas of the state,” Khaldun said. “Hospitals, particularly those in the southeast part of the state, are now seeing lower numbers of people hospitalized due to COVID-19.”

There also is a rise in recoveries. On Saturday, the state reported that 3,237 people who tested positive have now recovered from the disease 30 days after being diagnosed. 


“These are great signs that social distancing is working,” Kahldun said. “People are recovering, and there is hope. However, as the governor mentioned, we still have to watch what is happening across the entire state very carefully.”

Southeast Michigan, which is the most populated region in the state, remains a hot spot for the disease, but rural areas across the state are starting to see rising trends of positive COVID-19 cases. 

Seventy-seven of the state’s 83 counties have reported cases, which is about 93% of the state. 

“I want to be clear, living in a rural part of Michigan does not mean that you are safe from the virus,” Whitmer said. “Just because it has not shown up in your community yet does not mean that it’s not already there.”


DHHS also is ramping up testing accessibility. Khaldun said the state has continued to increase the number of tests done per day through partnerships with private labs, hospital labs and medical partners. 

“But we still have a ways to go,” she said. “And while we have been limited by supplies, like swabs and testing reagents, we still want anyone who needs to get a test to be able to get one done, and easily.”

The state is now expanding testing criteria to all first responders, health care workers and any essential workers, even if they are asymptomatic. 

The department has also expanded its staff to reach out to people who may have been in contact with someone who has tested positive with COVID-19. Over 130 staff members from the DHHS have been supporting local health departments in southeast Michigan by contacting over 12,000 people over the last few days. An additional 2,200 people have been trained to do this work across the state.

Whitmer hasn’t announced her plan to loosen regulations around the stay-home order, which is currently set to expire on April 30, but has said that it will probably come in waves. 


On Thursday, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) released his “Open Michigan Safely” plan that would open the economy in phases based on case numbers and death rates. 

Whitmer said there are “some good ideas there” and she will take the plan into consideration, as well as recommendations from the federal government, but is prioritizing recommendations from health experts.

“We are going through a rigorous process using the best data, listening to the best medical minds and really trying to make sure that the course that we chart will keep people safe and will preclude us from having a second wave,” Whitmer said. “That’s what we need to avoid. So that is why the slow, methodical ramping up of different segments of our economy over time is essential.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered 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.