Gov. allows gatherings of 10 or less, asks Trump for federal disaster declaration for Midland

By: - May 21, 2020 11:34 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Gov. Whitmer office photo

With a recent flood in Mid-Michigan compounded upon a global pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke at a media conference on Thursday about moving forward and working together to get through these hard times. 

As part of her plan to gradually lessen COVID-19 restrictions, she announced the immediate authorization of small gatherings of 10 people or less and said non-essential medical procedures can start up at the end of the month.

“This will not look like business as usual, though it will start to look a little more normal,” Whitmer said. “What we don’t want to do is to just simply re-engage as though nothing’s changed. Life has changed and it’s important that we change along with it, so we can safely get back to some normalcy.”

Whitmer also issued a state of emergency for Midland County after a Tittabawassee River dam failed on Tuesday causing a “500-year event” destroying bridges, homes and infrastructure. She traveled there Wednesday to survey the damage and talk to local officials.

“I can tell you I’ve used this phrase many times over the last 10 weeks, but this is unlike anything we’ve seen before. The damage is truly devastating,” Whitmer said. “But I think the most remarkable thing that I saw yesterday was the people that were stepping up to help one another and take care of one another.”

Whitmer is seeking a federal emergency declaration to ensure support and protection for Midland residents. She sent a letter Wednesday to President Donald Trump and she’s hopeful he will authorize it.

Trump and Whitmer had a brief phone conversation on Wednesday, she said, during which he asked about the damage.

“He said the federal government will do whatever they can to help us. I sent a letter last night. It’s my hope that when he comes to Michigan today, he’ll sign it. I think that would be a great thing,” Whitmer said. “And he did say, ‘If I ever go to Midland, would you consider joining me.’ I said, ‘Of course I would.’”

The National Guard has been called up. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has created a web page to post updates, documents and information on the Midland situation.

Whitmer said, first and foremost, Michiganders take care of one another and this has become ever clearer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout her public statements during the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitmer has said how well the state can social distance and stay home will determine how soon normal activities can restart. Earlier this week, she announced that some businesses in the Upper Peninsula and part of northern Michigan will reopen Friday. 

On Thursday morning, Whitmer signed additional executive orders.

Auto showrooms and retail businesses can reopen May 26, but must operate by appointment only with their customers. Non-essential medical, dental and veterinary procedures will be allowed on May 29.

When asked about when people like hairdressers could go back to work, a point of contention in the state evidenced by Wednesday’s “Operation Haircut,” another right-wing protest at the Capitol, Whitmer said businesses that “aren’t included in the list today are not included in the list today.”

“What we know is that this virus is still very present in the vast majority of our state,” Whitmer said. “We are asking people to be really smart as we take these steps so we don’t have to take a step backwards, we can keep moving forward, but to know when the next step forward is we’re going to continue to watch the data.”

As of Wednesday, Michigan reached over 53,000 COVID-19 cases and has more than 5,000 deaths. The number of cases per day continues to drop, but Detroit remains hard hit by the pandemic with over 10,000 cases. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols covers government and statewide issues, including criminal justice, environmental issues, education and domestic and sexual violence. Anna is a former state government reporter for The Associated Press and most recently was a reporter for the Detroit News. Anna is a graduate of Michigan State University.