Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 757, which will help the state of Michigan ensure every vote is counted in the upcoming November election. | Whitmer office photo
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during a Sunday night news conference announced more pandemic restrictions as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the state, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a statement urging local officials to enforce them.
The restrictions were handed down by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in an epidemic order, not executive order. These are set to begin Wednesday and last until Dec. 8, approximately three weeks.
Under the epidemic order, indoor residential gatherings are limited to two households. However, Whitmer and DHHS officials urged families to stick to a single household to interact with over the next three weeks.
“If you are considering spending Thanksgiving with people outside your household, I urge you to reconsider,” Whitmer said at the news conference.
The order comes as the state health department on Saturday reported 7,072 new COVID-19 cases. Michigan has more than 251,000 cases and almost 8,000 deaths. The U.S. on Sunday surpassed 11 million cases and 246,000 deaths, according to a COVID-19 tracker from Johns Hopkins University.
The order pauses dine-in service at bars and restaurants, suspends in-person learning at high schools and colleges, halts non-professional sports and temporarily closes movie theaters, bowling alleys, casinos and ice rinks.
Professional and college sports with extensive COVID-19 health protocols in place can continue, but without spectators.
K-8 schooling is allowed “if done with strong mitigation” and safety protocols like masks are required, per the order. Retailers, outdoor parks and public transit can also stay open.
Restaurants and bars are required to stop dine-in services, but can still offer outdoor dining along with carry-out and delivery. Child care centers, hair salons and gymnasiums are allowed to stay open, but gym group activities aren’t allowed.
“I hope that you will double down so we can avoid a stay-at-home order,” Whitmer said, addressing Michigan residents.
Nessel, the state’s top law enforcement official, asked local health and police departments to enforce the epidemic order.
“As with past orders, county public health departments and local law enforcement are primarily responsible for enforcement in their own communities and we hope they do so,” Nessel said in a statement. “We stand ready to assist them in their efforts.”
‘Spreading like wildfire’
Joining Whitmer at the conference were Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director (DHHS) Robert Gordon.
Khaldun painted a stark portrait of Michigan’s rising cases, hospitalizations and deaths. She said COVID-19 is “spreading like wildfire” and Michigan’s next few months will be “deadly and grim” if people do not act now.
“In the past seven days, we’ve announced a total of 44,019 more cases … In the past week, we know of 416 people who have died from COVID-19,” Khaldun said. “And by February 15, models predict we could have as many as 20,000 additional deaths due to COVID-19 in Michigan.”
Michigan is in the “dreaded surge” that public health officials have been warning about for months, she added.
Three Michigan lawmakers — Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.), Rep. Ann Bolin (R-Brighton) and Rep. Scott VanSingel (R-Grant) — have conformed in the last week that they have COVID-19.
Gordon said the order needed to happen in order to stave off COVID-19 transmission that will occur as people spend more time indoors due to both the cooler weather and the approaching holiday season.
“Anywhere that people gather indoors is a source of great risk, and the risk rises if people are taking off their masks, mingling or exercising,” Gordon said.
In the early stages of the pandemic, Whitmer issued a plethora of executive orders aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19. Those and their subsequent iterations were invalidated when, on Oct. 2, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the law she used to issue them was unconstitutional because it gave too much legislative authority to the executive branch.
COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have since surged.
Responses to the epidemic order
Officials from Michigan’s higher education organizations — including the Michigan Community College Association (MCCA), Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU) and Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities (MICU) — said in a statement that they back the epidemic order.
Several colleges and universities have already decided to end in-person instruction that would occur after Thanksgiving, citing risks of increased transmission during the holiday season.
The Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA) and its member hospitals also support the epidemic order, according to a statement from MHA CEO Brian Peters.
“Community spread is rising rapidly across the state, meaning healthcare workers are being exposed and leaving hospitals with strained capacity,” Peters said. “We urge Michiganders to comply with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services emergency order.”
State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) — whom Whitmer has repeatedly urged to address the COVID-19 pandemic and to support and codify a statewide mask mandate — responded to the news conference as it was happening.
“The Senate Republicans have been engaged in thoughtful conversations with our doctors, hospitals, and the Whitmer administration on ways to combat the spread of this insidious virus and help support our healthcare workers,” Shirkey said in a statement. “While we were meeting in good faith, Gov. Whitmer was working on her own strategy that did not include input from the Senate Republicans and we see the result of her plans in this latest round of restrictions.”
A British study has shown that Whitmer’s comprehensive emergency actions from the Whitmer administration, not the state Legislature, are credited with decreasing the spread of COVID-19 in the spring and summer.
Alongside Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), Shirkey filed the lawsuit that eventually made its way to the Michigan Supreme Court and resulted in the invalidation of Whitmer’s emergency orders.
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