Whitmer 'relieved' by new masks, but situation in Detroit is 'dire'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Sunday said that the federal government's intervention in Michigan's potential supply chain for personal protection equipment is one that many states are facing as they compete against each other for equipment. 

Whitmer's comments on CNN's "State of Union Sunday" clarified earlier comments that some interpreted to mean that the federal government was interceding as a form of retribution for Whitmer's criticisms of the White House's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appears on "Meet the Press," Sunday, March 29, 2020, with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, left, and host Chuck Todd.

 "I think people are trying to make this into a different story than what it is," Whitmer told CNN's Jake Tapper. "The story in Michigan is the same as Massachusetts. The same as New York. The same as Illinois and Minnesota. We the states are trying to actively get every piece of PPE that we can. We’re competing against each other and in some cases the federal government is taking priority."

In a series of two national TV spots Sunday, Whitmer's tone toward President Donald Trump's administration seemed to soften as she noted the state was "relieved" by FEMA's major disaster declaration in Michigan and delivery Friday of 112,000 additional N95 respirator masks from the national stockpile.  

But she also made a plea for more assistance, noting the new respirators may mean "we're going to make it through the weekend."

"There’s so much more work to do," Whitmer said. "The dire situation in Detroit is getting worse by the minute. All of our energy needs to be focused on getting PPE to the people of our country. Right now, in Michigan, we are in need.”

As of Sunday afternoon, Michigan had 5,486 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 132 deaths. A majority of the cases have been located in the Southeast Michigan counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. 

In Detroit alone, there have been 1,542 people who have tested positive for the virus and 35 people who have died. 

Whitmer has made more than a dozen appearances on national TV in recent weeks to speak about the situation in Michigan. Many of those appearances have included criticism's  of the White House's delayed response to the pandemic and the lack of resources like personal protection equipment for medical personnel. 

Whitmer said this week that supply orders that Michigan had placed were being delayed or canceled and diverted to the federal government.

"Well, we've entered into a number of contracts, and as we get closer to the date when shipments are supposed to come in, they are getting canceled — getting delayed," Whitmer said Friday on CNN. 

Trump has responded in recent days by blasting Whitmer, a Democrat, on Twitter and in press conferences.

During Friday's White House coronavirus briefing, Trump said "I think they should be appreciative," referring to Whitmer and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. 

"I say, Mike ... don't call the woman in Michigan," said Trump, referring to Vice President Mike Pence. "I say, if they don't treat you right, don't call."

Trump stepped up his attacks Friday after Whitmer's appearance on CNN. 

"I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic," Trump tweeted.

"Yet your Governor, Gretchen 'Half' Whitmer is way in over her ahead, she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude!" 

But at the White House this week, Pence complimented Whitmer, saying she “has been leading her state through all of this with great energy.”

“We want to partner with her. We want to partner with every governor and make sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing in terms of acquiring resources,” Pence said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci reassured Tapper Sunday prior to Whitmer's appearance that states like Michigan were getting supplies regardless of the president's comments. 

"The reality, not the rhetoric, but the reality is that the people who need things will get what they need," said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

NBC's "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd asked Whitmer Sunday whether she hoped to mend the relationship with the White House through Pence. Whitmer said she was grateful for the partnership. 

"It’s got to be all hands on deck. We are not one another’s enemies," she said. "The enemy is the virus. It is spreading and it is taking American lives.”

Staff writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.