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Whitmer urges 'keeping doing your part' as massive protest hits restrictions

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing  Gov. Gretchen Whitmer encouraged people feeling the pressure of the stay-home order Wednesday to continue abiding by the order, noting it may be helping to flatten the state's curve of COVID-19 cases. 

"Right now, I am just going to ask that you keep going," Whitmer said, "you keep doing your part.”

From a press conference inside the Romney Building, the governor criticized protesters on the streets outside who were intermingling and violating social distancing measures to stay six feet apart. Thousands of protesters gathered in their cars around the Capitol for hours during a rally called "Operation Gridlock" to protest the governor's stay-home order.

Hundreds remained outside the state building protesting during Whitmer's address and dozens of others mingled on the Capitol lawn without masks or six-foot distancing.

"This demonstration is going to come at a cost to people's health," Whitmer said. "The sad irony is that they were protesting that they don't like this stay-home order, and they may have just created a need to lengthen it."

Whitmer said she hoped to reengage the economy soon, but wanted to avoid creating a second spike of illnesses. She maintained her decisions were about public health, not politics. 

"Where we are, what the science is going to tell us, I can't say what next week is going to look like, let alone two weeks from now," Whitmer said.

Earlier in the day, in a morning television interview,Whitmer defended the new restrictions she imposed in her latest stay-at-home order, arguing that the high rate of COVID-19 cases in Michigan requires a "unique solution."

During an interview on "The Third Hour of Today,"Whitmer noted that Michigan is among the top states for COVID-19 cases. Michigan currently ranks fourth nationally, according to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.

“We’ve got a unique crisis on our hands, and it demands a unique solution," Whitmer said in response to a question about the reach of her new order, which was unveiled Thursday.

The orderhas been criticized by Republicans and some business groups who note that it went further than other governors have gone. A protest against the order is occurring Wednesday at the Michigan Capitol in Lansing.

Whitmer tightened and extended the stay-at-home policy that's been in place since March 23, adding new prohibitions on travel between homes, garden centers at large retail stores and motorized boating. Her order also does not include updated guidance from the federal government that would have allowed more people to go to work during the crisis.

Many other states are using the new federal guidance, including the governors of Ohio and Indiana. The new guidance classifies landscapers and those in home construction as "critical" workers.

Whitmer's latest order has drawn applause from the Michigan State Medical Society.

On the "The Third Hour of Today," she said if more people are traveling, more people are using gas pumps and that could spread COVID-19 to health care workers who have to be out to help at hospitals.

She also noted that the snow falling in Michigan on Wednesday could prevent some of the prohibited activities from occurring regardless of the order.

"The fact that we’re cracking down on people traveling between homes or planting or landscaping or golfing, really, for a couple more weeks isn’t going to meaningfully impact people’s ability to do it because the snow will do that," Whitmer said.

The Democratic governor was also asked if she would accept if former Vice President Joe Biden asked her to be his running mate. Biden has said the first-term Michigan governor made his list of potential vice presidential candidates.

“I’ve got my hands full with COVID-19 in the state of Michigan," Whitmer responded Wednesday. She added, "I am not focusing on the national politics at the moment.”

Host Craig Melvin ended the interview by saying, "It should be noted that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did not say no."

cmauger@detroitnews.com