Whitmer expects short-term extension of stay-at-home order

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday she expects to roll out a plan Friday for a short-term extension of her statewide stay-at-home order to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

During a news briefing, Whitmer said there are reasons for "cautious optimism" and that some restrictions could be loosened in the state. But that will come only if facts and data support it, she said.

The number of patients hospitalized with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 has declined 15% in the past 10 days, she said. 

"When we do start to re-engage, it will have to be very thoughtful and precise, mitigating risk to all and mitigating the risk of a second wave," Whitmer said. "But we will start to re-engage. We will have a plan, and we will start to share that in more depth as we get closer to next week."

Whitmer's tightened stay home order, which prompted a protest of 4,000 demonstrators in cars and on foot last week, is scheduled to expire April 30. Republican legislators have argued the governor needs their approval to extend the stay home order, but legal advisers have argued that a 1945 law allows her to extend it unilaterally.

After the news briefing, Whitmer's spokeswoman Tiffany Brown confirmed as much, saying the governor would not require legislative approval to extend the stay home order. 

It's likely the governor would invoke her powers under the governor's Emergency Powers Act of 1945 to extend the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order instead of under the Emergency Management Act, which requires legislative approval of an extension. 

But the Emergency Management Act offers key liability protections for health care workers that would disappear without an extension by the Legislature. 

Whitmer is working with six other Midwest governors on how to reopen the region's economy, but each state may decide to relax certain practices at different times.

Michigan's stay home, stay safe order is working, she said, but the state remains in the top five for the country in the overall number of deaths from COVID-19.

The state death toll Wednesday reached 2,813 and an overall confirmed case total of 33,966. 

The latest figures, Whitmer said, are "hard to take" but represent "a sign for cautious optimism."

"They show that the vast majority of people in our state are doing their part," Whitmer said. "They show that social distancing is working and that Michiganders are doing incredibly well compared to other states."

Whitmer has issued 50 executive orders amid the outbreak in an attempt to protect state residents from the virus. 

"States without stay-at-home orders have seen an increase in cases recently, while our data shows that our order is working," said Whitmer, who provided figures on how Michigan is faring against the virus. "This shows that what we are doing is working but that we must keep staying safe if we're going to keep dropping our numbers and saving lives."

The governor extended her original March 23 stay-at-home order earlier this month and added restrictions, including a ban on travel between homes. 

The first-term Democratic governor's more restrictive order on April 9 drew criticism from Republicans lawmakers in Michigan as well as President Donald Trump.

The rules went beyond her original order, forbidding residents from traveling between homes they own in the state or to vacation rentals. In addition, large retail stores must cordon off areas dedicated to furniture, gardening and paint, which aren't viewed as essential supplies.

The latest order continued a prior directive for residents to stay inside unless they have to leave to exercise, travel for an essential job, care for a loved one or pick up necessary supplies, such as groceries or medicine.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, has called Whitmer's new order the "wrong call" and "bad for Michigan families."

Over the weekend, Trump singled out the COVID-19 policies in Michigan, saying some states "have gotten carried away."

The president, during a White House briefing on the pandemic, said he'd been getting along well with Whitmer, but called her restrictions "crazy."

The governor's office has said all sides should be on the same team when it comes to defeating the virus.

"I know it's been difficult for folks in our state, but we are getting through this and we are going to get through this together," Whitmer said. "We've got to get this right. That's the most important thing."