Whitmer: 'Concerned' about schools reopening amid upticks in COVID-19 cases

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday she's "concerned" about schools reopening to in-person instruction in the fall as COVID-19 cases trend upward across the country.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

The Democratic governor's comments came after Republican President Donald earlier in the day said he may "cut off funding" if schools don't reopen in the fall.

"As a parent, as a governor, I want to get our kids back in in-person instruction," Whitmer told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "But we can't do it if it's not safe to. That's why the actions today really matter."

The country needs to do better with "fundamentals," including mask wearing, testing supplies and tracing the contacts of those who test positive for COVID-19, she said.

"I am not sending kids and our education workforce into our schools unless it's safe," Whitmer added during the interview. "It's that simple."

Less than an hour later during a Facebook Live event with Fox 2, the Democratic governor said "the trajectory" of COVID-19 in Michigan is "very concerning." People need to wear masks and continue social distancing, she said.

“If we all do our part, we can re-engage, we can get our kids back in school," Whitmer said. "But at this trajectory, it’s very unsure."

She made the comments as some states are experiencing spikes in COVID-19 cases and the number of new cases in Michigan is again trending upward after previously spiking in April.

Still, hospitalizations and deaths tied to the virus remain low in Michigan.

Trump raised the political stakes around reopening schools on Twitter on Wednesday.

"The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families," the president tweeted. "May cut off funding if not open!"

On CNN, Whitmer said she's listening to scientists, not politicians.

"We are eight weeks out and we know the trends nationwide are not good," she said.

Last week, Whitmer released guidelines for how Michigan's K-12 schools should reopen in the fall and said her administration would provide $256 million to help districts implement their local plans.

Under the guidelines, schools wouldn't able to have in-person instruction if the state is in phases one through three of the state's reopening plan. In that case, students would be instructed remotely or online. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration unveiled this graphic on Thursday, May 7, 2020, explaining phases for lifting COVID-19 restrictions in Michigan.

Most of Michigan is currently in the fourth phase of the reopening plan.

If COVID-19 numbers continue to climb, the state won't be in the fourth phase in the fall, Whitmer cautioned.