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Gov. Whitmer extends state of emergency in Michigan

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday extended Michigan's state of emergency through Oct. 27 as officials continue to voice concern about the threat of COVID-19.

The emergency declaration has been in place since March 10, when Michigan reported its first cases of COVID-19 and 231 days before the extended state of emergency is set to end. The previous extension was set to end Thursday

"This emergency will end, and it is a matter of months," Whitmer said in a statement. "But we are not out of the woods yet. Right now, the federal government and all 50 states have been under some form of state of emergency.

"We must continue doing our part to fight this virus on behalf of our families, frontline workers, and our small businesses."

Also on Tuesday, the governor signed four executive orders that continue protections for prison and jail populations and restrictions on who can enter health care facilities during the pandemic.

The emergency declaration is what gives the governor the ability to take unilateral actions to combat the virus, such as shuttering businesses, suspending portions of state laws or requiring people to wear masks.

The GOP-controlled Legislature has argued in a court challenge that Whitmer's continued use of the declarations violates the separation of powers in government. The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments in a related case on Sept. 9.

Michigan added 898 cases and 20 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday. The additions bring the state's total number of cases to 123,633 and the death toll to 6,751. Last week, Michigan reported 5,557 new cases of COVID-19 and 70 new deaths linked to it.

The weekly new case total was the highest the state has reported since early May. But the total is well below the peak in April, and the number of tests performed has increased. Hospitalizations and deaths remain relatively low. And the state considers 95,051 Michiganians "recovered" from COVID-19.

A group of Michigan public health experts have advised the state's courts to uphold Whitmer's unilateral powers to combat COVID-19 and say the "health emergency" presented by the virus will continue until there's a vaccine.

On Friday, Whitmer announced she would allow movie theaters, performance venues and bowling centers to reopen under capacity limits on Oct. 9.

However, Robert Gordon, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told lawmakers last week the state is "not done with" COVID-19 and is facing "increasing risk" as schools and universities reopen for classes this fall.

"We have kids back in school. It’s a wonderful thing to get an education. It’s a source of risk," Gordon told the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic.

"We have college students, many of them back on campus, some of them back in classes. Education is really important. It’s a source of risk.

"You have cold weather coming. You have people going indoors. That’s inevitable. It’s a source of risk. You have flu season coming. That’s going to be a source of people getting sick, people going to the hospital. That’s another source of risk.”

He concluded, "It’s a complicated position that we’re in."

cmauger@detroitnews.com