Whitmer: Trump rally in Lansing 'a recipe for disaster'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called a President Donald Trump campaign rally planned Tuesday at Lansing's airport "a recipe for disaster" amid the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan.

During a Sunday interview on WXYZ-TV, the Democratic governor noted the Republican president hadn't been able to protect himself from getting the coronavirus, and five officials for Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive in recent days.

On Friday, the Trump campaign announced the Lansing rally, which would be the president's third outdoor rally at a Michigan airport since September. Temperature checks were done at Trump's Oct. 17 rally in Muskegon. While some Michigan rally participants have worn masks, many don't wear masks or practice social distancing.

“…This is a recipe for disaster, and we have seen COVID outbreaks as a result of these rallies," said Whitmer, a national campaign co-chair for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. "I’m encouraging Michigan citizens: Don’t attend events like this.”

She instead urged residents to vote.

Whitmer has made this accusation of COVID spread from Trump's rallies before, but the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has provided little evidence of Trump rally spread of the virus.

Whitmer told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday that the state had tracked “spread” associated with Trump’s rallies in Michigan. 

“We have been doing contact tracing and we have seen from some of the rallies that the Trump campaign has held in Michigan that there has been COVID spread,” she said. “It’s not surprising.”

Of the two rallies Trump has held since the pandemic began, the state Department of Health and Human Services has been made aware of one case stemming from Trump’s Sept. 10 Freeland rally, spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin told The Detroit News on Wednesday.

It’s not clear whether that individual contracted the virus before, after or at the rally, she said. 

“I’m not aware at this time of any outbreaks associated with this or other rallies,” Sutfin said. The department considers an outbreak as two or more cases linked by place and time. 

Whitmer’s spokeswoman Tiffany Brown maintained the situation in Freeland was in keeping with the governor’s Tuesday comments on CNN.

“The individual could have contracted it at the rally or exposed other people to the virus,” Brown said.

The Muskegon County Health Department said it was too early to determine whether any cases had ensued from Trump’s Saturday rally at the Muskegon airport outdoor rally. The Saginaw County Health Department, which has jurisdiction in Freeland, did not return a phone call seeking comment. 

The state health department's Sutfin didn't have any updates Sunday and noted the Saginaw County case.

"The department is unable to say whether this person already had COVID-19 prior to attending the rally or whether the individual contracted COVID-19 at the rally," she reiterated Sunday. 

Whitmer would not weigh in Sunday during aWDIV-TV interview on the future of Michigan's winter school sports as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Michigan, noting the decisions on the future of sporting events such as hockey, basketball or wrestling would be made at the local level.

But she urged parents to take "personal responsibility" for their children if they are participating in a sport in which some athletes failed to wear masks.

"If that was my child, I would pull them out," Whitmer told WDIV-TV. She extended that personal responsibility to avoid stores and restaurants failing to enforce the mask mandate.

"You should make the choice to walk out," she said. 

"Let's take the politics out of the public health crisis because lives and livelihoods are on the line," Whitmer said. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks with WDIV-TV about the uptick in COVID-19 cases during an interview on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020.

As of Saturday, the state's total number of cases stood at 158,026 and total deaths at 7,182.

On Saturday, Michigan broke a new daily record for reported cases with 3,338 as the state health department noted more than 96% of test results reported for the day originated from tests in the past five days. 

Even without Saturday's numbers, case rates and hospitalizations have risen steadily in recent weeks, a phenomena state leaders have attributed to social gatherings, mitigation fatigue and colder weather driving people inside.

Whitmer noted that, despite a Michigan Supreme Court order overturning her emergency powers, her Department of Health and Human Services still can issue further epidemic orders if the state's infection rate and hospitalization load called for it.

"As we navigate these next steps and our numbers continue to rise and our health systems are under duress, then the director will issue additional orders that could mean moving backwards," she said."No one wants to see us take steps backward but if COVID is growing uncontrolled across our state, that will be necessary."

Whitmer predicted the GOP-led Legislature's willingness to cooperate with her on COVID-19 policy through lawmaking would hinge in part on the Nov. 3 election, and she hopes Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump.

"This election is really important," said Whitmer, who is a national co-chair for the Biden campaign. "We are eight months into COVID-19 and we still don't have a national strategy. It's been on governors to take action."