Whitmer exploring next steps of COVID-19 restrictions as case rates worsen

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday she is investigating the “next steps” her administration will take to combat a weeks-long surge in coronavirus cases.

The governor said she’s “having ongoing regular conversations” with Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials about how to handle the “very serious” increase in cases. Whitmer made the comment at a news conference on veteran's legislation in response to a Detroit News question about whether she is considering another stay-at-home order.

To date, there have been nearly 217,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 7,600 deaths from the virus in Michigan. The cases have increased during the past month, and  hospitalizations have quadrupled since the beginning of October — numbers that are even “worse than what we were seeing in the spring,” Whitmer said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference in Lansing on Tuesday, Nov. 11.

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Deaths have not yet reached the devastating early rates of spring, but health officials fear they could worsen as the state continues the “second wave” of viral spread that epidemiologists have been warning about since early in the year.

“We’re working very closely with our local departments of public health and the administrators of our hospital systems” and the Legislature, Whitmer said. “I would love to have partnership where we can take the politics out of this moment and do everything we can to save lives here in Michigan and mitigate the harm” that the new wave of cases is causing.

The first stay-at-home order ended at the beginning of June. Since then, most businesses have been allowed to reopen with safety precautions.

In early October, the state Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the 1945 law that Whitmer used to issue the previous stay-at-home order and dozens of other orders, including a statewide requirement to wear masks in public places. The court also unanimously ruled that the governor illegally extended a state of emergency after April 30 without the Legislature's approval. 

Whitmer called that ruling “confusing” on Tuesday, noting that her administration does have the power to continue issuing statewide epidemic requirements such as a new mask mandate and limitation on gathering sizes. They were issued under Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon’s emergency powers.

State GOP lawmakers have argued the use of Gordon’s powers to replace Whitmer’s previous orders works around the Supreme Court's rulings and have demanded input on statewide coronavirus-related policies.

Whitmer asked the Legislature last week to codify into law a statewide mask requirement, saying it would be “helpful to our health, our safety and our economy.” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has said he would oppose such legislation.

Whitmer and the Republican-controlled Legislature have worked together to pass some coronavirus-related legislation since the Supreme Court rulings, including the approval of  legislation in mid-October that allows an additional six weeks of unemployment insurance to jobless Michiganians.

Other policies — such as a GOP-led effort to allow counties to determine their own COVID restrictions based on testing, hospitalization and case rates — have found little traction.