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Second Detroit lawmaker gets COVID-19, credits Trump, drug with recovery

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — State Rep. Karen Whitsett, the second Michigan lawmaker from Detroit to test positive for COVID-19, is urging people to take the virus more seriously and is crediting hydroxychloroquine for helping save her life.

Rep. Karen Whitsett

On Tuesday, her doctor prescribed her hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug that's being studied as a potential treatment for COVID-19, Whitsett said.

"It was a choice between going to the hospital and never coming out and getting my hands on that medication," she said, adding that "It literally saved my life."

She credited President Donald Trump for the availability and popularity of the drug, noting the administration had touted the drug at the federal level as a potential treatment for coronavirus. 

Trump congratulated Whitsett on her recovery in a Monday tweet. 

"This is really difficult not just for myself, but for thousands of others," she said. "The fact that he is paying attention really matters. ... That focus I’m sure will continue on in Detroit.”

Henry Ford Health System is conducting a large-scale study to find out if the drug can prevent COVID-19.

House Democrats revealed in a Monday statement that Whitsett, a first-term Democratic lawmaker, had tested positive for the virus. The caucus said she didn't attend House session the last time lawmakers convened on March 17 and "is doing well and appears to be on the other side" of the illness.

Whitsett said she had been experiencing a headache that she couldn't get rid of and pain in the front of her neck. She said she had a cough but not some of the other symptoms traditionally associated with the coronavirus. The headache became more severe and her breathing became a problem so Whitsett said she went last Tuesday to get tested for the virus.

"I see far too many people in my community not taking this serious," Whitsett said in a Monday interview. "I see far too many people in my community not staying at home."

"People really need to take this serious and heed the warnings," she added. "If you want to live to be on the other side of this, you need to take the warning. Because it’s real."

The announcement of Whitsett's positive test came after Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit, previously tested positive and after Rep. Isaac Robinson, D-Detroit, died with family members suspecting he had the virus.

Whitsett’s positive result is "another reminder that everyone must follow the recommended guidelines" and "practice social distancing to stop the spread of this virus," said House Minority Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills.

Metro Detroit has been the epicenter of the spread of the virus in Michigan. Wayne County now has 7,518 confirmed coronavirus cases, about 48% of the statewide total, and 293 deaths, 47% of the statewide deaths. The county has about 17% of the state's population.

Asked where she may have gotten the virus, Whitsett said she wouldn't guess.

She represents a portion of Detroit and portion of Dearborn in the House.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer acknowledged that a second state lawmaker had tested positive during a Monday press conference. News of Carter's positive test broke March 26. Robinson died on March 29, and his mother said she suspected he had COVID-19 but he hadn't been tested for the virus.

Robinson had been experiencing "stressful breathing" for a few days before he passed away. His condition deteriorated on March 29. At about 6 a.m., an ambulance took Robinson to Detroit Receiving Hospital. He died at about 11 a.m., said his mother, former state Rep. Rose Mary Robinson.

Detroit News Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed

cmauger@detroitnews.com