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Whitmer to lawmakers: 'Not going to play politics'

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday said she is "not going to play politics when people's lives are at risk" after the Michigan Legislature approved resolutions that authorize a legal challenge against efforts Whitmer has taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19

Whitmer declined to comment on the potential lawsuit as one has not yet been filed. The House and Senate have allowed her emergency declaration to expire, increasing uncertainty around what will happen after Whitmer's stay-at-home order expires after May 15.

"We remain in a state of emergency," Whitmer said during a virtual town hall held by Flint-area television stations. "That is a fact. For everyone who declares mission accomplished, they are turning a blind eye to the over 600 people who have died in the last 72 hours."

Hundreds of protesters crowded the Capitol on Thursday with signs and guns to demand an end to Whitmer's stay-at-home order.

But Whitmer emphasized Michigan is "not out of the woods yet" and that residents should wear masks in enclosed public spaces and maintain proper social distancing of 6 feet or more to save lives.

"Avoiding a second wave is really important," she said. "it's not a switch and flip to like how it was before COVID-19. Think of this as a dial."

Whitmer pointed to the initial steps of allowing motorized boating, golfing and landscaping as progress while the state has seen the rate of new COVID-19 cases fall. On Friday, she plans to sign an executive order for the next phase of opening the economy with construction workers, both residential and commercial, able to return to the job starting May 7.

"We know this is lower risk, and statewide we can start to turn up that dial on that particular front," Whitmer said. "As we look to additional industries, we will be assessing regions but at this juncture, it has been safe to take these steps as a statewide measure."

Those regions, she said, are being determined based on the divisions of Michigan's public health system as well as how economically connected communities are and how people travel to work.

Whitmer backed off from specifying when people may be able to hold large gatherings such as weddings and even funerals.

"We are not going to be safe to congregate in masses for quite a while," she said. "My hope is that once we start to re-engage safely we will eventually get there. I can't tell you it will happen by July. I can't tell you precisely when it will happen as we take these steps to re-engage."

The stay-at-home order has affected thousands of workers, with 1.3 million filing for unemployment, said Jeff Donofrio, director of the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. Despite traffic that has sometimes overwhelmed the department's website, the state has provided 1.1 million people benefits totaling about $3 billion. The state also has quintupled the number of people to take phone calls and process claims.

"No one will lose a dollar of benefit because they are waiting on that one-on-one help," Donofrio said. "We have added hundreds of people to call centers, hundreds of people to the adjudication process and are making sure every single person is getting benefits they need."

bnoble@detroitnews.com