Republican Michigan senator critical of Gretchen Whitmer tests positive for COVID-19

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Michigan senator who has been a vocal critic of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's handling of COVID-19 says he tested positive for the virus after going through a screening process because of his service in the Army National Guard.

Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, who is viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party, sponsored a bill in April to repeal one of the two state laws that allow the governor to declare emergencies. He becomes the third Michigan lawmaker to test positive for the coronavirus after Democratic State Reps. Tyrone Carter and Karen Whitsett of Detroit got infected early in the pandemic and recovered.

Barrett said he was notified of his test results Sunday afternoon. The Michigan Army National Guard implemented a screening policy for all soldiers one week prior to their departure for training events, the senator said in a statement. He tested positive Friday.

Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte

“Thankfully I do not have any significant symptoms at this time, and I will be self-isolating according to medical guidelines," added Barrett, who is married with three children. "I have done my best to make contact with those I have been around in the past couple weeks so that they may also seek medical advice.

“I look forward to resuming my normal work schedule as quickly as possible.” 

The Michigan Senate, which has 38 members, last held session with lawmakers in attendance and voting on July 23, eight days before Barrett's COVID-19 test. The Senate is next scheduled to convene Thursday with committee meetings planned for Wednesday and Thursday.

Since the situation is still developing, it's unclear whether the scheduled meetings will take place.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said his immediate focus in on "notification to all senators and staff."

"We will evaluate the need for changes to the legislative calendar in the coming days," Shirkey added.

Barrett was also in attendance for committee meetings that took place last week, according to a notification the Senate Business Office sent out Sunday night.

"He is unsure of the date he contracted the virus; however, Sen. Barrett has indicated that he was practicing social distancing, had a mask on when not inside his office and sanitized regularly," the notice said.

The Senate Business Office plans to contact individuals with whom Barrett had "close and/or sustained" contact, according to the notice.

"Before you return to the Michigan Senate, please follow the advice of your health care provider, public health department or recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control regarding next steps if you believe you may be at risk," the notice added.

The Senate plans to take "special steps to disinfect any Senate spaces that Sen. Barrett may have visited or been present in."

In April, when COVID-19 was peaking in Michigan, senators went through temperature screenings and other protocols before entering the Senate chamber, Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said Sunday night. The screenings have not been occurring in recent weeks, Moss said.

In the spring, some lawmakers refused to take part in session out of fears of contracting the virus.

Moss, who called Barrett a friend and said his heart goes out to him and his family, plans to get tested Monday because he had a five-minute conversation with Barrett after the July 23 session.

"I don’t think we should have session until every senator gets their test results back," Moss added.

During the July 23 session, the Senate attempted to override Whitmer's veto of a bill sponsored by Barrett. The bill would have banned state agencies from punishing employees who communicate with state lawmakers about problems.

The override failed as Democrats voiced concerns about what the constitutionality of the proposal.

Barrett, a 39-year-old, first-term Republican senator, has supported the Unlock Michigan petition drive to limit the emergency powers of Whitmer and future governors. He held a petition signing event for the campaign on July 18.

On March 29, Democratic Rep. Isaac Robinson, D-Detroit, died from an illness his family believed was linked to the coronavirus. His mother, former state Rep. Rose Mary Robinson, said she suspects COVID-19 was the cause of her son's death.

Her son had been experiencing "stressful breathing" for a few days, Rose Mary Robinson said.