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White House adviser on Michigan's restrictions: 'Only way this stops is if people rise up'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

A member of the White House coronavirus task force appeared to encourage people to "rise up" against new restrictions announced by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Sunday as some public health experts praised the policies.

Whitmer, a Democrat who has frequently clashed with President Donald Trump, detailed a new order to suspend in-person instruction at high schools and colleges, halt indoor dining at restaurants and close some businesses, including casinos and movie theaters.

White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas

She said the restrictions were needed to save lives and respond to a "dire" situation with rising COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the state. Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, said his organization appreciated the measures.

But shortly after the announcement, Dr. Scott Atlas, who joined the White House coronavirus task force in August, tweeted, "The only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept. #FreedomMatters #StepUp."

Later, Atlas tweeted that the nation's COVID-19 response was federally supported but state "managed."

"Want more mandates & lockdown? Contact your governor. That's state controlled. Not federal. Period," Atlas tweeted.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the initial comment was "disappointing, irresponsible and the reason why the United States finds itself in such desperate circumstances regarding COVID-19."

The tweets came a little over a month after authorities revealed alleged plotting to overthrow the state Capitol and kidnap Whitmer. Individualsinvolved in the alleged scheme had appeared at protests against the governor's past stay-at-home orders in the spring.

Atlas later clarified that wasn't talking about violence.

"Hey. I NEVER was talking at all about violence. People vote, people peacefully protest. NEVER would I endorse or incite violence. NEVER!!" he tweeted.

During an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Monday, Whitmer said the response from Atlas took her "breath away."

"We've been going through this for nine months. And right now, the numbers are as bad as they've been at any given time. And so we have to take aggressive measures with the vacuum of leadership in Washington, D.C." Whitmer said. "It's on the states' governors to do what we can to save lives."

Bloomberg News reported in October that Atlas — a neuroradiologist without epidemiology expertise — was Trump's closest medical adviser.

Multiple public health experts touted Whitmer's restrictions on Sunday night.

"With much better testing, treatments, awareness; we can avert broad shutdowns by taking targeted steps now," tweeted Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. "Michigan went first. The best results will be by coordinating actions."

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, added the new policies would be "helpful."

Michigan is facing surges in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Last week, the state reported a record total of new infections: 44,019.

Michigan also shattered its weekly coronavirus case record last week with a total of 44,019 new cases reported, the fifth consecutive record week for confirmed infections.

cmauger@detroitnews.com