Whitmer traveled out of state to visit her father

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News
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Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer traveled out of state earlier this year to visit her father who is battling a chronic illness, spokesman Bobby Leddy said Monday.

The acknowledgment came after spring break trips made by two members of Whitmer's administration drew criticism amid surging COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the state. Whitmer's trip took place more than four weeks ago, before Michigan began leading the nation in new cases per population, Leddy said.

Michigan Information & Research Service News first reported Whitmer's trip Monday and noted it was of a personal nature in Florida. Whitmer's father has a property in West Palm Beach, according to public records. 

"The governor did not go on spring break, and she has not left the state in over a month," Leddy said. "In the past six months, she has left the state three times, once for the inauguration, once to assist her elderly father who is battling a chronic illness, and once to visit with Michigan's National Guard troops.

"All trips were very brief, two full days or less, closely followed public health guidelines, and were made when Michigan's daily positivity rate was in the low single digits."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Leddy declined to provide additional details, including the dates of the trip or the destination, citing "ongoing security concerns." The revelation came after two top Whitmer aides traveled to Florida and Alabama to vacation with their families.

But Ted Goodman, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, blasted the Democratic governor for leaving the state while her administration discouraged others from traveling during the pandemic.

"Gretchen Whitmer’s blatant display of hypocrisy is an insult to every single Michigander impacted by her lockdown orders and travel warnings," Goodman said.

Whitmer's father has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Leddy confirmed in a Monday email. Whitmer received her first dose of Pfizer COVID vaccine on April 6 at Ford Field in Detroit. A second dose is usually scheduled 21 days afterward. Full vaccination is believed to be achieved two weeks after the second shot. 

On a Sunday appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Whitmer talked about the risks of traveling from Michigan to Florida and back.

“Michigan and Florida are not next to each other," she said. "But this is the time of the year that snowbirds come home from Florida, where people are going on spring break, and all of these things can contribute to spread. That's why we're imploring people to take this seriously, mask up, get tested.”

But Michigan House Appropriations Chairman Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, said there are two sets of rules: "one for the governor and members of her administration and one for everybody else."

"I understand the desire to visit an ill relative, and I hope for good health for the governor’s family — but I have heard countless stories of heartbroken Michiganders who wanted to visit sick family members during this pandemic and haven’t been able to do so," Albert said. "I don’t understand how the governor thinks it’s OK for her and members of her administration to travel out-of-state while issuing recommendations to the rest of us that we stay home."

Whitmer's two other trips were both to Washington, D.C. One was for President Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration, and the other was a March 5 visit with members of the Michigan National Guard, who were providing security at the U.S. Capitol, following complaints that troops were sickened by bad food served by a contractor. She ate lunch with the troops and toured the security perimeter they patrolled.

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, was in Alabama earlier in April on a family trip as her home state continued to battle a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The trip came days after Whitmer's administration levied public warnings about out-of-state travel. On April 2, Hertel was quoted in a press release that encouraged "spring break travelers" to get tested for the virus.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Bob Wheaton referred a reporter to an interview Hertel gave MIRS News, in which the newsletter reported that Hertel had received her second vaccine dose but she wasn't fully vaccinated before her trip. Hertel also told MIRS News that her family wore masks and stayed in their own condominium unit and her family "separated at least six feet from others while at the beach."

During the week of April 9, one of Whitmer's top aides, Chief Operating Officer Tricia Foster, posted photos of herself traveling with her family to Florida, where they vacationed in Siesta Key south of Tampa. The photos were discovered after Michigan's governor said on April 2 she was concerned about residents traveling on spring break, especially to Florida, which is the only state that has more cases of the more contagious form of COVID-19 known as the United Kingdom variant than Michigan.

On Monday, the state health department reported Michigan had 3,455 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant. During her April 2 remarks, Whitmer had recommended that people get tested after any type of travel, including in-state. Michigan had the worst infection rate in the U.S. in the two prior weeks.

The photos, which have since been removed, were captured by Breitbart News and posted in a story on its website. The story also shows screenshots of Foster’s comments about the trip, which were obtained by The Detroit News.

Critics of Whitmer’s policies related to coronavirus leaped on the revelation.

"Warnings 'are for thee... not for we,’" tweeted Tori Sachs, a Republican activist who is executive director for Michigan Rising Action.

Leddy didn’t dispute the Breitbart report but blasted the conservative news site.

“This is a partisan attack from a garbage white nationalist website,” he said at the time. "Trish Foster is fully recovered from COVID and fully vaccinated."

Leddy earlier pointed out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines that support fully vaccinated people traveling within the United States without needing to be tested for the disease or self-quarantining themselves afterward.

Foster became the chief operating officer in April 2020 after serving as director of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. In her new role, she manages cabinet affairs and administrative functions within the executive office.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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