Opinion: Michigan is more than two states of mind
Michigan is as diverse as its 10 million residents. From north to south, urban to rural, factory to farmland, our differing people and cultures have existed together, and together we have overcome every challenge that has crossed our borders for 183 years.
But that which has for so long brought us together — our unshakeable bond of love for our state as Michigan residents — is being tested and lines are being drawn. The coronavirus crisis has created in many a hardline divide that surpasses politics.
On one side, people who live in the hardest-hit, mostly urban parts of the state, where thousands have died and thousands more are infected, are rightly afraid for their lives. Their communities have difficulty getting the health care they need even in the best of times, and they have witnessed first-hand how devastating COVID-19 has been to their communities. They cannot understand why anyone would complain about not being able to go boating when they just attended a virtual funeral for a beloved family member who they couldn’t say goodbye to as they were dying from the coronavirus. To them, protesters at the Capitol are completely out of touch with their reality.
On the other side, mostly rural residents, whose counties in some cases don’t even have 10 people with COVID-19, are also rightly afraid for their livelihoods. Many whose businesses have been in their families for generations have watched their life’s work wither into bankruptcy and are in food lines for the first time. They cannot understand why the government took away their business when they are perfectly capable of working safely. To them, the danger of COVID-19 pales in comparison to losing their business, their health care or their home, or not being able to feed their children.
Despite these stark differences, we are united in our desire to return to a normal life. So far, Michigan residents have been willing to comply with the government’s orders, at least while they seemed reasonable and the purposes justified. But as time passes under quarantine, people are becoming more frustrated and angrier, and that is causing other problems.
Reports of domestic abuse, suicide and addiction are on the rise — these issues know no boundaries.
There are untold numbers of people suffering through debilitating pain from medical problems they can’t get treated while the hospitals — for whom in part we stayed home to help flatten the curve and prevent them from being overrun — are laying people off and closing doors.
And as the weather improves and people’s patience continues to thin, the stay-at-home order is being increasingly ignored.
I worry we are reaching a breaking point, and something must be done. We cannot ignore the real health dangers caused by COVID-19, nor can we ignore the health and economic issues caused by the attempts to curtail infection rates.
If our goal is to bring Michigan out of this situation safely, both medically and economically, we need to refocus on what unites us and work together to adapt to and overcome our common enemy in COVID-19.
Though the numbers of newly reported COVID-19-related deaths and new virus infections are slowing, we should still expect the virus to be around for the foreseeable future. But continuing to impose stay-home orders and rules that no longer make sense to people means they likely will be ignored altogether.
The sooner we can work together as one Michigan and implement policies that let people get back to work and living their lives as safely and as quickly as possible, the better and safer all Michigan residents will be.
We can do this. For the sake of all our residents, we must.
Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, serves Michigan's 22nd State Senate District.