With coronavirus cases in the state surging to the third-highest in the nation, all eyes fall to Michigan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Here are six things she’s done right during the crisis.
MICHIGAN — The energy of a rebounding metropolis has been absent from Detroit streets and the state has seen nearly 10,000 coronavirus cases arise.
Monday’s New York Times described the situation in the Motor City describing nurses crying on the drive home and the unique hope that comes with seeing a city come together in times of crisis.
And since that report, the situation has become even more grim with Michigan rising from fourth to third-highest total deaths according to Metro Times, overtaking Washington.
This is the backdrop against which the leadership of Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been tested over the last month.
Whitmer has risen to meet the challenge. She has been criticized both for taking many of these actions at all, and for not taking them soon enough, but even the state’s top Republicans are showing their own support, the Associated Press reported.
“Everyone should be shedding the partisanship and coming together,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in an interview, AP reported.
“I am rooting for Gov. Whitmer,” said McDaniel, who lives in Michigan. “I think she’s done good things…”
Here are the notable movements Whitmer has taken during Michigan’s crisis.
1: Declaring an Emergency and a Disaster
Governor Whitmer declared a state of emergency with Executive Order 2020-4 the day the first case was confirmed in the state, March 10. A state of emergency empowers crisis response to act more quickly with local governments. The Lansing State Journal explains that this declaration can provide resources, like equipment and personnel, to cities across the state. It also allowed the state to buy medical supplies without normal bureaucratic processes. But she’s done a lot more than just issue that statement.
In February, long before the first case was confirmed, Whitmer activated Michigan’s Emergency Operations Center in Dimondale in order to coordinate the state’s eventual response to the crisis and help inform the population.
And Wednesday, Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-33 which elevated the situation from a state of emergency to a state of disaster. Importantly, the new state of disaster also includes the social and economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, and will last until the pandemic is handled and systems are in place to address the harm done to the state on those levels as well.
“Since Michigan announced our first confirmed cases of COVID-19 three weeks ago, we have taken some of the most aggressive measures in the country to mitigate the spread of the virus and protect Michigan families,” the order states. “Today’s action will allow my administration to respond more effectively to every facet of this crisis. During this time, it’s crucial that Michiganders continue to stay home and keep their distance from others. We will get through this together.”
But she’s also taken extensive actions elsewhere. Whitmer has signed more executive orders in the month of the emergency than she did in all of 2019, covering a wide range of issues intent on limiting the spread of the virus. She has also been revising initial orders with more specific approaches as the situation evolves.
2: Giving Michiganders Social Distance
After initially advising against large gatherings on Twitter, Gov. Whitmer quickly escalated that recommendation to an outright ban of gatherings of 250 or more people, at a time when the Trump administration was still minimizing the potential impact of the coronavirus. By the end of the first week of the crisis entering the state, social distancing practices were given the force of law. She also shut schools down, eventually ending the school year until classes would normally resume in September.
Though even in that Whitmer is considering alternative solutions to make up for lost time. Fox 2 in Detroit is reporting on proposals to make up for ending the school year through distance learning or by starting the next school year earlier.
Whitmer is even working on addressing the dangers Gander reported on posed by prisons during the crisis, with directions to the Department of Corrections to reduce risk. She also issued sweeping closures to businesses that can’t effectively practice social distancing like dine-in restaurants and salons.
Overall, Whitmer has issued executive orders covering everything from non-essential veterinary services to allowing local governments to hold public meetings remotely. Broadly, these policies come together in the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order Whitmer announced March 23. Gander broke down what was impacted by Executive Order 2020-21, but broadly it helped codify social distancing as a matter of law.
And Michiganders are good at social distancing, it turns out.
3: Fighting Price Gouging
Whitmer’s administration had been on the lookout for price gouging since the beginning of the crisis. Attorney General Dana Nessel has taken action against confirmed price gouging cases already, and Whitmer has issued executive orders limiting the maximum a person can charge for any item or service to no more than 20% higher than they would’ve the day before the emergency was declared.
Though many complaints were unconfirmed, by March 19 the price gouging hotline in Nessel’s office had received over 800 calls. Nessel’s office took action against complaints including those against home improvement chain Menards. In a letter to Menards, Nessel didn’t mince words, particularly in regards to protective masks that nearly doubled in price, with a hefty $20 mail-in rebate.
“Through screenshots of an online page Menards has since removed, we see Menards priced two-packs of these masks at $39.95, with a $20 rebate,” the letter reads. “As Menards is popularly known for its 11-percent rebate program, we are highly skeptical that the normal, pre-Coronavirus rebate on these masks was set at the recent level exceeding 50%.”
The letter went on to stress that the Attorney General expects every customer to actually receive the rebate Menards was offering at that remarkably high rate.
The coronavirus pandemic has been notorious for its profiteers and price-gougers nationwide. The New York Times reported on a man from Tennessee who purchased over 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer with the intent to resell them at a steep markup and his inability to sell the sanitizer on any major platform.
Between Nessel’s doggedness and Whitmer’s executive actions, that kind of activity is prohibited during this crisis in Michigan.
4: Restoring Water
In the early days of the emergency, Whitmer worked with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to end Detroit’s water crisis. For nearly six years, the poorest Detroiters were lacking access to running water in a situation the United Nations said ran “contrary to human rights.” The city had shut off water due to the financial situation of both the city and its residents, and any relied on the same kind of water-delivery activism that gained far more attention in Flint.
Though, as Gander reported, the city has fallen short of it’s ambitions to restore water to the entire city, Whitmer recognized the dangers of a lack of access to clean water far beyond just Detroit. She issued Executive Order 2020-28 calling for the restoration of water service statewide.
“To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, protect the public health, and avoid needless deaths, it is crucial that all Michiganders remain in their homes or residences to the greatest extent possible and wash their hands thoroughly and regularly,” she said. “Now more than ever, the provision of clean water to residences is essential to human health and hygiene, and to the public health and safety of this state.”
5: Defending Michigan Workers
The coronavirus crisis exposed some major infrastructure failings in the United States, both physical and legal. One of the biggest is the ways in which labor laws are simply not prepared to handle a pandemic.
Part of elevating the situation from an emergency to a disaster Wednesday was taking into account the sharp spike in unemployment. As Gander has reported, the weekly rise in unemployment has shattered records during this pandemic, eclipsing the worst weeks of the Great Recession of 2008. That element of this crisis hasn’t escaped notice.
“The State of Michigan is dedicated to implementing measures to protect the health of all our residents and we understand financial health is critical as we meet this challenge together,” Whitmer said in a statement. “This increase and expansion of unemployment benefits will provide a measure of security for Michigan working families who lost their income due to the pandemic. We are committed to ensuring emergency financial relief for unemployed residents who continue to stay home and stay safe.”
Between Whitmer’s executive order expanding the unemployment system and Congressional action doing the same, more Michiganders than ever are protected against sudden job losses. But with so many people out of work that the state’s unemployment filing system literally cannot keep up, Michiganders need additional protection.
To that end, Whitmer also issued a prohibition on evictions. Specifically, on the actual physical act of carrying out an eviction. Those facing potential eviction will still need to come to some sort of arrangement before April 17.
“Families across the state are facing a number of uncertainties, from concerns about their health and well-being and that of their loved ones to when their next paycheck will arrive. Worrying about whether they’ll be evicted from their home, apartment or mobile home should not be on this list,” Whitmer said. “This executive order will ease a burden on families struggling to make ends meet and allow them to focus on what’s most important — staying safe and healthy.”
BONUS: She’s Cool Under Pressure
The coronavirus pandemic has been a time of chaos nationwide. With health officials in Ohio “guesstimating” that for every confirmed case of COVID-19 there were almost 4,000 infected early in the pandemic to President Trump’s initial downplaying of the disease, Governor Whitmer has urged calm, prudent actions.
She’s even been calm and clear when under fire. Like when her call for National Guard funding was seen as a prelude to declaring martial law.
“I want to be very clear,” she said. “There’s been a lot of mis-information and rumors floating around. I’m asking for funding for national guardsmen and guardswomen to help distribute food and supplies. I am not calling for martial law.”
But her grace under fire came into sharpest focus when she was drawn onto the national stage by President Donald Trump. Calling Whitmer “that woman in Michigan” the President’s personal grudge match with Governor Whitmer has been a story of his fiery taunts meeting the cool demeanor of a political leader managing a crisis.
His lashing out followed Whitmer criticizing his response to the crisis on television. He launched off insults on Twitter and Whitmer responded by saying yes, she is that woman in Michigan. As the tension ratcheted up and Trump added new insulting nicknames, Whitmer clapped back again.
“Now that I’ve got your attention, Mr. President — attack tweets won’t solve this crisis. But swift and clear guidance, tests, personal protective equipment, and resources would,” Whitmer tweeted. She then listed some of her own efforts to fight the pandemic.
Still, President Trump continues to bring Whitmer’s efforts in Michigan back to the national spotlight again and again. As Gander reported, this might even have taken the form of reducing supply flow into the state.Trump did indicate in a virtual town hall that states he liked would get preferential treatment during the crisis.
While Trump lashes out, Whitmer is speaking out, and the difference is clear. Whitmer is actively working with Trump’s administration where she can, and remains collected and cool despite the fire and fury from the White House. This, HuffPost argues, is central to why Trump fixates on her.
While it isn’t deterring her efforts, the attention from the President has given Whitmer a moment on the national stage, showing all of America the calm leadership some states have, and others lack, in the midst of this once-in-a-generation crisis. It’s little wonder, in light of that, that Whitmer is rumored to be a favorite for the Vice-Presidential pick of presumed nominee Joe Biden.
The feud has even created a sort of solidarity among Michigan women. WXYZ reports that one entrepreneurial Detroiter, Amanda Burden, has made big business selling “that woman from Michigan” shirts in support of the Governor who, Burden says, “has been busting her butt to take care of people in our state.”
In a potential boon for Biden, Burden said the sentiment was that she, too, is that woman in Michigan and she’s voting in November.
The politics of the situation aren’t Whitmer’s concern, though.
“We’re not looking for a fight with this guy, we’re trying to bring the temperature down here,” a Whitmer administration official told HuffPost.
Both in that metaphorical sense and in an all-too-literal sense, Whitmer continues to try and lower temperatures in the heat of the coronavirus crisis.