From a White House feud to armed protesters storming the Capitol, we look back at the biggest moments defining the pandemic in Michigan.
MICHIGAN — Michigan only reported 13 deaths from the novel coronavirus Wednesday — the three-month mark of the state of emergency declared by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in response to the pandemic.
That’s one of the lowest daily death totals, and it fits a larger pattern of smaller numbers seen from Michiganders flattening the curve. At the peak, deaths passed 200 a day. But Michigan hasn’t seen a daily death total of 40 or more throughout all of June.
While Michiganders are still expected to observe social distancing and wear masks, June saw the end of guidelines that helped locals stay safe during the pandemic. Businesses are now reopening in waves across the state and a new sense of normal is coming to be.
The ‘Gander takes a look back to see how we got here.
March: Decisive State Action and Federal Inaction
Based on symptom data, The ‘Gander reports that the first case of the coronavirus likely came to Michigan as early as March 1, but no cases were confirmed until March 10. The day those symptoms were confirmed, Gov. Whitmer declared a state of emergency.
The state had been preparing for the pandemic by laying the groundwork for crisis response, despite President Donald Trump downplaying the pandemic as something that would resolve itself by April.
Gov. Whitmer took quick action to slow the spread of the pandemic, despite Trump positioning her as a political adversary, in line with how he has treated women critical of him in the past.
Whitmer issued her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order March 23, and symptom data shows it almost immediately had an effect on slowing the spread of the disease. By the end of the month, the most extreme signs of the disease’s spread had passed. But because symptom data is an estimation that runs ahead of confirmed cases, it took some time to show up in numbers reported by the state.
But Gov. Whitmer’s efforts were hampered by the federal government. The political feud Trump started with her impacted what resources Michigan was receiving to address the pandemic, and Gov. Whitmer explored other unreliable sources of supplies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
April: Growing Resistance to Staying at Home
April was a month of early successes in managing the crisis. Michigan started to slowly ramp up testing while the stay-at-home order helped reduce the spread of the pandemic. At the same time, businesses started changing focus to preparing personal protective equipment and ventilators, helping to address the lack Michigan and other states faced in March.
By the end of the month, protections started relaxing. Outdoor-focused businesses reopened and a larger plan to re-engage the economy, MI Safe Start, was drawn up. But the early successes came against a background of conflict.
The first protest against the pandemic protections, Operation Gridlock, took place in mid-April and featured protesters, mostly in cars, jamming the streets of Lansing. A few left their vehicles and carried assault weapons and Trump-themed protest signage. That small number, though, expanded greatly on April 30 when the American Patriot Rally stormed the capitol building with firearms and demanded to be let in to observe votes. They stood in the gallery over the state’s Senate, armed, while legislators wore bulletproof vests.
Those protests were praised and spurred on by Trump, even as fellow conservatives denounced the use of intimidation. Most Michiganders think those protests sent the wrong message, according to this poll.
May: Turning the Dial
Throughout May, Gov. Whitmer framed the slow reengagement of Michigan’s economy as “turning a dial, not flipping a switch.” It was an incremental approach that allowed flexibility, adjusting if any one step seemed to increase the virus’ spread, she explained.
Re-engagement made strides for certain critical industries like construction, soon followed by manufacturing and recreational spaces.
Michigan also had a massive success in mail-in voting, too. May’s election shattered turnout records, more than doubling the average May turnout and drawing in a quarter of eligible voters. This was fueled in large part by the no-reason absentee voting policy adopted by Michigan in 2018 and Gov. Whitmer’s decision to mail every eligible voter an absentee ballot. This election was such a success, later elections this year will follow that model.
Trump, however, took issue with that plan, threatening to hold up funding to the state if it proceeded with conducting the August and November elections as it did the May one. He also tweeted misinformation about the voting process, which prompted fact-checking from Twitter itself.
May also had its own protests, though they were stranger than those in April. Featuring a plague doctor with water pistols and a Pikachu with an assault rifle, Judgment Day was far less intimidating than April’s protests, but earlier in that week a panel discussing banning guns in the capitol was threatened on Zoom.
And a barber refusing to remain closed to prevent the spread of the disease became an icon of the protest movement, so much so that he was the focal figure of Operation Haircut. With Michigan’s sheriffs split on whether or not to uphold the laws protecting Michiganders against the pandemic, Gov. Whitmer pulled his permit.
That brought Michigan to June, and to the start of a new phase of pandemic response.
While progress has been made, the future of the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic remains uncertain.
“None of us, not one of us, ever wants to go through this again with a second wave,” Whitmer said in a press conference. “We have to learn to live with this virus for the time being … We need to rise to this occasion and not devolve into our worst selves.”
While daily new cases and deaths remain low, the case fatality rate — how many cases result in death — remains high. Across Michigan more than 9.5% of those who contract the coronavirus do not recover. That’s worse in Detroit, where 12.5% of coronavirus patients die.
The Detroit Free Press reports that nearly 70% of Michiganders are concerned that a second wave of the pandemic is potentially in the cards as the state reengages.
“COVID-19 is still very present,” Gov. Whitmer said last week. “I would love to keep kind of ratcheting up that engagement … but filling a stadium again probably won’t happen until we have a vaccine, and that’s gonna be a while.”
But by working together, Whitmer told reporters, we can get through the pandemic together.
“We’re in a position where we can turn the dial a little bit more,” Whitmer said. “There’s a crucial individual work we have to do to avoid a second wave, so it’s on all of you to do your part.”