By looking at Wisconsin, Michigan can prepare for what will come in the wake of the state’s Supreme Court striking down Gov. Whitmer’s emergency powers.
LANSING, MI—The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Friday that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lacked the authority for her broadly popular and extremely effective coronavirus protections. When that goes into effect, Michigan will be the only place in the nation not recognizing the coronavirus as a state of emergency.
“Right now, every state and the federal government have some form of declared emergency,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement. “With this decision, Michigan will become the sole outlier at a time when the Upper Peninsula is experiencing rates of COVID infection not seen in our state since April.”
In February, before the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Michigan, Gov. Whitmer consulted with state health officials in developing a rapid-response plan to contain the virus as best as the state could. That plan was effective within a month, dramatically slowing the rate of transmission.
But while hospitals were still overburdened with the sick and dying victims of the pandemic, Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature had already begun an effort to dismantle these protections. An effort that, six months later, was finally successful.
Following the ruling, Oakland County implemented its own pandemic protections and Michigan businesses have called out for assistance in the wake of the decision. But for the next few weeks, even after Friday’s ruling, those protections remain in place.
“It is important to note that this ruling does not take effect for at least 21 days, and until then, my emergency declaration and orders retain the force of law,” Gov. Whitmer said. “Furthermore, after 21 days, many of the responsive measures I have put in place to control the spread of the virus will continue under alternative sources of authority that were not at issue in today’s ruling.”
What Michigan Will Look Like by November
This means the soonest restaurants could resume full capacity or people could be permitted maskless in indoor public places is Friday, Oct. 23. This is because the order goes into effect three weeks after it is formally issued. The longer it takes to turn the ruling into a formal court order, the longer the protections remain in place.
As for what could be coming Michigan’s way around Halloween, just looking across Lake Michigan can provide answers. In May, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court struck down that state’s coronavirus protections. Within a week, the state had posted record infection rates. Wednesday, The ‘Gander’s sister-site UpNorthNews reported Wisconsin hit a record death toll due to increasing difficulty hospitals are facing, keeping pace with the increasing rate of infection.
Wisconsin has almost the same number of confirmed coronavirus cases as Michigan does, with just over half the population. Moreover, in the early days of the pandemic Michigan had an explosive outbreak in Detroit, skyrocketing the state at one point to one of the top three in the nation for infections. Taken together, that data shows the stark differences between the last five months in Michigan and the last five months in Wisconsin.
The Michigan Supreme Court’s decision was 4-3, along party lines, in a mirror of the Wisconsin decision. But the high court did leave the door open for a watered-down solution.
“Our decision leaves open many avenues for the Governor and Legislature to work together to address this challenge and we hope that this will take place,” reads a footnote in the ruling.
That does leave room for emergency actions taken through other means, like the negotiation that resulted in the joint Gov. Whitmer and Republican Legislature back-to-school plan.
In the Absence of Higher Authorities, Michiganders Act
Michiganders are already making plans for the new reality imposed by the state’s Supreme Court.
Ingham County, which includes Lansing, issued a statement Sunday that masks would still be required in all the places they were under Gov. Whitmer’s emergency protections and social distancing measures would be implemented at a county level. That follows Michigan’s second-largest county, Oakland, which issued a similar declaration Saturday.
“Health and science experts agree that facial coverings, social distancing, and health screenings are critical to controlling the virus,” Ingham Health Officer Linda Vail told WLIX. “We have made too much progress to regress. We are working hard to get our young people back to school, keep our businesses and government open, and make progress in our economic recovery.”
This means that Michigan’s Supreme Court will still have to follow the protective measures they struck down Friday.
Meanwhile, some business owners are also taking up the cause to keep their customers as safe as possible by voluntarily maintaining the social distancing and mask requirements that have, so far, been effective in containing the virus. This includes local business owner Janet Webster Jones, who runs Source Booksellers in Detroit.
“It’s necessary for their health and for mine,” she told The ‘Gander.