Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reflects on COVID pandemic on anniversary of first cases

From changing precautions to Whitmer losing emergency powers in October, a lot has happened in the last year

Gov. Whitmer says she's willing to negotiate with GOP lawmakers over COVID relief

LANSING, Mich. – The first confirmed coronavirus cases in Michigan were announced March 10, 2020.

READ: First 2 cases of coronavirus confirmed in Michigan: What we know, don’t know

In the last 365 days, Michigan has seen more than 600,000 confirmed cases and nearly 16,000 COVID-related deaths.

In addition to flags being lowered Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist are asking all Michiganders to turn their porch lights on from 8-9 p.m. to honor those lost to coronavirus.

In an exclusive interview with Local 4, Whitmer spoke with Rod Meloni and reflected on the past year.

She said she learned early on that she wanted to surround herself with bright people -- like epidemiologist and virologist -- and she said Michigan is blessed with a lot of those from Michigan State University and University of Michigan.

She also spoke about how the pandemic impacted her and the things we need to continue doing -- such as wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing -- as a way to keep things moving in the right direction as the vaccine starts to be distributed.

What would she do differently?

The state has gone through a lot over the past year since the first two cases confirmed on March 10, 2020. Stay-at-home orders have changed, restrictions have fluctuated. The state has been navigating the COVID-19 pandemic without Whitmer’s Emergency Orders since Oct. 12 after the Michigan Supreme Court struck them down.

After all that has happened and everything we’ve learned, is there anything she’d do differently?

“If I could go back in time, and know everything we know now, would we have made Michigan the place that manufactured N-95 masks absolutely,” Whitmer said. “We would have supplied the whole world with them and made them Michigan-made. We would have had many protocols around respiration but we just didn’t know. No one did. The whole globe was learning this together and that’s why I’m staying focused on the science and data and be nimble when we learn more about this virus and how to combat it has been really crucial to the success that we’ve had.”

What happens when schools start the 2021-22 school year?

A lot of hybrid learning is going on across Metro Detroit, but a lot of parents are wondering when their students can go back to school.

“We know that there have not been a lot of big outbreaks in schools. Certainly, there have been some, but if we follow the protocols and we stay smart and we get to 70% of our adults vaccinated, I think it is very likely that all schools could be fully in-person by the fall,” Whitmer said. “There are things out of our control, we have to watch the variants, so we do have a little bit of control.”

She said she understands the frustration and wants to go see a football game and she’d like to have a family reunion. She’s hoping that by getting 70% of the population above the age of 16 vaccinated by the spring or summer, all of that is possible.

Are Whitmer and the GOP Legislature able to negotiate?

Whitmer signed off on $2.5 billion in COVID relief Tuesday, leaving more than a billion dollars on the table that GOP lawmakers tied to legislation that would have ceded the state health department’s authority to local health departments.

Whitmer said she wants that federal funding released.

“We can’t afford to play politics here. We have to negotiate and we’ve got to get these resources deployed. It’s $5 billion that could be going into our economy, into our small businesses, into our education system -- that’s what we need to do because guess what? There’s more help coming from the Federal Government and that the legislature doesn’t want to deploy those resources, they will go elsewhere and Michigananders will miss out and we will be hurt by that,” Whitmer said. “We’ve tried and invited negotiations from day one and the legislature has not reached back. They send their own versions that are vastly underwhelming and not significant in terms of the kind of resources that are at our disposal but we could really deploy to help people and so, of course we’ll continue to remain willing to negotiate.”

The Legislature claims it’s the opposite. House Floor Leader Rep. Ben Frederick said it’s been a frustrating year.

“She, in effect, wants the funding and the blank check and get out of the room,” Frederick said. “I have constituents I represent and I have voiced I feel have been silenced and I have people that want a plan from this governor after a year on how we’re getting out of this thing.”

Whitmer remains optimistic while many residents wait to be vaccinated.

“This is a moment where we’re going see an exponential increase in terms of the numbers of people that have access to the vaccine and we’re working with our local partners and we’re trying to move as fast as we possibly can. As soon as those vaccines ramp up more and get into our state, we’ll see an equitable share ramp up in your jurisdiction as well.”

The full interview can be seen in the video below.

About the Authors:

Rod Meloni is an Emmy Award-winning Business Editor on Local 4 News and a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional.

Dane is a producer and media enthusiast. He previously worked freelance video production and writing jobs in Michigan, Georgia and Massachusetts. Dane graduated from the Specs Howard School of Media Arts.