Gov. Whitmer on reopening Michigan: ‘If we have to move back, we’re going to'

Whitmer says coronavirus (COVID-19) spike could lead to more businesses closing

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (Uncredited, Michigan Governors Office)

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said if she continues to see a rise in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, parts of the economy could begin to close again and the state could move backward in the reopening plan.

“We’re going to continue to monitor the numbers,” Whitmer said. “If they keep moving up, we’re going to dial back if we have to. That’s the last thing any of us want. I’ve got to tell you: I want to reengage this economy more than anyone, but I’m not going to do it if it is too risky to do so, and that’s why we’re seeing focus on the epidemiology. I’m not going to be bullied into moving before it’s safe, and if we have to move back, we’re going to.”

Whitmer reiterated that she had planned to move the entire state to phase five of her reopening plan by the Fourth of July, but instead moved backward by shutting down indoor bar service.

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That was the first sign of negative progress for Michigan since the curve began to flatten more than a month ago.

“COVID-19 is still very present here in Michigan and across the country, obviously,” Whitmer said. “We have taken herculean effort to push our curve down. We’ve saved thousands of lives. Michigan had been on the forefront. We’ve done an incredible amount of work and I would hate to think that this sacrifice that we have made would be made in vain because some people are losing interest or are dropping their guard. We’ve got to double down right now more than ever.”

Whitmer spoke not only about the slight increase of positive coronavirus cases in the state recently, but also the explosion of new cases in many souther states.

More COVID-19 cases have been popping up in the 20-29 age group, in particular.

“We know that across the country we’ve seen an increase in this age group in terms of COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “Perhaps it’s all of the mixed messaging that’s happened at the federal level. Perhaps it is the fact that COVID-19 doesn’t have the same death rates among that age group and maybe it’s not taken as seriously. But the fact of the matter is every one of those people can be carrying COVID-19, and a lot of them might be without even knowing it. That’s the inherent danger in this moment. That’s why it’s incumbent on every one of us to mask up -- from the White House to the State House and everywhere in between. That’s the most important thing that we can do right now. We’re seeing things like this play out across the country. We’ve got to all do our part to make sure that that doesn’t happen. The numbers that we’re seeing in the south, in particular, are really concerning. We have not seen that kind of an uptick yet, but that’s precisely what we want to avoid.”

Michigan has already seen similar outbreaks, most notably at Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub in East Lansing. The outbreak at the bar has been linked to 138 cases so far.

Here are some of the other confirmed outbreaks and exposure locations:

If this continues, Whitmer said not only will the state be held back from advancing in the reopening plan, some of the businesses considered more high-risk could be shut down once again.

“Gyms are not open,” Whitmer said. “Theaters are not open. There are a number of other business entities that are not reengaged yet. In so far that we have reengaged hair salons -- that’s something that if we see some outbreaks, we may have to disengage on that front. I took a lot of heat. When we brought that curve down we saved thousands of lives. I’m prepared to take heat if that’s what it’s going to take to keep people safe.”

She said it’s important for people to wear masks and socially distance, pointing to the fall as a time when Michigan would like to be in a place where students can return to in-person learning.

READ: Whitmer reveals plan for schools to return to in-person learning this fall

“We put together a task force of 25 people with incredible expertise to put together the protocols to reengage schools in the fall, if it is safe to do so,” Whitmer said. “We will be prepared, but of course I cannot tell you what life is going to look like in Michigan two months from now. We’re going to continue to watch the numbers. Depending on which phase we are in, we’ve got different protocols that have ben promulgated because we want to get kids back in the classroom, but only if and when it’s safe to do so. That’s why wearing a mask today increases the odds that we can get our kids back in class in the fall.”

Whitmer condemned that wearing a mask has become political and blamed the federal government both for a lack of preparedness at the start of the pandemic and its handling of the mask debate.

“I think that the most nerve-wracking aspect of this whole public health crisis is the fact that it’s become political,” Whitmer said. “Lives have been lost because of the politics around what should just be a public health crisis. We started talking about that sandbar party in the southern part of the state. We know that people came in from Indiana and Illinois to attend that. COVID-19 does not respect party line and it does not respect state line. That’s why every one of us has to do our part. So to see this political conversation impacting public health is I think the most disconcerting thing that we’ve confronted here -- that and the lack of preparedness at the national level. That’s precisely why we’re going to do everything we can to take the politics out of the conversation and prepare for the fall.

“I’d like a national mask up campaign. I think that if everyone endorsed this, it’s a simple cost effective thing that we could do to really mitigate spread. But the symbols that come from the very top matter, and it changes behavior. If we can take the politics out of mask wearing, we can save a lot of lives and, in doing so, save the economic pain that we are feeling across this country. This is the most powerful country in the world. The fact that we are behind the rest of the world when it comes to protecting our own people is a disgrace. If we could simply change that one aspect of messaging, there’s no question thousands of lives would be saved, and so would our economic pain.”

The governor’s office sent Local 4 the following statement on Tuesday:

Gov. Whitmer will continue to monitor the data. If we see a second wave of COVID-19 coming, we may have to move backward in the MI Safe Start Plan, which is the last thing any of us want to do. We must remain flexible and nimble and plan for various scenarios. COVID-19 is still very present in Michigan, and this is not a time for Michiganders to let their guards down. We must continue to do everything in our power to flatten the curve and prevent more spread.”

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.