LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said her use of emergency powers to manage the pandemic is not unique and she worries that efforts to take away her unilateral authority, if successful, could lead coronavirus cases to spike to dangerous levels in Michigan.
The Democrat locked down the state in the spring, when the deadly virus hit and threatened to overwhelm hospitals, but she has since reopened schools and much of the economy — with restrictions on gathering sizes and businesses such as restaurants. Throughout the summer, Michigan has fared better with COVID-19 than many other states after it was initially a hot spot nationally.
Whitmer credited residents for taking the virus seriously and doing “what they needed to do" in a state where the coronavirus has contributed to nearly 7,000 deaths. "But the thing that keeps me up at night is the fact that all of this sacrifice that we’ve made and the work that we’ve done could just evaporate if we drop our guard, if we stop masking up,” she told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Michigan's per-capita rate of new cases in the past two weeks ranks 13th-lowest among states, according to an AP analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. The COVID Tracking Project, which the AP uses to track testing, says the state's seven-day average positivity rate is 11th-lowest. About 2.4% of those tested are getting positive results.
Whitmer has said Michigan's economy is operating at 87% of what it was since March, citing figures from Moody’s Analytics and CNN. The 8.7% unemployment rate, unchanged in August, was double what it was before the pandemic.
Republican lawmakers are in court challenging the governor's ability to continually extend the state of the emergency — the underpinning of her orders — without their approval. A group, Unlock Michigan, is nearly done collecting signatures for a veto-proof ballot initiative that would enable the GOP-controlled Legislature to repeal a 1945 law that gives Whitmer her power to act on her own.
A 1976 law, which requires legislative approval to lengthen an emergency, would remain intact.
“If we become the one state in the nation that doesn't have a state of emergency and we drop everything, we could see our numbers climb quickly and get right back into a danger zone,” she said. There is a tendency to think Michigan is unique, she said, but “we're doing what every other state is doing to keep people safe."