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What’s going on with coronavirus orders in Michigan? Just look at Wisconsin

Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan.  (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

In May, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the state’s stay-home order, taking power away from the governor. Here’s what happened after that.

(This article first appeared in the Morning Report Newsletter. Sign up for it right here)


There is a lot of confusion in Michigan right now when it comes to restrictions for COVID-19. It comes after the state’s Supreme Court ruled against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday, stating that she did not have the authority to issue public health orders without legislative approval.

This means, for all intents and purposes, that anything Whitmer issued after April 30, the last day of the emergency declaration period with legislative approval, carries no weight. Although, the practical application appears to depend on who you ask.

On Friday, Gov. Whitmer’s office said her orders would remain in place for 21 days, but on Sunday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced her office would no longer be enforcing the orders with any criminal penalty.

In response, the Governor’s office said, “The governor is ready to work across the aisle with Republicans in the legislature where we can find common ground, but she won’t let partisan politics get in the way of doing what’s necessary to keep people safe and save lives.”

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, has already said he won’t support a mask mandate, and believes the state should shift to more of an educational approach, suggesting residents can be trusted to make the right decisions.

“We’re moving now from an era or a time when the focus was on mandating, dictating and frankly in some cases threatening, to more of an informing and inspiring and encouraging and loving and trusting people to do the right thing” approach," Shirkey told Bridge.

In the meantime, the enforcement and adoption of restrictions will likely fall to county and city health departments, which we’re already seeing. Oakland County issued an order on Saturday that keeps a mask mandate in place for public places. Wayne County said on Sunday that it’s working to figure out what they should be doing, but said it would be a “science-based and regional” approach. Ingham County issued four orders restricting businesses and events on Sunday.

This happened in Wisconsin

Michigan isn’t the first state to have a Supreme Court ruling upend COVID-19 response. Back in May, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers' coronavirus stay-at-home order, ruling that his administration overstepped its authority when it extended it for another month without consulting legislators.

The decision allowed local governments to impose their own health restrictions. In Dane County, home to the capital of Madison, officials quickly imposed a mandate incorporating most of the statewide order. In Milwaukee County, many restrictions, including a mask mandate, are in effect right now.

This also meant that many parts of the state just decided to forgo any meaningful virus response and opened with business as usual. We’ll likely see this in Michigan.

Wisconsin virus cases are surging

It’s been five months since the ruling, but now -- the virus is out of control in Wisconsin. Wisconsin health officials on Saturday said the state set a single-day record for COVID-19 cases with nearly 2,900 positive tests.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported a 20.5% positivity rate from 14,084 tests that were processed in the last day. The previous record for new cases in a single day came on Thursday, with 2,887. Health officials also announced 19 deaths in the last day, raising the number of fatalities due to complications from the virus to 1,372.

Hot spot map from New York Times showing most new cases per 100,000 over last 7 days.
Hot spot map from New York Times showing most new cases per 100,000 over last 7 days. (New York Times)

More than 24,000 people in Wisconsin have tested positive for COVID-19. There has been nearly 527 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, which ranks third in the country for new cases per capita, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

A county health official in Wisconsin says he’s frustrated with the lack of leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and is quitting. Sauk County Health Officer Tim Lawther said in a resignation letter that the virus is being turned into “a political tool,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

The number of people hospitalized in Wisconsin reached a record-high of 737 on Sept. 30, according to state health officials and the Wisconsin Hospital Association. Case spikes in northern and northeastern Wisconsin were causing many of the hospitalizations, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Wisconsin COVID-19 hospitalizations over time.
Wisconsin COVID-19 hospitalizations over time. (COVID Act Now)

Bottom line: It’s going to be a messy couple of weeks. The governor and state legislature are going to begin an ugly battle over public health measures. County and local governments are going to begin issuing -- or not issuing -- their own orders. The power struggle in the state will continue.

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