Mich. Governor Says Protests Over Strict Stay-at-Home Order Will Likely Only Prolong Social Distancing

Michigan is facing one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the U.S. with nearly 2,000 deaths and 28,000 confirmed cases as of Thursday afternoon

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 12, 2020. Photo: David Eggert/AP/Shutterstock

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer warned this week that while it is people’s right to protest, gathering in public to do so during the novel coronavirus pandemic will likely only prolong the very stay-at-home orders that have upset some in her state and elsewhere.

The Washington Post reported that thousands of Michiganders joined a caravan to the capitol building in Lansing on Wednesday to protest Whitmer’s order keeping people indoors unless for some essential activities as part of a strategy to slow new infections.

Some protestors waved pro-Trump flags and Confederate flags while chanting “Lock her up!” and “We will not comply!” outside the governor’s state office, the Post reported.

The demonstrations this week in Michigan, Ohio and Utah signaled some unrest in parts of the country by those who want social distancing eased to allow people to go back to work — despite health officials’ warnings that loosening restrictions, however cumbersome they are, will only cause more death in the short term.

Whitmer, 48, has expressed a similar concern when discussing a deadline to reopen the state’s economy.

“I want to encourage employers to start thinking about what that might look like when it’s time,” she said earlier this month. “Think about how you’re going to keep your employees and customers safe. Every day we are analyzing the data to make sure we are ready when it’s time to re-engage.”

But she also pointed out to CNN Wednesday that gathering in large public groups to protest would probably only prolong what those protestors were rallying against.

The more that they’re out and about, the more likely they are to spread COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus] and the more likely we’re going to have to take this posture for a longer period of time,” Whitmer said.

Virus Outbreak Michigan, Lansing, United States - 15 Apr 2020
Virus Outbreak Michigan, Lansing, United States - 15 Apr 2020
Paul Sancya/AP/Shutterstock

Michigan is facing one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the U.S. with nearly 2,000 deaths and 28,000 confirmed cases as of Thursday afternoon, according to a New York Times tracker.

The state’s death toll is more than double that of California, a state with roughly 30 million more people, and neighboring Illinois, where the metro Chicagoland area has scrambled to contain its local outbreaks.

The Post noted that many of the Michigan protesters weren’t wearing face masks and dramatic photos in Ohio showed those rallying against stay-at-home orders smooshed up against windows in close proximity to one another.

(The highly contagious illness is usually spread person to person, by respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing, or by contact with an infected surface and then your nose or mouth.)

Whitmer called the Michigan outcry “disappointing” during her coronavirus press briefing on Wednesday, according to the Post, adding that the protest “endangered people’s lives.”

She also sought to set the record straight on her intentions, while some Republican critics have questioned the Democrat’s stay-at-home order — including protestors Wednesday showing off “RECALL WHITMER” signs.

The order is reportedly one of the strictest in the country, prompting backlash from some who say it goes too far and will cause undue harm to businesses beyond what must be endured to save lives.

“[It’s] not a political decision, it’s about public health,” Whitmer said Wednesday, according to local TV station WILX. “The enemy is the virus, not one another.”

In recent weeks, Whitmer has called on people across the state to “work together” and “stay inside” to do their part in slowing the spread of the virus, while the rise in local cases has made the state one of the country’s hot spots.

“To get there, we must all do our part,” Whitmer tweeted earlier this month. “Nobody is immune to this virus. It doesn’t discriminate based on county lines, partisan lines, age, or socioeconomic status. One person who carries it can infect 40 people, who then can infect thousands more.”

“We can’t allow fear or panic to guide us,” she tweeted over the weekend. “The lives of Michiganders are at stake. We must stay the course to save lives. Stay steady. We’re going to get through this together.”

Virus Outbreak Michigan, Lansing, United States - 15 Apr 2020
Protesters at the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, on April 15. JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and the face of President Donald Trump‘s coronavirus task force, has warned that we’ll almost certainly see a some coronavirus spread once businesses begin to resume as normal.

What matters at that point, Fauci has stressed, is containing the new infections with robust testing and contact tracing.

“Don’t let anyone get any false ideas that when we decide at a proper time when we’re going to be relaxing some of the restrictions, there’s no doubt you’re going to see cases,” he said April 10 during the White House’s daily briefing. “I would be so surprised if we did not see cases.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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