Governing state by a new set of numbers
Fourteen months ago, as Michigan was first confronted with COVID-19 infections and the beginnings of what we now know as a worldwide pandemic, Governor Gretchen Whitmer stood tall and closed the state down, insisting only a shutdown of restaurants, bars, schools, offices, stores other than essentials, was necessary in order to get the disease under control. After Michigan initially was one of five states with soaring numbers, hospitals which were filled to capacity with seriously ill patients and rising fatality rates, by summer, the pandemic in the state appeared to be, if not a success, under moderate control.
Then came a second wave in the fall, followed by post-holiday surges in January. Infection rates skyrocketed, and with them, Whitmer stood firm, opening and closing businesses and schools by executive emergency orders – despite opposition, name calling and denial of the illness itself, insisting it was essential to control the virus. Over and over she stated she was “following the science.”
Along the way, she took a lot of darts. Former President Trump called her a “dictator,” and tweeted to “Liberate Michigan.” State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey lead an effort to strip her of her emergency powers, all the way to the state Supreme Court, where Republicans won a victory on a 4-3 vote. And in August, we learned that Michigan militia members and their cohorts had targeted her and her family because of those shutdown orders, planning to kidnap and possibly kill her.
We're now in an unbelievable fourth surge of this deadly pandemic, leading the country in daily number of cases and hospitalizations. Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills schools are reporting dozens of infections, with lots coming from high schoolers – but many from kindergartners and second graders, too. While death rates are still down, the number of confirmed cases keep growing and local hospitals are reaching capacity.
Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, repeatedly have gone on the air and urged Whitmer to close things down for a while once again. She, meanwhile, is unsuccessfully asking for more vaccines, and urging residents to wear masks and socially distance.
So why isn't she following the science this go-round?
The simple answer may just back up to politics.
In the early days of this battle Whitmer said she was relying on the numbers – data showing the testing positivity rates, hospital ICU occupancy and death rates, although her administration was justifiably criticized for never releasing to the public what goals the state needed to reach before she would relax restrictions.
With the exception of death rates, the numbers on COVID-19 look worse today than they did at the peak of last spring at the start of the year.
Although her executive powers were clipped by the Michigan Supreme Court, she basically still has those same powers through her health and labor departments to continue controlling public behavior through departmental decrees. But she is now touting that the public knows how they need to act to solve this problem. Right.
We're guessing Whitmer is not just responding to our collective pandemic fatigue, but a new set of numbers – her standing with the public and Republicans in the legislature.
She has a fiscal year 2022 budget year to pass this summer – and she needs those Republican lawmakers, who are in control of the state legislature, to work with her and support it. Michigan has also been allocated millions of dollars, from business and payroll protection to education, going back to the Trump administration. Whitmer needs the legislature to come to an agreement on the allocation of hundreds of millions of federal pandemic funds currently tied up in a standoff with GOP lawmakers who seem more concerned with stripping the governor's office of emergency powers.
She's also running for re-election in 2022, and a whole lot of people didn't like those shutdowns.
Needless to say, we miss the Whitmer who started out as a no-holds barred leader in this crisis.