Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will extend Michigan’s state of emergency past Friday, June 19, when the current order is set to expire.
The governor announced her plans at a June 17 press conference updating residents on COVID-19 and the state’s intention to reopen in-person instruction for K-12 schools in the fall. Whitmer said every state has “some form of a state of emergency” in place.
“We will remain in some form of a state of emergency order,” Whitmer said. “All 50 states are in some form of state of emergency and we will have to be as well.”
The state of emergency designation allows Whitmer to put orders in place and take many actions unilaterally. It is not the same as the stay-at-home order, which is no longer in effect.
Legislative Republicans led by House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, filed a lawsuit on May 12 challenging Whitmer’s executive authority. It challenges the governor’s extension of a COVID-19 state of emergency without the approval of the legislature.
Shirkey believes the governor “defying the law is the most foolish part,” said his spokesperson, Amber McCann.
Whitmer said using a public health crisis as a “political football” is too dangerous and that “lives will be lost.”
“I want to be very clear, any attempt to strip away the powers of the governor during this crisis is irresponsible, dangerous and foolish,” Whitmer said. “We are leading the country because of the actions we took. Millions of Michiganders have done their part as well.”
Whitmer said new data shows that Michigan’s “aggressive actions” have significantly lowered the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
“The data shows that very few states dropped their infection rates as low as Michigan has. Only Michigan and New York are on track to contain COVID-19,” Whitmer said.
The governor also said she’s optimistic Michigan will be able to reopen for in-person learning with strict safety measures in place. In-person learning for K-12 schools is allowed in Phase 4 of the state’s COVID-19 recovery plan, Whitmer said.
Currently, the entire state is considered to be in at least Phase 4 – two regions in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula are in Phase 5.
Guidelines and resources for returning to school are established in accordance with public health data and recommendations from a 25-person council made of teachers, superintendents, and other stakeholders. The council was formed on June 3. School districts are allowed to enforce more guidelines and restrictions, Whitmer said.
“This council was created to ensure a safe transition back into school,” Whitmer said.
Tonya Allen, president of the Skillman Foundation and chair of the Return to School Advisory Council, said the safety needs for schools will differ on location, such as the needs of children attending school in the city or more rural areas.
“We understand the implications of returning to school will have on our community,” Allen said.
Whitmer allowed for the possibility of different scenarios regionally and the possibility that things may change in the event of another COVID-19 spike.
The governor gave an example of such a situation using Region 8. If there is evidence of a spike in cases or significant spread of COVID in Chippewa County, that county could shift down a phase rather than the whole region shifting down a phase, Whitmer said.
“We will see but that is one example of how this might work,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer also announced her administration would be releasing a “Return to School Roadmap” outlining requirements and guidance for schools to reopen their classrooms on June 30.
“That will provide details of what required and what will be recommended for our schools,” Whitmer said. “We have to be prepared to move backward if there is evidence of community spread of the virus.”
The governor said the state is moving towards Phase 5 and hopes it will stay there until post-pandemic but is preparing for spikes over the next school year.
“We need to be prepared to move quickly between scenarios,” Whitmer said.
MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said the reopening plan will be based on the latest public health data, and said it’s important “we continue to put the health and safety of our students and educators first.”
The plan for reopening schools will set minimum health and safety requirements for all schools, although Whitmer said districts can choose to enact more aggressive standards in consultation with local public health officials.
COVID-19 PREVENTION TIPS
In addition to washing hands regularly and not touching your face, officials recommend practicing social distancing, assuming anyone may be carrying the virus.
Health officials say you should be staying at least 6 feet away from others and working from home, if possible.
Use disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners on frequently-touched surfaces in your home (door handles, faucets, countertops) and carry hand sanitizer with you when you go into places like stores.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has also issued an executive order requiring people to wear face coverings over their mouth and nose while inside enclosed, public spaces.