Flag-waving, honking protesters estimated in the thousands drove past the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday to show their displeasure with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders to keep people at home and businesses locked during the coronavirus outbreak.
As snow fell, others got out of their vehicles and raised signs, one of which read, “Gov. Whitmer We Are Not Prisoners.” Another said, “Michigander Against Gretchens Abuses.”
Hours later, Whitmer shot back, telling reporters that the rally put health at risk.
The “Operation Gridlock” protest was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition. The ripples were widely felt: Traffic was barely moving for miles in some areas of Lansing.
“This arbitrary blanket spread of shutting down businesses, about putting all of these workers out of business, is just a disaster. It’s an economic disaster for Michigan,” coalition member Meshawn Maddock said. “And people are sick and tired of it.”
Whitmer, a Democrat, extended a stay-home order through April 30 and has shut down schools and businesses deemed non-essential. The governor acknowledged the pain but said the restrictions were necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness that has killed more than 1,900 Michigan residents and overwhelmed hospitals in the Detroit area.
Whitmer said she was “really disappointed” to see protesters close together without masks.
“I saw someone handing out candy to little kids barehanded,” the governor told reporters. “People are flying the Confederate flag, and untold numbers who gassed up on the way here or grabbed a bite on the way home. We know that this rally endangered people. This kind of activity will put more people at risk and, sadly, it could prolong the amount of time we have to be in this posture.”
During the rally, Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield, who has urged Whitmer to amend her orders, waved an American flag from a window at his Capitol office.
Four sheriffs in the northwestern Lower Peninsula called Whitmer’s orders a “vague framework of emergency laws” that are frustrating citizens. Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said people don’t understand why they can’t take a child fishing in a motorboat but they can use a kayak.
“We’re trying to keep the peace with people. ... The economy is coming apart in northern Michigan. People are upset,” Borkovich told The Associated Press. “People are frantic to get back to work. They have been very edgy.”
Michigan’s confirmed cases of the coronavirus rose about 4% to 28,059, the state health department said Wednesday. Deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, increased by 153, or 8%, to 1,921. Both grew at a lower rate than on Tuesday.
Henry Ford Health System and Beaumont Health, both in southeastern Michigan, reported another drop in COVID-19 patients.
“While the number of deaths is higher today, all the data we’re seeing from the hospitals continues to go a positive direction,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. “The number of patients are down and the number of patients on ventilators are down significantly.”
Detroit Medical Center said it was laying off 480 workers due to a statewide halt in elective medical procedures and other factors.
The Michigan Supreme Court broke new ground by hearing two cases by Zoom video conferencing. Justice Brian Zahra was at home with what looked like an Easter basket behind him. Justice David Viviano was the only judge in his regular seat in court.
At one point more than 180 people were watching live on YouTube. Justice Richard Bernstein, perhaps the most loquacious member, had questions for the lawyers as time in the corner of the screen was winding down.
“Even on Zoom he finds a way” to run out the clock, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack joked.
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