Michigan Legislative Leaders Have No Plan to Combat Surging COVID Numbers

As lawmakers get ready to begin their “lame duck” session, there’s no indication they’ll do anything about the state’s biggest crisis.

COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Michigan and the United States, and with the Thanksgiving holiday over, experts are worried cases are going to surge even more. Soon, the state legislature is going to be back in session for the final few weeks of the year and the question on everybody’s mind right now is, will they have some sort of a comprehensive strategy or plan to combat the COVID-19 pandemic?

MichMash hosts Cheyna Roth and Jake Neher speak with MLive reporters Julie Mack and Emily Lawler about the lack of legislative action and the severity of the situation here in Michigan.

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On Nov. 17, Lawler and Mack reported that Republican lawmakers, who had spent months fighting Gov. Whitmer’s emergency orders, did not have a concrete plan for how to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

That appears to be the case still.

“In terms of a short-range, a plan to address the immediate crisis, which is looking the worst it’s ever looked in Michigan… no, there is no plan in the state legislature right now, at least from Republican leadership,” says Lawler.

She says the state House is considering some mid-to-long-range plans that are more about metrics and when things can open up regionally. But COVID-19 is surging now. Hospitals are overwhelmed now. And people are dying now.

“I look at these numbers every day. And compared to where we were two weeks ago, a month ago, they’re horrifying.” – Julie Mack, MLive

While health experts want to stay out of what has become a very politically charged subject, Mack says, they are getting “increasingly really upset, I think, with the lack of political leadership from the Republican side.”

“I look at these numbers every day,” she says. “And compared to where we were two weeks ago, a month ago, they’re horrifying. I mean it. You see deaths going up, you know, in a pretty rapid clip, you see hospitalizations going up. So, it’s not just asymptomatic cases where old people have the virus and get sick. This is a genuine crisis, especially for the healthcare industry.”

More than a month ago, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a ruling that Whitmer could no longer use her emergency powers to issue executive orders such as mask mandates and gathering limits in order to curb the spread. Soon after, the state health department began issuing emergency orders limiting gatherings and taking other steps to curb the spread.

Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Director Robert Gordon issued an emergency order under the public health code stopping activities like indoor dining and in-person high school instruction for three weeks in an effort to control the spread.

The move was met with more criticism from Republican leadership in the state legislature.

“There is no statewide plan…The big thing on Governor Whitmer’s wish list is a mask mandate. That does not appear to be gaining any traction.” — Emily Lawler, MLive

Despite a current inability to come to a consensus on bigger measures, the legislature has passed some bills related to COVID-19 that the governor has signed, Lawler said. Those include logistical things like allowing remote public meetings and remote notarizations. They’ve also passed bills to address specific populations like nursing homes and schools.

“But there is no statewide plan,” Lawler says. “I would say that… the big thing on Governor Whitmer’s wish list is a mask mandate. That does not appear to be gaining any traction.”

A mask mandate is also number one on the healthcare community’s wish list, Mack says.

“They’re just at their wit’s end about that,” Mack says about the lack of a mask mandate. “They see this as probably the single most effective tool in their arsenal. That if everybody wore a mask, cases would go down. And I think that they’re truly perplexed at how this became politicized.”

The Legislature returns from its hunting and Thanksgiving break this week. Session is scheduled for the next three weeks before the legislative session is over.

More From MichMash:

Why health officials are worried about Thanksgiving gatherings

Oakland and Macomb counties demonstrate how divided Michigan voters are becoming

From turnout to outcome, 2020 election signals big shifts in Michigan since 2016

“Militias,” “domestic terrorism,” and why the language we use is important

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  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.