October 25, 2020

Made Things Worse

By Stephen Tuttle | Oct. 10, 2020

The Michigan Supreme Court, in a 4–3 decision supported by the four Republicans on the Court, with dissenting opinions from the three Democrats, has ruled Governor Gretchen Whitmer does not have the authority to continue issuing emergency orders under the Emergency Powers of Governor Act (EPGA) of 1945. They then took an additional step and ruled the entire EPGA unconstitutional. 

The Court's order was delayed 21 days to give the state a little time to figure out our next steps. In a worst-case scenario, the Michigan Legislature will start making decisions regarding the pandemic.

Oh, dear. 

Whitmer started issuing emergency orders on March 16 when she basically shut down the state, excepting “essential” businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic was on the loose then, especially in southeastern parts of the state. Early in the crisis, Michigan had the third-highest number of infections and deaths from the bug. 

It was all plenty unpleasant, but there were already more than enough warning signs this would get very bad, indeed, if some fairly stringent action wasn't taken. Michiganders did mostly abide by the restrictions at the time, and our infection and death rates plateaued and have stayed there since, with occasional spikes. Low-population counties up here, with far fewer cases and a compliant citizenry, eventually saw restrictions loosened though not removed. 

The governor's actions have by no means eliminated the bug, but we've become one of the few states that has achieved some level of infection stability. States that had fewer restrictions or left the decision up to individual counties or cities have seen dramatic spikes in cases that are still ongoing. As of the first week of October, there were only three states with decreasing numbers of cases; 20, including Michigan, with about the same number of cases as the week before; and 27 with significant increases in cases.

It has not helped at all that President Trump constantly misinformed us about how insignificant this was when he knew full well just how bad this could be. He denigrated the medical experts until his base believed him instead of science. His false bravado about masks — he considers them a sign of weakness and strongly discouraged those around him from wearing masks — has now come home to roost as infections run rampant among his staff.

Even while infected and hospitalized, the president continued to insist this is no big deal while repeating the lie that the novel coronavirus is no worse than the seasonal flu.   

It should be noted here the president did not receive the sort of treatment the rest of us would receive. Given the same symptoms, we might not even be able to get a test and likely would be told to stay home unless we became much sicker. We would not be hospitalized out of “an abundance of caution” but only if there was an abundance of concern.

We would not receive an experimental monoclonal drug not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and we would not receive a powerful anti-inflammatory steroid nor an anti-viral unless we were very, very sick. It is absolutely appropriate the president receive the best and most advanced treatment, but he cannot compare his experience to that of the average person. 

Meanwhile, back in Michigan, the governor has been at least partially hamstrung. That's a shame because despite the protests, petition drives, and nonsensical whimpering about our “rights,” the governor's Executive Orders — and there have been plenty — have been helpful in tempering further surges. Her approval ratings hover around 60 percent, about twice that of the legislature, which seems about right.  

The governor still has a couple of arrows in her quiver. The Emergency Management Act of 1976, which was not part of the court decision, gives her authority for 28 days, after which she'll need approval from the legislature.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also has the power to issue its own emergency orders as it recently did in two Michigan counties.

But giving that decision-making authority to the legislature will not help. Filled with open-up-the-state and open-schools-in-person partisans, they'll substitute rhetorical gibberish for medical science. Decisions requiring speed will instead be stuck in the mire that is what passes for political discourse these days.   

It's not as if we've turned a corner on this thing. More than 7.5 million Americans have already been infected, and many will have lingering side effects for at least several months. More than 210,000 Americans have now died — more than the American combat deaths in World War I, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East combined. Michigan has almost 145,000 cases and nearly 7,200 deaths. Grand Traverse County alone has zoomed past 525 cases. 

It isn't getting better, the flu season is right around the corner, and the Michigan Supreme Court just made things a lot worse. 


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