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Fed Up With Unemployment, Thousands Protest Michigan’s Strict Stay-At-Home Orders

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  • Thousands in Michigan flocked to the city’s capital on Wednesday to protest Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s strict coronavirus emergency order.
  • Whitmer’s order is some of the most drastic in the country as it bans travel between homes, prevents exemptions for workers like landscapers, and severely limits the number of people within grocery stores.
  • While thousands clogged city streets with their vehicles as a form of protest, others ignored social distancing measures by protesting on the steps of the capitol.

Operation Gridlock

Thousands of protesters in Michigan shut down miles of road on Wednesday, concentrating themselves near the capitol building in Lansing. While many maintained social distancing rules by staying in their vehicles, hundreds of others did not. 

The protest—known as Operation Gridlock—was organized after Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended the state’s stay-at-home order on April 9.

In that extension, she added several major rules, including:

  • No gatherings of any people who are not part of a single household.
  • No travel to in-state vacation or second homes.
  • Limiting large store to four customers for every 1,000 square feet of floor space. Stores have also been ordered to shut down sections for carpeting, flooring, furniture, gardening, and painting.
  • No using jet skis or motorboats.

While many protesters noted that they believed Whitmer was trying to keep them safe by issuing the order, they nonetheless said they believe it infringes upon their constitutional rights. 

In fact, on Tuesday, four Michigan residents filed a lawsuit against Whitmer, arguing that she was violating their 1st Amendment right to assembly, as well as their 5th Amendment right that says “private property shall not be taken for a public use without just compensation.” Notably, they are trying to get a temporary restraining order to keep Whitmer from enforcing the order. 

At the following day’s protest, at least 200 people broke organizers’ instructions, got out of their cars, and congregated around the steps of Michigan’s capitol building. Many of those people can be seen in photos and videos standing near each other, walking around, and not wearing masks.

According to Whitmer, she saw several people passing out candy to kids with their bare hands.

Some of those protesters also sported firearms. Others waved Confederate flags

Many protesters also carried Trump re-election signs and chanted “Lock her up!” Multiple news outlets also reported that, at times, the protest was reminiscent of a pseudo-Trump rally.

Still, many people said they were protesting because they wanted to return to work. As of Monday, more than a quarter of Michigan’s workforce has filed for unemployment. 

Since Whitmer’s order also bans home-to-home travel, that means that people like landscapers will also find themselves out of a job now. Because of that, many Republican politicians in the state have contended that those workers should get exemptions because they can socially distance while working. Whitmer, however, has refused to grant that exemption.

Others are angry because while Michigan has one of the biggest outbreaks in the country, that outbreak is mainly concentrated in Southeast Michigan and Detroit. Some people—especially small business owners and workers—have argued that there should be regional and industry-based exemptions.

“I don’t think she’s listening to petitions and people who are trying to communicate in a less extreme way that…there are small businesses that are suffering,” greenhouse worker Shelly Vanderwerff told NPR.

“Our community is struggling,” one woman told Reuters. “My husband is on unemployment for the first time in our life, and it’s unwillingly that we’re taking unemployment. We want to go back to work. We have employees. We have paychecks to issue. We have bills to pay. The only stores open are Walmart? That’s ridiculous. That’s why we’re here.”

Of course, others also had different priorities:

“It’s time for our state to be opened up,” another woman told Reuters. “We’re tired of not being able to buy the things that we need, go to the hairdressers, get our hair done. It’s time to open up. The sick are being taken care of.” 

Whitmer Says Protests May Cause Her Order to Be Extended Again

Whitmer has said she considered people who would lose their jobs while she signed the order, but she said she feared the economy would be worse off if she didn’t sign it. She also admitted that while strict—in fact, her order is one of the strictest in the nation—it’s necessary to contain the virus.

Michigan currently has the 4th highest infection rate and 3rd highest death count in the country. As of recording Thursday morning, the state had just under 28,000 cases and about 1,900 deaths.

Upon responding to reporters Wednesday, she also said the protest could inadvertently cause her strict measures to be prolonged. 

“We know that this demonstration is going to come at a cost to people’s health, she said. “We know that when people gather that way without masks… that’s how COVID-19 spreads. And so the sad irony here is that the protest was that they don’t like being in this stay-at-home order, and they may have just created a need to lengthen it, which is something we’re trying to avoid at all costs.”

Later, in an interview with MSNBC Whitmer criticized the protest, saying her executive order was a scapegoat for other issues.

“It wasn’t really about the stay-at-home order at all,” she said. “It was essentially a political rally, a political statement that flies in the face of all of the science, all of the best practices, and the stay at home order that was issued. You know, this looks like a lot of people, and it felt like a lot of people, but in the bigger scheme of things, Michigan is a state of 10 million people, the vast majority of whom are doing the right thing.”

Whitmer then continued criticizing that protest, saying protesters in cars blocked an ambulance from being able to get into a hospital. 

Michigan Sheriffs To Lax Enforcement of Order

On Wednesday,  four county sheriffs oppose her order, saying, “While we understand her desire to protect the public, we question some restrictions that she has imposed as overstepping her executive authority.” 

“As a result, we will not have strict enforcement of these orders,” they added in a joint statement. “We will deal with every case as an individual situation and apply common sense in assessing the apparent violation.” 

There’s also speculation that some businesses might just reopen anyway and pay the fine for doing so. According to Matt Seely, a spokesman for the Michigan Conservative Coalition which organized the protest, “If something isn’t put in place soon, you’ll see in the form of a protest—businesses just opening. Because, truthfully, for the $1,000 fine, most businesses could sustain that fine because they’ll at least be able to make a living.”

While Operation Gridlock is certainly the biggest protest against stay-at-home orders in the United States thus far, it’s actually not the first. 

States like Ohio and North Carolina have also witnessed similar protests. In Kentucky Wednesday, protesters chanted “We want to work!” over Governor Andy Beshear as he was providing coronavirus updates at a news conference.

There are also reports that more protests are planned in states like Texas and Oregon. 

Situations like those will undoubtedly present tricky situations for governors trying to keep people safe by following the advice of health officials, especially as new infections continue to level off and even decline. 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (Detroit Free Press)

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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