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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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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
  • By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
  • Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

Rick Snyder Charges

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.

The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.

He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.

The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.

8 Others Charged

Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:

  • Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
  • Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
  • Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.

Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.

At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

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

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Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack

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  • At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
  • Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus. 

On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one. 

Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested. 

More Cases Follow

Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions. 

Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote. 

“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added. 

“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown. 

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.

Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks. 

Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (NBC Chicago)

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