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Whitmer: Wearing face masks ‘should not be this flashpoint’

Michigan State University men's basketball coach Tom Izzo talks about leading by example and...
Michigan State University men's basketball coach Tom Izzo talks about leading by example and wearing face masks as required.((source: State of Michigan))
Published: Jul. 15, 2020 at 5:48 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took issue Wednesday with the pushback against her order requiring face masks in public.

She again presented economic and public health arguments for wearing masks as a way to keep the economy open and protect others from catching coronavirus.

“It’s the simple act of wearing a piece of cloth on your face when you’re in a public space, or when you’re outside but in a crowded space. That’s it,” Whitmer said. “This should not be this flashpoint that it seems to be.”

She lamented the incident outside Lansing on Tuesday, when a dispute inside a gas station convenience store spiraled into a stabbing and eventually a deadly officer-involved shooting, and another incident near Traverse City over the weekend, when a Meijer shopper allegedly pulled a knife on a store employee who asked him to wear a mask.

“You know, I cannot ever pretend that I understand someone that would become murderous over wearing a piece of cloth on your face,” Whitmer said. “But what I can say is that violence is never the solution. We can disagree on a lot of things, but we all have to recognize that this is one simple ad for the greater good for individual good. That will make a huge difference.”

Her message came after the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released a new TV commercial starring well-known coaches from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan offering a message of support for wearing masks.

“It shouldn’t be political. It shouldn’t be about rivalries. It shouldn’t be about anything other than doing what we need to do to keep ourselves safe family safe in our communities safe, alright,” Whitmer said.

Since Friday’s order was announced requiring a face mask inside any enclosed space, including stores and restaurants, and requiring businesses to refuse service to anyone without a mask, police agencies around the state have said they will not enforce it.

“I’m hopeful that sheriffs will recognize that wearing a mask can save lives and their community,” Whitmer said. “I know it’s hard. I know that resources are limited, but this has never been about punishing anyone. It’s about all of us stepping up and doing the right thing to do to protect ourselves and our families or communities in our economy and the frontline workers.”

Without enforcement, Whitmer said the Plan B is people don’t wear masks, coronavirus levels increase and more restrictions are imposed around Michigan.

“Listen, we’ve never anticipated that a lot of people are going to get arrested and pay fines and this is not about being punitive. This is about recognizing this is a duty that each of us should undertake,” she said. “We have laws we have rules no shoes no shirt no service now it’s just no shoes no shirt no mask no service.”

Whitmer believes Michigan is at a turning point in the battle against coronavirus and the fate of the upcoming school year hangs in the balance. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported a two-month high of daily coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

Wednesday was 55 days from the scheduled start of classes for many K-12 school districts around the state.

“Fifty-five days after we discussed our first cases of COVID-19 in Michigan -- we went from two cases to 40,000 in that 55 days. More than 4000, people died in that 55 days,” Whitmer said. “That’s all it took for COVID-19 to grow exponentially.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, who is Michigan’s chief medical executive, said the Grand Rapids region leads the state with more than 50 new cases of coronavirus per 1 million residents every day. The Detroit and Kalamazoo regions are next highest around 30 new cases per 1 million residents per day.

Saginaw, Jackson, Lansing and the Upper Peninsula are all reporting more than 20 new cases per 1 million residents per day.

Michigan is testing the most people for coronavirus ever this week, but the rate of positive tests also is increasing, Khaldun said.

“So this is an indicator that there is ongoing spread of the disease and we’re not simply seeing more cases just because we are doing increased testing,” she said. “So we’re seeing outbreaks in multiple settings, including bars, churches, offices, gyms, long-term care facilities, weddings, family dinners parties, people are gathering.”

If the number of new coronavirus cases continues growing significantly around the state, she warned that more restrictions could follow. Most of the Lower Peninsula as at Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start plan, which allows in-person classes, but a step back to Phase 3 would require only remote learning for K-12 students.

“For the sake of our neighbors, and for loved ones and for communities for heroes on the front line for kids who want to return to school in the fall for our businesses that want to stay open or have the chance to open, it is incumbent on all Michiganders to do their part and to step up and mask up so that we can fight this virus,” Whitmer said.

Khaldun also asked residents to answer calls from county health departments, which are busy with contact tracing after positive coronavirus patients are identified.

Only 70% of interviews with people potentially exposed to the illness are completed within 48 hours because many are not answering the calls and patients are not providing the necessary information.

“So we understand that individuals may feel uncomfortable about giving out names and contact information -- information of their friends and family, we understand that,” Khaldun said. “But please know that we do not share this information with anyone, but we will try to contact these individuals to make sure they know that they should quarantine and potentially get tested themselves.”

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