Michigan Gov. Whitmer, others to testify to Congress about pandemic response

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during an event in Hamtramck, Mich., on January 27, 2020. - Bill Pugliano/Getty Images North America/TNS

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will testify before a congressional subcommittee Tuesday about Michigan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said Friday.

By then, Whitmer said, she may have news about further loosening of restrictions on Michigan’s economy, she said at a news conference in Lansing.

“If it continues this way, I’m optimistic that in the coming days we’ll be in a position to take another step forward,” said Whitmer, adding she has a meeting planned for Saturday with health and other experts about the next step in re-engaging the economy.

Whitmer said she will testify before a U.S. House subcommittee on energy and commerce oversight and investigation, which is taking testimony on state responses to the pandemic.

She said she will testify along with Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican.

Whitmer, a Democrat, will likely testify remotely by video from Lansing, spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said.

Whitmer said she plans to testify about the multibillion-dollar budget hole Michigan faces and “what’s at stake” if the federal government does not provide further financial assistance. That echoed a call she made at a news conference Thursday for more federal help.

“We have an opportunity to show that Michigan is a leader, but we must all keep doing our part,” said Whitmer, a Democrat who has faced Capitol protests and Republican lawsuits over her stay-at-home order and Michigan’s state of emergency and related orders.

“Here in Michigan, we have taken aggressive action to fight COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “Our actions are working. Our case numbers our dropping, and we are ramping up our testing.”

She said everyone wants to reopen the economy, but her priority is doing so safely, in a way that protects workers and the general public.

Also, “orders don’t fix the problem; it’s the response to them that do,” said Whitmer, adding that the vast majority of Michigan residents have taken the pandemic seriously and followed orders.

On May 22, Whitmer announced she was extending her stay-at-home order, first imposed effective March 24, through June 12, while extending Michigan’s state of emergency through June 19.

That was one day after she announced the loosening of several restrictions that had been imposed since March.

She OK’d social gatherings of up to 10 people and told retailers they could reopen to customers for appointment-only shopping, starting last Tuesday. Whitmer also gave the go-ahead to non-emergency medical and dental services.

Earlier, on May 18, Whitmer announced that retailers and bars and restaurants, as well as other businesses, in the Upper Peninsula and Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula could reopen May 22, with certain restrictions, including reduced capacity at bars and restaurants.

Northern Michigan has had far fewer COVID-19 cases than southeast Michigan, though it also has far fewer intensive care hospital beds that would be needed to handle an outbreak.

Statewide, construction and other outdoor work was allowed to resume May 7. Manufacturing was given the green light for May 11, though most of the state’s automakers opted to resume major operations May 18.

Republican lawmakers, in particular, have pushed for Whitmer to reopen Michigan’s economy on a regional basis, with less hard-hit parts of the state returning to near normal much more quickly.

Also Friday, Whitmer signed an executive order to create the Michigan Workforce Development Board, charged with growing the workforce and the economy and helping Michigan reach Whitmer’s goal of 60% post-secondary educational attainment by 2030.

The board’s members will include Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

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©2020 Detroit Free Press