After protests broke out on Wednesday following Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, Whitmer has finally spoken out. "A small segment of the state is protesting and that's their right," Whitmer told CNN on Wednesday. "The sad part is, though, that the more that they're out and about, the more likely they are to spread COVID-19 and the more likely we're going to have to take this posture for a longer period of time."
Prior to the protest, Whitmer encouraged people to stay safe while exercising their Constitutional rights. "Not one of us wants to go through this again, not in a month, not in the Fall. And I want you to have your freedom. I want to have mine, too,” Whitmer said in a press briefing earlier this week. “It's okay to be frustrated, it's okay to be angry. If it makes you feel better to direct it at me, that's okay, too. I've got thick skin. And I'm always going to defend your right to free speech."
Whitmer’s order is one of the most restrictive in the country, limiting things like the numbers of essential workers who can work a shift in a store and suggesting people limit the number of people in their household who run outside errands. The guidelines also restricted businesses from selling things like gardening supplies and home goods, which many protestors cited frustration toward.
Protestors — some of whom were part of a group with ties to the Trump administration’s Secretary of Education, Betsey DeVos — compared Whitmer, who is a Democrat, to Adolf Hitler. Some carried Confederate flags or flags with Trump’s name on them. Many of the protesters did not wear masks or observe social distancing recommendations of staying six feet apart.
"This is clearly a political demonstration out here, but you know what? I don't wish them ill will. I'm trying to protect all the people of this state, no matter if they voted for me or not," Whitmer said on Wednesday. "And I would love it if the White House would weigh in and help."
As of Thursday, Michigan has over 28,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state. This makes them the fourth most infected state in the U.S., right after New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. It's also part of the reason that Whitmer has proceeded to enforce such stringent guidelines for sheltering.
Late last month, Whitmer made national headlines when President Trump took jabs at her, referring to her as a "woman governor" who "blame[s] the federal government" for Michigan's challenges. She's also been the subject of major news as a viable candidate for presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden's vice president pick.
Whiter told CNN she would base decisions about easing the orders and reopening the Michigan economy on medicine and science. "I've got to see a sustained decrease in the number of positive cases and robust testing,” she said.