LANSING, Mich. — Why June 22? Why not today? Both are among questions Republicans and other critics are now raising after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the remaining state COVID restrictions will be lifted next week.
“I mean, I'm glad we're going to be opening eventually, but there's no reason to wait five more days,” says Tori Sachs, a political strategist and executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund.
“The rest of the Midwest is open,” she added. "First it was July 1, now it's June 22. Those are all arbitrary dates, and it's time for Michigan's economy to reopen."
"Governor Whitmer just announced that mask and gathering restrictions end Tuesday. Missing from the story: why not today?" tweeted State Rep. Andrew Fink (R–Adams Township).
The criticism comes as the state's reopening plan has changed over the past few weeks.
At the end of April, Governor Whitmer announced the state’s “Vacc to Normal” plan, tying the lifting of restrictions to the state’s vaccination rate. The plan was to fully open everything when 70 percent of Michiganders got their shots.
That plan was scrapped less than a month later after new CDC guidance was released. A new date was given by the governor: July 1.
“As you can probably imagine, when the CDC came out with new mask guidance, we had to go 'vacc' to the drawing board,” Whitmer said during a press conference in Midland last month.
That was until Thursday, when the state moved up the date to lift broad COVID restrictions, like the mask order for unvaccinated people and capacity limits inside bars and restaurants.
“For weeks it was, 'Wait till July 1' or 'We have to wait until we have 70 percent of people vaccinated.' We're not at either of those things,” Sachs said. “and yet we're reopening because it was never about science, it was about political science. That's really unfortunate for a lot of people in this state who were negatively impacted by these long shutdowns.”
Right now, 60 percent of Michiganders have had at least one shot of the vaccine. Nearly 50 percent are fully vaccinated.
In a press release, the governor says her administration moved up the reopening date because COVID case rates and hospitalizations have plummeted over the last few weeks, adding the state’s top priority is now to jump-start the economy with federal relief funds.
“Today is a day that we have all been looking forward to, as we can safely get back to normal day-to-day activities and put this pandemic behind us,” says Governor Whitmer.
In a separate statement, the Governor's office calls the next five days a grace period for small businesses, "Throughout the pandemic, we have worked closely with medical experts and businesses, big and small, as we’ve been able to take greater steps back to normal. By providing a grace period, businesses have time to prepare and make decisions that are best for their patrons and employees going forward."
"We’ve always treated our state’s health precautions as a dial that can be increased or decreased to save lives. With more and more Michiganders getting vaccinated, we’ve seen just how successful the safe and effective vaccines are at preventing the spread of COVID-19. Michigan continues to have some of the lowest new COVID-19 cases in the nation over the last few weeks. That’s why we are able to accelerate our timeline, get back to normal faster, and put Michigan back to work," says Whitmer press secretary Robert Leddy.