Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Says Protest Against Stay-at-Home Order Was a 'Political Rally'

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has hit back at the thousands of protesters who defied her stay-at-home order on Wednesday, saying the rally was "political" and had endangered people's lives.

Protesters took part in a drive-in rally, dubbed "Operation Gridlock," on Wednesday to show their opposition to the stay-at-home order issued by Whitmer due to the coronavirus pandemic. "Operation Gridlock" was listed on Facebook as an event hosted by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund.

Many demonstrators got out of their vehicles by the state capitol building in Lansing and brandished signs bearing messages including "Michigan Against Gretchen's Abuses" and "Stop The Fear, End The Lockdown."

A Michigan State Police spokesperson told Newsweek the protest attracted an estimated 4,000 people and the demonstrators were "peaceful." The spokesperson said the majority of demonstrators remained in their vehicles and those on foot were practicing social distancing.

No tickets were issued during the protest for violating Whitmer's stay-at-home order, but the spokesperson said one arrest was made—a 45-year-old man for simple assault against another protester.

People protest amid the coronavirus pandemic at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on April 15, 2020. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

Whitmer, a Democrat, addressed the protest during an appearance on MSNBC, telling Joy Reid that the protesters who attended were endangering the lives of Michiganders. Many of them were not wearing masks and some were handing out candy to children with bare hands, she said.

Responding to Reid's comments that some protesters waved President Donald Trump and Confederate flags, Whitmer said the event was "essentially a political rally."

"It wasn't really about the stay-at-home order at all. It was essentially a political rally, a political statement that flies in the face of all of the science, all of the best practices in the stay-at-home order that was issued," she said. "This was a political rally.... that is going to endanger people's lives because this is precisely how COVID-19 spreads."

She added: "This is the kind of behavior that extends the need for a stay-at-home order, that spreads COVID-19 that overruns communities, This is precisely the worst thing that could have happened today."

But she noted that the "vast majority" of Michiganders are complying with the stay-at-home order.

The governor added that while she understands the difficulties people are experiencing due to the order, putting people's health at risk is not the answer.

"I know there's a lot of angst and people are feeling it and they want to direct it at me, that's fine. I can take it," she said. "But showing up and being this irresponsible is not just endangering their own lives, it's endangering all of our first responders and our ability to meet the needs of the people of the state who are all trying to do the right thing."

Whitmer's press secretary Tiffany Brown told Newsweek that Whitmer's top priority is "protecting public health and safety."

"Governor Whitmer understands that this is a frustrating time and that many people are angry," Brown said. "People want to spend time their families, friends, and loved ones. The governor supports Michiganders right to free speech and the right to protest, but those participating should not put themselves or first responders at risk."

She added: "It's disappointing to see people congregating without masks, and without practicing social distancing. People were flying Confederate flags and passed out candy to kids without gloves. This kind of activity will put more people at risk, and it could mean that more people will die."

Multiple people waving Confederate flags at #OperationGridlock outside Michigan Capitol. pic.twitter.com/M5nAWBflxD

— Malachi Barrett (@PolarBarrett) April 15, 2020

Earlier this month, Whitmer extended the state's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order through April 30, instructing Michiganders to stay at home and to only venture out for grocery shopping, exercise or for medical visits. It also limits gatherings and travel and requires all workers who are not "necessary to sustain or protect life" to stay home.

It prompted four Michigan residents to sue Whitmer this week, arguing that the order's restrictions violate their constitutional rights. Attorney David Helm, who filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, told Newsweek that Whitmer's extension of the stay-at-home order is "unreasonable" and "goes too far."

The governor's office previously declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation.

Michigan has one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the U.S. with 28,059 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 1,921 deaths, according to the latest figures from the state's health department.

This article has been updated with information from Michigan State Police and a statement from Whitmer's press secretary Tiffany Brown.

This infographic, provided by Statista, shows the spread of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of April 15.

The spread of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S.
The spread of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. STATISTA

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.