Republican-Led Michigan County Invokes Boston Tea Party, Tells Residents to Ignore COVID Restrictions

In Michigan's Alcona County, the board of commissioners is pushing back against restrictions prescribed by state officials to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The board, which consists of four Republican commissioners and a fifth who cites the far-right Constitution Party for his political affiliation, unanimously passed a resolution late last month opposing virus mitigation procedures. On Tuesday afternoon, the resolution appeared on a board of commissioners' meeting agenda in Muskegon County, about 250 miles west.

It asked Michigan's state leaders to defer to Alcona County's health officer for decisions regarding local COVID-19 measures and advocated for residents' defiance against current orders if the processes remain as is. Gary Wnuk, the Alcona County commissioner who authored the resolution, referenced the Boston Tea Party in arguing for citizens' resistance to government directives.

"We are not advocating to over-throw or abolishment [sic], but if these practices continue, civil disobedience and ignoring the over-reaching and oppressive Executive Orders that have been afflicted on our citizens, akin to the 'Boston Tea Party,' which was respectful to the cargo vessels but not to the cargo itself," the resolution reads.

The Boston Tea Party was a political protest that took place in Boston Harbor in 1773. Colonists who were frustrated about taxes imposed by the British Parliament without their consent tossed almost 350 chests of imported tea into the water.

Alcona County's resolution argues that public health restrictions applied to Michigan's Region 4, a group of counties designated by the state, are not necessary, given its coronavirus statistics. Of the county's 10,000-person population, 37 residents have tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday, and two have died.

In addition to the commissioners' resolution, health officer Denise Bryan issued a letter to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on August 5, requesting that her office reconsider Alcona County's regional classification. Bryan specifically requested the state move Alcona County to a neighboring region where coronavirus regulations, specifically as they relate to school reopenings, are less strict.

"All the counties [within Bryan's jurisdiction, including Alcona] are rural and have struggling economic development issues including 'broadband desert' issues, especially in Alcona and Oscoda counties," Bryan wrote in the letter, which Craig Johnston, an Alcona County commissioner, sent to Newsweek on Thursday.

The health officer noted that creating safe school-reopening plans is "especially challenging" for officials in those two counties, since curriculums are aligned with other counties that fall under less restrictive designations.

Whitmer took one of the nation's most forceful approaches to coronavirus mitigation, both in terms of the state's initial stay-at-home order and its subsequent recovery plan. Whitmer faced public backlash for her mitigation orders throughout the state's outbreak, with residents protesting the health regulations and criticizing her leadership. The state describes virus trajectories in areas belonging to Region 4 as "improving," and they are subject to Phase Four recovery guidelines.

All Michigan counties, outside of those located in the state's upper peninsulas, currently fall under the Phase 4 designation applied to Alcona County. Guidelines require residents of those areas to wear face masks, place limitations on social gatherings, and regulate certain business activities as well as in-person education instruction.

Michigan has confirmed close to 120,000 positive cases of the coronavirus statewide since the pandemic began in March, according to Johns Hopkins University's tracker. Of those who tested positive, roughly 6,880 people have died from COVID-19, the respiratory disease.

Newsweek reached out to Whitmer's office for comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication.

Michigan COVID-19
A protester holds a sign that reads "We deem our governor nonessential," referencing Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, during an April 15 demonstration in Lansing against the state’s coronavirus regulations. JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images