Opinion

Whitmer’s four-letter word is actually five: COVID

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The governor showed up Monday in Sterling Heights and Detroit. She wants to exempt retirement income from the state’s income tax. She was in Bay City last Friday talking about the same thing. Over the weekend, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer donned the yellow hard hat and stood alongside Interstate 69 as crews began rebuilding 30 miles from Clinton to Calhoun County. Last week, she was in Hemlock, talking about global manufacturing leadership and silicon at the Hemlock Semiconductor plant.

One thing Whitmer hasn’t been talking about? COVID-19. 

This isn’t a new thing. Remember the governor’s State of the State address last month? The governor never uttered the following words: Mask, vaccinations, mandates, restrictions or Biden. During the whole speech, she passingly referenced COVID-19 as the reason her speech was given remotely. She mentioned that students should be back in class.

That was it.

When the governor introduced her proposal budget a couple weeks ago, she talked about all the money she wants spent on education, dental coverage for Medicaid recipients, transportation and economic development. Money for COVID? Vaccinations? Masks? All of them may be worth spending money on, but she’s not leading with this. Long gone are the days of the three-times-a-week conferences when Whitmer spoke in some empty room about what we all need to do to get out of this pandemic. 

Statewide masking mandates? The governor ended those last July. Since then, the rules coming from Lansing have only gotten looser, not stricter. It doesn’t matter what the numbers are.

Between Veterans’ Day and Groundhog’s Day, an average of 9,910 Michiganders came down with COVID every single day. Before this period, the average daily infection rate was 2,210.

During that time, Whitmer didn’t discourage travel. Her director of the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t bring back restaurant limits.

The Breslin Center stopped selling hot dogs at Spartan basketball games, but the governor went the other direction with her policies.

After Christmas break, Flint Schools announced they were going virtual indefinitely. Whitmer didn’t urge more districts to follow suit. Instead, the governor said it was time for students to return to the classrooms.

What gives? The answers are both practical and political.

Let’s start with the practical. Whitmer shut down the state in 2020 before the vaccines. Back then, we stayed away from people. We stayed out of enclosed areas with lots of people. We wore mask indoors. That’s how you didn’t get COVID. Vaccinations changed that. Now, it’s up to you. If you haven’t been vaccinated by now, chances are you won’t be. Nothing Whitmer says or does is changing that. 

Forcing the unwilling to vaccinate or wear a mask or shut down only creates new martyrs like Karl Manke the barber or Marlena Pavlos-Hackney the Holland restaurant owner. Whitmer doesn’t need that. As she heads into her 2022 reelection campaign, the less the public is reminded about COVID, the better. 

There’s a lot of memories from the shutdown phase of the pandemic. Few of them are positive. The pandemic from March 2020 to June 2021 sucked. Flat out. 

Whitmer can argue that her restrictions saved lives. Maybe they did. But nobody wants to revisit this. Maybe in a few years, we’ll reminisce about how tough we were to push through the isolation the way we did.

At this point, though, memories of the hardships are too raw. There are too many negatives dragging up the memories and not many positives. The only people bringing up this period of our history are Republican gubernatorial candidates.

Garrett Soldano has actually crafted a fairly decent campaign on the COVID shutdowns alone.

As far as Whitmer is concerned, why talk about the past when the future looks much better. Electric vehicles. More money for schools. Cutting taxes. Fixing the damn roads. 

Anything. Literally, anything is better than dragging up the past. COVID triggers memories of the past. So. Whitmer isn’t mentioning COVID … probably not until after Nov. 8.

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol News Service MIRS at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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