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Governor’s health orders continue to be big on reach, small on reason

GREG MARKKANEN

When I talk with people in the Upper Peninsula about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders and health directives related to COVID-19, they frequently want to know what she is basing her decisions on.

It’s a heck of a question. And it’s difficult to definitively tell them because the governor refuses to share information with my colleagues and I, even though we are elected to represent the people of our communities in the Legislature.

The governor recently extended a ban on in-person dining to Jan. 31 — another crushing blow to small business owners who have been struggling to get by. This industry has roughly 16,500 eating and drinking establishments owned by our friends and neighbors in our communities, and it’s one that allows more than 447,000 people throughout the state to make a living. Many restaurant owners have indicated that while carry-out orders provide them with needed business, their workers aren’t offered the same compensation opportunities as they would get from tips during sit-down service.

These local businesses have worked tirelessly to develop plans for how to conduct indoor dining safely and sensibly. Their livelihoods depend on it. But they are being ignored to the state of insolvency in some cases. With the announced extension, Michigan remained one of only two states in the country with a complete indoor dining ban. What does Gov. Whitmer think she knows that 48 other states do not?

As a retired teacher, I also have very real concerns about the development of our children, which has also been largely ignored by this administration. In-person education offers the best environment for kids to learn and succeed, but Gov. Whitmer promptly closed in-person instruction at high schools in mid-November for weeks — without looking at regional situations throughout Michigan. As a result, this also halted a pivotal enrichment activity for our kids: high school athletics.

High school basketball has not been allowed to start in Michigan and football is just finishing up with the state championships after the imposed hiatus. Where is the data showing that a contact sport like football was fine to play in the fall, but basketball or hockey aren’t as we enter the winter?

A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently found that high school sports in the state have not caused an increase in COVID-19 infections among athletes. Over the course of a month, they surveyed 207 schools that restarted fall sports in September, which included more than 16,000 practices and more than 4,000 games. A total of 271 athletes contracted COVID-19 in that time period. Contact tracing performed for 209 of those athletes shows only one case was attributed to participation in sports.

Special education students are also losing critical in-person development time. I worry we are sacrificing an entire generation of our kids for decisions that are not being explained sufficiently at best or not following data and reason at worst. Many people I talk to in our western Upper Peninsula communities feel the same. A teacher I recently spoke with said she supported Gov. Whitmer from the start of COVID-19, but she has since lost faith in her due to a consistent and troubling pattern of government overreach.

Gov. Whitmer continues to insist on putting the “strict” in restrictions. The least she could do is put the “plan” in explanation. The health of Michigan’s population and economy going forward are depending on it.

State Rep. Greg Markkanen of Hancock is serving his second term in the Michigan House representing residents of Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, as well as Powell and Ishpeming townships in Marquette County.

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