Following last week's Michigan Supreme Court ruling that effectively ended Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's emergency powers in response to the novel coronavirus crisis, a group of Michigan physicians spoke to the media via Zoom Wednesday, Sept. 7, to applaud Whitmer for what they called her "science-based COVID-19 response." They then simultaneously urged leaders in the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature, whom they called "obstructionists," to fall in line and support Whitmer's efforts while chastising them for dismissing evidence-based safety measures such as wearing masks and limiting crowds. The physicians were speaking in their capacity as members of the Committee to Protect Medicare, an advocacy organization made up of frontline doctors engaging in direct advocacy and communications in support of a stronger health care system in America.
"As physicians, we greatly appreciate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her public health team's approach throughout this pandemic for the past eight months, and strongly urge the Michigan Legislature and its leaders to work with her and pass legislation that can reduce COVID-19 transmissions," said Dr. Farhan Bhatti, Michigan state lead for the Committee to Protect Medicare and a family physician in Lansing. "Unfortunately, Republican politicians are rejecting science, turning down federal aid and many are even attending public events without wearing masks — putting more Michigan lives at risk when they should be doing the hard work of keeping people safe and demanding the Trump Administration provide relief for Michigan families.
"From a medical perspective, we ask Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, House Speaker Lee Chatfield and their fellow legislators to stop dragging their feet and help get health workers the resources we need to turn the corner on this pandemic," Bhatti continued. "By reining in COVID-19 the right way, using science to guide us, we can make businesses, schools and public life safer so people can enjoy their freedom without putting their lives or the lives of others at risk."
Bhatti and fellow physicians Dr. Ijeoma Nnodim Opara of Westland and Dr. Stephanie Markle of Kalamazoo called on the legislature to immediately pass measures that would require masks to be worn in all indoor locations, with no exceptions; enable the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to call for stay-at-home orders in counties that are experiencing outbreaks or where outbreaks are imminent; expand rapid-response tests for schools, businesses and anyone who has been exposed; support community health efforts to hire and train enough contact tracers; and provide support to individuals who must quarantine, including financial and educational support.
"We join physicians across Michigan and the country in hoping that President Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis and the outbreaks linked to events he attended will serve as a wake-up call to every American that COVID-19 can strike anywhere, anytime and anyone, especially when basic safety measures such as masks and social distancing are ignored," Opara said. "The COVID-19 pandemic is still with us and continues to kill around 1,000 Americans every day. Instead of waving the white flag of surrender, as some politicians who don't want to put in the work suggest we do, we can gain the upper hand against COVID-19 if we follow the science and implement safe and effective measures that public health experts agree work, such as wearing masks and maximizing social distancing."
More than 170 studies across 16 nations and six continents show that common, simple interventions such as mask-wearing and social distancing lower the risk of COVID-19 infections, the doctors said. In communities without mask requirements, positive case growth was three times higher than communities that implemented universal mask requirements over the long term. Studies show that maximum social distancing measures such as stay-at-home orders could save thousands of lives. One analysis credited Whitmer's stay-at-home order, which began March 24, with reducing the number of people each COVID-19-positive person infects in Michigan from 3.5 to 1.
"Scientific and medical evidence tells us that we have ways to keep people safer during the COVID-19 pandemic, and refusing to take basic, simple precautions that we know can save lives is negligent behavior that endangers people," Markle said. "We have an opportunity to come together and show a unified front against an indiscriminate disease that has killed more than 209,000 Americans, including 7,100 Michiganders. The most irresponsible thing we could do right now is refuse to act on the science and give up, which will only lead to more pain and suffering. Every Michigan family deserves better than what Republican politicians in Lansing are offering, which is defeat and surrender."