States Need Bold Action Against Coronavirus, Michigan Governor Says

Mar 18, 2020
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here are just some of the ways that states are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Kansas has closed classrooms for the rest of the school year. Colorado has closed bars, restaurants, gyms and theaters for 30 days - other states have done so as well. And Ohio declared a health emergency earlier this week, closing down the Tuesday primary polls and delaying that vote.

The pandemic has led to a patchwork of restrictions, with some state officials saying the federal government has failed to offer a national strategy. Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat from Michigan, is one of those officials. She has been publicly critical of the administration's response. President Trump responded on Twitter, calling her the, quote, "failing Michigan governor." Whitmer joined me earlier from our member station WKAR in East Lansing.

GRETCHEN WHITMER: Good morning.

MARTIN: At this point, what direction and support have you gotten from the federal government?

WHITMER: Well, I think that it's really important in this moment that we have a national strategy, and that it is communicated swiftly and clearly with the states, that they give us guidance as well as the kind of support that we need in terms of tests, personal protection equipment, resources to ensure we can process those tests and meet the needs of our citizens.

The slow reaction on the front end has put us in a much tougher position. And that's why I think you see the nation's governors, Republicans and Democrats, being very aggressive at the state level because we need to be. We know that in order to flatten this curve, we have to be bold with the actions that we are taking. We have to make them based on the best science, the best facts and what's in the best interest of the health of our people.

And it's been - you know, it can be a challenge when a tweet out of the White House can either amplify the work that we're doing or undermine it. Part of the biggest issue that we are facing as a country is ensuring that people understand the seriousness of this issue. And it all begins with the top. And we've all got to get on the same page and have a coordinated effort across the country.

MARTIN: The New York Times reportedly got its hands on audio of the president's meeting with governors in which he said that state officials really should take the lead on finding their own ventilators. Is that feasible?

WHITMER: Well, it's kind of a distressing message to have from the federal government that we should work around the federal government. And I think that was the point that I was making that got the reaction out of the White House. But the fact of the matter is I haven't said something that a lot of other people haven't observed. Relitigating how we got into this mess, I think we'll need to do that at some point. But right now, we governors are working together.

We're sharing best information and working within our state to try to meet the needs. But we do need help from the federal government. You know, I'm very grateful that I've got people like Larry Hogan and Gina Raimondo on the East Coast, Jay Inslee on the West and fellow governors DeWine, Evers, Walz and Pritzker here in the Midwest that I can talk to, that I can share information with, that we can understand the decisions one another's making and why and replicate best practices here. And I can tell you, this morning, one of my calls will be the Laura Kelly of Kansas because I want to understand the thought process by the policy that she announced yesterday.

It's important that we stick together, that we have an aggressive posture because combating community spread is the most important thing that every one of us has a responsibility for. Every citizen, every age group, we need to band together and do the right thing right now so that we can mitigate how many people lose their lives because of this virus and how long our economy suffers because of this virus.

MARTIN: I also asked Governor Whitmer whether she is considering closing schools for the rest of the year.

WHITMER: Well, that's why I'm going to call Laura and find out why, in Kansas, they thought that was the right thing to do in this moment. I think we're learning so much at such a rapid pace. And we're all listening to our medical professionals. And I think that it's important that we share information and that we get on the same page. That's precisely why I would love to see a coordinated national response out of the - out of Washington, D.C.

MARTIN: Let me ask you - the White House is looking for Congress for an up to a trillion-dollar stimulus package. Will that be helpful to you?

WHITMER: It certainly will be helpful. And I encourage them to not just stop with one package. I think we have to have a continuing assessment of our economic need across the country. There will be a lot of people out of work. There'll be a lot of businesses that might not make it. And so we're going to need to have a real strategy that is comprehensive.

MARTIN: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Thank you for your time.

WHITMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.