Public opinion and state legislature differ on pandemic response politics

By Dennis Archambault

A convergence of news stories from different perspectives often has a way of defining issues. One of  the lessons learned about the coronavirus pandemic is that public health is part of the political process and invariably affected by it. When that occurs during an election year, the dynamics of this process can be sudden and dramatic. For example, the remarkable resistance to mask use from the United States president to Michigan citizens has polarized those who wear masks and those who don’t into political camps.

The Detroit News today is articulating a business perspective that has been voiced since Gov. Whitmer gradually has allowed business and social activity to resume amid the linger pandemic. Businesses, understandably, have wanted to expedite their return – and at this point, most have. The governor has errored on the side of public health in creating a gradual economic re-entry. The News published a commentary from Christina Herrin, government relations manager of Health Policy for the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank, “Data shows COVID-19 is not as deadly as we thought”. While this is not new – anyone monitoring the mortality, statistics compared with the morbidity statistics and the broader population numbers would have drawn that conclusion months ago. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released an updated report showing that six percent of coronavirus deaths were solely due to the virus. Again, this has been discussed considering how pre-existing conditions like chronic diseases and obesity, coupled with genetic factors, contribute to undercut immune response to the virus. Herrin notes that young and healthy people “are almost at zero risk of dying” from the virus. Herrin argues that it’s past time to open the economy and moderate public health dominance of social and economic policy. She cites an “almost unquenchable thirst for power” on behalf of government officials.

On the other hand, the News also published results of a recent poll of Michigan residents that suggests a high approval of the governor’s job performance, specifically as it relates to managing the coronavirus and disapproval of efforts to eliminate the 1945 legislation that enables the governor to issue a state of emergency in a situation such as a public health pandemic. Gov. Whitmer’s rating has risen more than 15 percentage points from a January survey, to 59 percent approval of her job performance; 61 percent specifically approved of Whitmer’s handling of the coronavirus outreach. Additionally, a majority of poll respondents oppose repealing the 1945 law giving the governor authority to unilaterally declaring an emergency.

So, the legislative branch of government and free enterprise advocates oppose government restrictions on the economy to manage the pandemic, but the public supports them and the governor’s power to administer them. Interesting dichotomy.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.