From The Daily: On our governor's powers

Monday, October 12, 2020 - 2:17pm

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On Friday, Oct. 2, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, stating that she did not have the authority to extend executive orders regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the safety protocols she unilaterally put in place. The Michigan Supreme Court based their ruling on the Emergency Management Act of 1976 and the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, declaring that Whitmer had the authority to declare a state of emergency once, but did not have the authority to extend nor re-declare a state of emergency past April 30 without legislative approval. 

The ruling also declared EPGA of 1945 to be unconstitutional. This ruling directly impacts Whitmer’s plan to extend the state of emergency in Michigan from Sept. 29 until Oct. 27. Narrowing the scope from state legislation to the local university community, while this removal of authoritative guidance occurred despite a significant increase in case numbers, the onus is now on the University of Michigan to provide clear public health guidance and support to all individuals, both on and off-campus.

Our state has been relying on Whitmer’s extension of the state of emergency to handle the COVID-19 outbreak and to enforce the guidelines we need to follow to control the spread. It is unclear how the state government will be handling legislation relating to the pandemic moving forward. The effect of repealing EPGA and EMA, alongside the lack of national precedent for the management of a global pandemic, will be the unanswered concern of how to handle potential spread from outlying communities. 

The severity of the pandemic will likely not decrease after Oct. 27, and with flu season approaching, there is still a greater concern for how the infection will worsen on our campus — especially because the University’s lack of proper testing and overall response has resulted in an increase in case numbers and outbreaks across many different residence halls. This Michigan Supreme Court ruling ultimately emphasizes the importance of taking personal responsibility during the coronavirus pandemic.

Thus, The Michigan Daily Editorial Board calls on the University to help outline precautions necessary to compensate for the lack of state legislation that could follow the end of the state of emergency on Oct. 27. We encourage students to continue wearing masks, washing their hands and social distancing on campus. 

We also call on the University community to sign up to participate in random, voluntary testing through the University, so as to enable our public health experts and contact tracers to develop a comprehensive picture of where COVID-19 infections exist and how to contain them. Additionally, we encourage those on campus to use the University’s ResponsiBLUE app, which allows students to track their symptoms and receive guidance for how and when to reduce their interactions in certain public areas. While students are already required to use this app to enter many buildings on campus, we believe they should use this app even if not mandated to, as it can be useful for identifying cases before they potentially infect more students. 

There have also been consistent cleaning measures taken in public spaces and residence halls. These actions have helped to not only keep our campus distanced and safe but have worked to give the community faith in our university’s response. We should continue to have confidence in this response after the end of the state of emergency.

While we acknowledge the necessity of checks and balances, we are asking the University administration to also shift the conversation and acknowledge the barriers students face when trying to get tested on campus. For example, students have said that the University Health Service rejected their requests to receive testing, despite reporting symptoms or close contact with community members who had tested positive. Some students have also reported that their calls to UHS didn’t go through when they sought testing and that the reported data is inaccurate. Rather than leaving students wondering what options that leaves them with, the University could enlist additional individuals to staff phone lines for UHS. Another potential way for the University to eliminate barriers for students would be by continuing to work with the Washtenaw County Health Department to incorporate testing data from University students at off-campus locations into the University’s COVID-19 dashboard to increase accuracy and timeliness of such data. 

This lack of authority on a federal and state level has left students without much cohesive direction. We need to demand support from the University to implement safety protocols and procedures that responsibly parallel local measures and take more precautions than the contentious state governments. While this is far from the ideal scenario, very little of what has happened this year has been. Everyone at the University, from the most powerful individuals in the administration to the least powerful members, has to be committed to picking up where the governor’s guidance leaves off. If and only if we do that, will the University be a safe place.


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