April 16 (UPI) — Traffic in downtown Lansing, Mich., was snarled for hours Wednesday as “Operation Gridlock,” a protest against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders, surrounded the state Capitol.
The Michigan Conservative Council, organizers of the event, said Whitmer’s measures to slow the coronavirus violate constitutional rights. She declared a state of emergency in Michigan on March 10 and announced a stay-at-home order on March 23, calling on all state residents to stay inside, except for essential purposes. The order, with tougher restrictions, was later extended to May 1.
Whitmer, a Democrat, said the demonstration on Wednesday does not violate the stay-at-home policy. Most demonstrators stayed in their vehicles, honking horns and jamming streets in downtown Lansing. Lt. Darren Green of the Michigan State Police said that traffic was backed up by dozens of vehicles for over a mile from the Capitol, in several directions.
About 150 protesters were seen on the state capitol lawn, milling and not following safe social distancing, hours before the noon starting time of the event. No arrests were reported.
Meshawn Maddock, a board member of the group sponsoring the protest, said Michigan’s curve of coronavirus infections has been flattened, and less severely affected areas of the state should be re-opened for work and recreation.
While state infection numbers appeared to decline at the end of last week, infection and death figures were up again on Monday. Health officials have said that it is too soon to say that the infection has reached its peak in the state. As of Tuesday, there were about 27,000 confirmed cases and 1,768 deaths in the state, according to state officials.
Michigan, with a current unemployment rate of 10 percent, has the third-largest number of coronavirus-related deaths in the nation.
During a briefing by the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said he would meet with governors to discuss plans to reopen states on Thursday.
“We’ll have some information on some openings and again we’ll have some openings that will exceed our expectations and they’ll be safe, they’ll be strong but we want to get our country back and we’re going to do it and we’ll do it soon,” he said.
Trump added that he would leave it up to state governments to regulate travel between states and asserted the White House would “take very strong action against a state or governor” if federal officials are “not happy with the job a governor is doing” to reopen the state.
Vice President Mike Pence added that the task force would also share new federal coronavirus guidelines with governors and the public on Thursday.