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Opinion: We need to work together for a more transparent COVID-19 plan

Julie Calley  |  The Detroit News

For the past six months, I have heard from more concerned residents than ever before. They worry about not having a job, about educating their children, about gaining access to a family member in a long-term care facility, about catching up on preventative medical care — and yes, they worry about protecting their loved ones from COVID-19.

People’s lives have been flipped upside down by this virus, and the state’s response has affected the fundamental rights of all our residents. That’s why it’s so important for the voices of people throughout our state to be considered and for fact-based decisions to be made transparently, guided by data and doctors.

But that’s not how things have transpired. For months, the state of Michigan has been under repeated declarations of emergency, granting elongated and singular authority to one person. Regardless of how effective the governor’s executive orders turn out to be, her inconsistencies and ambiguities have undoubtedly made dealing with COVID-19 harder than necessary for Michigan families.

Protecting public health is important. So is providing transparency and accountability. There’s no reason we can’t do both. It can be accomplished if the legislative and executive branches work together in a collaborative manner, the way our Constitution requires.

Increased transparency would benefit everyone. People deserve to know what data is being used to keep businesses closed after more than six months. They deserve to know why most of the nation and two regions in northern Michigan could open gyms safely months ago, but the governor felt they had to remain closed in the rest of the state until this week. Where are the outbreaks linked to businesses that remain shuttered?

This is all information my colleagues in the Legislature and I would weigh publicly if the legislative process were being used to make decisions about opening Michigan safely.

The governor and I both swore an oath to our Constitution. We pledged to uphold its virtues, which include the balance of powers. One hundred forty-eight legislators come from all over the corners of the state, bringing the voices of the people they serve. By working together and seeking input from medical experts and community leaders, we can we can make fact-based decisions that allow all Michigan residents to resume their lives safely and sensibly.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently stated that we are in the “relatively early phases” of fighting COVID-19. I agree. She has further indicated that the state of emergency may continue until a vaccine is available — even though, based on national polling, a significant number of Americans do not plan to accept the initial round of vaccinations.   

A century ago, our nation faced a similar threat with influenza. Today it still exists, albeit in mutated forms. It’s time to accept that COVID-19 is not going away, and we cannot live under a state of emergency forever.

The executive branch and the Legislature must work collaboratively to develop a smarter plan of action for dealing with COVID-19. We must also improve transparency and continue to arm Michigan residents with updated information that they can use to protect themselves.

State Rep. Julie Calley, R-Portland, represents Barry County and a portion of Ionia County in the Michigan House. She serves as a member of the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic.