Northern Michigan County to Defy Parts of COVID-19 Restrictions

Northern Michigan County to Defy Parts of COVID-19 Restrictions

While much of Michigan is locking down to various extents, one Michigan county in particular is moving against the current and choosing to defy the Governor’s order regarding coronavirus restrictions. Alcona county, a lakeshore county in the eastern part of the state with around 10,000 residents, recently approved County Resolution 2020-13 which requested a reconsideration of the county into the same region as the rest of northern Michigan. Dated Aug. 19, the resolution also opts not to follow statewide mandates for remote education and masking policy. Gary Wnuk, one of the county Commissioners that unanimously approved the document, says it does not “[advocate] for overthrow or abolishment” but continues to liken its intentions to that of “the Boston Tea Party, which was respectful to the cargo vessels but not the cargo itself.”

The county has asked to be considered for a change of classification with regard to Governor Whitmer’s “Safe Start” package of executive orders. This group of orders, nominally aimed at bringing Michigan into a post-restriction place, partitions the state into eight regions, which are then independently categorized into one of six phases, with each additional phase representing a lesser degree of severity. Alcona county is currently in phase two according to the plan’s associated website, along with 12 other counties in the Saginaw region. Their placement into the same region as other northern Michigan counties would change their status to the significantly less restrictive phase five. “We just don’t have the similarities that you would have to Bay City or Saginaw,” he says.

The main contention presented by the Board of Commissioners is that Alcona county’s rural status and sparse population make its current phase needlessly restrictive. Wnuk, of Barton City, posits that “Most properties are minimum 10-20 acres. We’re not exactly squeezed in.” He contends that it isn’t fair to consider Alcona alongside other big cities in the Saginaw region. “Alpena to the north of us has four times the cases, and they get to be in the better region…we’re in the four lowest counties in the tip of the Mitten!”

Alcona county is currently responsible for 32 COVID-19 and Saginaw county for 2,692 cases of Michigan’s 108,595.

This sentiment is also responsible for the formation of an Aug. 5 letter on behalf of Alcona residents, penned by local state House legislators Tristan Cole and Sue Allor. The letter “implore[s] [Governor Whitmer] to consider the grave damage that may be done if adjustments… are not made” when “specific circumstances and reported data reveal an objectively lower risk for these areas.” The letter goes on to detail the area’s issues with broadband internet access, presenting challenges in the face of the online schooling required by executive order.

In an Aug. 11 response letter, Whitmer rejected the letter-proposed region change, citing “commuting patterns” among other reasons. “These regions were established to limit interaction between higher and lower-risk regions.” She then goes on to say that “we are not considering requests to alter regions at this time.”

The defiant county resolution in question has been sent to the office of the Governor, but no response has yet been issued.