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Whitmer must answer for COVID-19 nursing home policies

(Originally printed in the Detroit News on February 22, 2021)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been under fire in recent weeks. Despite his many attempts to duck and evade responsibility, his foolish decision to send COVID-positive patients to nursing homes and long-term care facilities last year is now being seen for the devastating choice it was.

Here in Michigan, it’s time for us to look at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s determination throughout the pandemic to follow Cuomo’s lead.

It’s a choice that never made sense. When you’re fighting a disease that disproportionately attacks and kills the elderly, ill and vulnerable, why would you add fuel to the fire by increasing their exposure — on purpose?

And yet that’s precisely what Whitmer did. We may never be able to truly calculate the number of unnecessary deaths that resulted from her choice or the legacy of grief and loss that continues to this day.

She couldn’t have done worse by our state’s senior population — but unfortunately, we may never be able to estimate the damage done.

I have tried. Last May, I sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services asking for information about the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in the state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

But this information, like so much of the rest of the state’s COVID data, proved unsatisfying. There has been very little transparency — and very few calls for accountability — when it comes to Michigan’s pandemic decisions and outcomes.

It’s time we changed that.

In a day and age when former governors and state agency officials can be charged criminally with respect to their decisions in office, as has happened in the Flint water crisis, we’re charting new territory in government accountability. The scope and scale of Whitmer’s actions related to COVID are so much more serious than the tragedy in Flint.

As a society, we can’t just stand by without asking the questions that need to be answered.

A dozen people were lost during the Flint water crisis. That’s not acceptable, but today, we know there were nearly 5,600 COVID deaths in Michigan long-term care facilities.

When you listen to Gov. Cuomo’s pleas and protestations you hear many statements like, “If we knew then what we know now…” or “We didn’t have the data at the time,” and other irrational arguments.

We did know some things then. Very important things.

We knew COVID-19 was particularly dangerous for the frail, ill and elderly. We knew that they were more likely to die if they became infected. We knew that every one of their lives was deserving of our protection and care.

It didn’t take a Harvard-educated physician to know that deliberately exposing this population of residents to COVID-19 was a bad idea.

The only person in Michigan who didn’t seem up to speed on that very simple, straightforward concept?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Meghan Reckling is the chair of the Livingston County Republican Party, a member of the MRP State Committee, and previously ran for state representative in 2020.

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