Two public policy experts are suing Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the state of Michigan, asking a court to force them to release background data on the executive order that funneled nursing home residents hospitalized with COVID-19 back into nursing homes. This is the same policy followed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is now under criminal investigation for covering up the massive numbers of seniors who died as a result of the policy.
Steve Delie, the policy lead for open government and transparency at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and Charlie LeDuff, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and a radio show host say that underlying data that Whitmer and the state are refusing to release could shed more light on the actual number of COVID deaths, as well as data relevant to Whitmer’s public health decisions that have remained secret.
Michigan is one of only two states where the governor is exempt from Freedom of Information laws, and the only state where that exemption is written into statute. Thanks to this exemption, the governor has no obligation to produce any records whatsoever, despite making decisions affecting the lives of every Michigander.
Gov. Whitmer has used this veil of secrecy to act with impunity. Her office has almost single-handedly dictated the state’s COVID-19 policies, without disclosing the data she has used to make her decisions. After the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the statute Gov. Whitmer relied on for her emergency authority, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services became the vessel for COVID decision-making. Yet while that department is subject to FOIA, it has not been any more transparent. The state continues to release information about the number of cases and deaths but not the underlying records.
Whitmer ruled Michigan with an iron hand until the Supreme Court took her authority away. She unilaterally extended lockdowns with no reasonable explanation. She banned travel to residents’ vacation homes. Her confusing, sometimes contradictory lockdown orders were praised by the media from coast to coast.
Many of them are still in place.
That’s why we’re suing the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. After the state began adding additional deaths to its daily tally, known as vital records deaths, one of us (Mr. LeDuff) requested the underlying data of these newly added deaths. This included the age of the deceased, date of death, when the death was added to the published data, and most importantly, which cases that led to death originated at a long-term care facility or nursing home.
While the department could have easily released this data, it claimed the details would reveal protected health information. Yet records with even more specific data — such as death certificates — are already available for public purchase, and the department has released some information drawn from these records already.
It makes one wonder what the state government might be hiding behind their legal firewall.
More than any other governor, Whitmer acted with impunity and little oversight during the pandemic. The underlying emergency has long since vanished. And yet, her imperious dictates continue to control the behavior of state residents.
Prying open the records should prove to be very revealing.