Whitmer to Congress: Supply issues undermine testing

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told Congress Tuesday that Michigan still lacks enough supplies to fully ramp up testing for the coronavirus and said it is difficult to determine what the U.S. government is shipping.

Frustrated hairdressers, meanwhile, said during a legislative hearing that the governor should let them reopen for business.


Whitmer said while the state is appreciative for the federal assistance, information about the types of swabs and other testing supplies being delivered is sometimes inaccurate.

“It’s made our planning very difficult,” the governor testified remotely to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which also heard from the governors of Colorado and Arkansas. “Supplies could be allocated more quickly. If we had a detailed breakdown of what was actually in the shipment, we could mobilize and ensure that we can make the best use of the supplies and hit our capacity.”

As of Sunday, about 13,400 COVID-19 diagnostic tests were conducted per day over the previous week. That is near Whitmer’s short-term goal of 15,000 a day but short of the 25,000 she said could be done with additional supplies across at least 67 labs in the state.

The Democratic governor, who lifted a stay-at-home order Monday while keeping certain businesses closed, faced tough questions from Republicans on the Democratic-controlled panel. Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan cited a federal report showing that the state had the fifth-most coronavirus-related deaths among nursing home residents: at least 1,654. About 20% of nursing homes nationwide had not reported.

He asked why it “took so long” for Whitmer to loosen an order that required recovering COVID-19 patients to be readmitted to nursing homes from hospitals, which critics worry potentially exposed other residents.

“We recognize that of course in retrospect probably a number of decisions we would have made some adjustment in,” she said, while saying she relied on the advice of public health experts. Michigan’s experience with the coronavirus — the hard-hit Detroit area was a national hot spot where hospitals were at capacity in March and April — has been different than in other states, she said.

Whitmer renewed her call for Congress to help states address budget holes by providing additional flexibility and funding. Walberg, criticizing her decision to not let barbershops and other businesses reopen yet, told her he hoped “you wouldn’t expect that other states who have opened up their economies … should be expected to help pick up our shortfall.”

She responded that Michigan was facing exponentially increasing cases and deaths two months ago.

“It is something as Americans, everyone who’s confronting COVID-19 should be able to expect our government to step up and to help us,” Whitmer said. “It shouldn’t be disproportionate based on what which state you’re in, which party your governor is in.”


Hairdressers and barbers addressed a Republican-led legislative panel that is reviewing the state’s response to the pandemic. They talked about the importance of their craft, the governor’s “arbitrary” decision-making and the future of their businesses — which require close contact with customers and Whitmer has said will be among the last places to reopen.

Safe Salons for Michigan said Michigan is the only state where all salons are closed or do not have a reopening date. Some cosmetologists took offense to Whitmer’s suggestion Monday — when she was asked about residents going to Ohio and Indiana for haircuts and nail appointments — that people “Google how you do a haircut or throw your hair into a ponytail and get through the next couple of weeks.”

Rachel Harned of The Salon Professional Academy in Holland said she is ready to open and so are plenty of other salons. She said anyone with a cosmetology license is trained in personal-protection procedures from managing blood to identifying lesions. Harned said she has ample protection equipment, will require masks and will be doing temperature checks.


Karl Manke, a 77-year-old barber, continues to cut hair at his Owosso shop, despite license suspensions and a court order to close the door. Representatives from the attorney general’s office visited the shop Monday to see if he was complying, The Detroit News reported.

“Both you guys look like you need a haircut,” Manke said he told them.

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