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Work together to combat newest COVID-19 surge

COVID-19 is surging again, a disappointing development but one to be expected as cooling temperatures move people into closer indoor quarters and communal events — Halloween, the election — invite larger gatherings.

Hospitals across the state say they are filling up with virus patients, and suspending elective procedures as they did in the spring.

And while death rates remain well below what was posted in the early months of the pandemic, they also are climbing.

Policymakers must act now to protect the health of state residents and avoid another shock to the economy.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, conditions in Michigan could get very bad in a hurry.

No one wants to see another shutdown of the state. Businesses still trying to recover from the spring and summer mandated closures would be devastated if they had to close their doors again.

That’s particularly true of stores, bars and restaurants who rely so heavily on the holiday season.

Lawmakers were given their authority back by a Supreme Court ruling that declared in essence that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer must get their approval before issuing executive orders under a state of emergency.

She responded by issuing the orders through the state health department. But those are bound to face legal challenges should they become more severe.

The better approach would be for the governor and legislative leaders to be meeting now to discuss what steps are necessary.

It’s time for the Legislature, led by Republicans who sued to ensure its proper role in governing during the crisis, to step up. Instead, it has disappeared.

Legislative leaders canceled a scheduled House session Thursday, and plans to meet next on Dec. 1, because it had no “time sensitive issues” to discuss.

We’ve got one: The statewide mask mandate proposed by Whitmer on Nov. 5. Or even a mandate to wear masks in the House and Senate chambers, which Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist requested for Oct. 7.

Some in the Legislature have objected to mask mandates. But that seems the least intrusive and perhaps most effective tool against COVID-19. Three-quarters of Michigan residents say they wear masks in public anyway, and most businesses require them. It is hardly an imposition.

Another time-sensitive issue: Look back to the spring and examine the measures that were put in place to determine what worked and what didn’t. This is something the governor and lawmakers ought to be able to do together.

Some school districts, including Detroit’s, are already returning to virtual schooling. Is that a reasonable precaution to take during the holiday season? And if so, what resources will the state need to provide the local districts to assure learning doesn’t lag?

Protecting the most vulnerable is also a priority. Michigan didn’t do a great job of that at the beginning. Are we confident the nursing home population is now adequately protected?

Much depends on Whitmer and legislative leaders setting aside their differences and putting in place common-sense precautions.

If they can’t, lawmakers can pass their own COVID-19 measures and send them to the governor.

Individuals also must understand that the pandemic is not behind us. Stay vigilant about masks, social distancing and handwashing.

Family gatherings are prime spreaders of the virus. Don’t let your guard down. Isolate yourself if you have COVID symptoms.

Hopefully, we are in the last stages of this plague. A vaccine should be widely available by early next year.

It’s time for our legislative leaders, along with the governor, to start exercising the role they rightly fought for, and to help our most vulnerable populations get safely to the other side.

_–The Detroit News. Nov. 12, 2020

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