Michigan reports highest COVID-19 death rate in the country as protesters demand state “reopen”

One day after armed protesters stormed the Michigan Capitol, the state reported the highest death rate in the U.S.

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published May 4, 2020 3:47PM (EDT)

Armed protesters on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, demanding the reopening of businesses (JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)
Armed protesters on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, demanding the reopening of businesses (JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Michigan health officials reported that the state had the highest COVID-19 death rate in the country a day after armed protesters stormed the Capitol building in Lansing to demand an end to social distancing restrictions.

Officials reported Friday that at least 3,866 residents had died from COVID-19. The state now has the highest death rate in the nation after more than 9% of people who tested positive for the disease passed away, according to local news outlet WWMT-TV.

The next closest state is Connecticut, where more than 8% of those with confirmed cases have died. No other state has a death rate higher than 7%. The national average is 5.88%.

Experts noted that a lack of testing has contributed to a higher death rate, but other states have dealt with testing shortages, as well.

The deaths have disproportionately hit the state's poorest areas the hardest and have had an outsized impact on the its black population. Black residents make up just 13.6% of the state's population but 32% of the state's confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 40% of deaths.

The report came a day after armed protesters, many of whom wore pro-Trump gear, pushed their way into the Capitol building as the state legislature debated whether to extend Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's lockdown order. The Republican-led legislature voted not to extend it, instead approving a lawsuit challenging the restrictions. Whitmer, a Democrat, responded by issuing a new executive order that will keep restrictions in place until May 29.

While Whitmer extended the restrictions, many states have moved to reopen parts of their economies, even though they do not meet federal guidelines to do so. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, both Republicans, announced steps to reopen on the same day that the death toll in both states hit its highest point since beginning of the pandemic. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a fellow Republican, walked back his plans to reopen businesses after the death toll reached its highest point yet Friday.

President Donald Trump declared his support for the protesters last week.

"The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire," he tweeted. "These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal."

Whitmer rejected the president's advice Sunday as she criticized the protesters, some of whom displayed Confederate flags and swastikas.

"Some of the outrageousness of what happened at our capitol depicted some of the worst racism and awful parts of our history in this country," she told CNN. "The behavior you've seen in all of the clips is not representative of who we are in Michigan."

Whitmer said she would not allow the protests to influence public health policy.

"The fact of the matter is we are in the global pandemic. This is not something we negotiate ourselves out of and is a political matter. This is a public health crisis that has taken the lives of almost 70,000 Americans," she said. "Whether you agree with me or not, I'm working to protect your life if you live in the state of Michigan."

Though many of the protests have targeted Democratic governors, demonstrators have recently begun to protest lockdown orders from Republicans like Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. The governor has refused to rush a reopening even as lawmakers in his own party criticized restrictions. A recent poll found that 85% of Ohioans trust DeWine as a source of coronavirus information, and about 75% said he was doing a better job than Trump.

As Republicans sour on DeWine for putting public health over complaints from businesses, the lifelong conservative has drawn praise from Democrats.

"Mike DeWine's performance contrasted with Trump's performance shows you what character and experience mean," Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told The New York Times. "The mini-Trump governors in Georgia, Texas and Florida — they're going to do whatever Trump wants. But DeWine's not going to do that. He cares about his legacy. He cares about the next generation."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Coronavirus Covid-19 Donald Trump Gretchen Whitmer Michigan Politics