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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a speech on the state of the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan on Oct. 21 (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP) Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a speech on the state of the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan on Oct. 21 (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a speech on the state of the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan on Oct. 21 (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

Clara Hendrickson
By Clara Hendrickson October 23, 2020

Trump says Michigan has been “like a prison.” But most COVID-19 lockdowns ended in June.

If Your Time is short

  • Michigan’s governor took actions to limit the spread of the coronavirus, most of which were lifted by June 1.

  • Today, Michiganders are allowed to dine out, attend school, get a haircut and go bowling.

During the final presidential debate, President Donald Trump repeated his call for keeping schools and  businesses open amid the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that Michiganders have been subject to excessive restrictions.

"Take a look at what's happening with your friend in Michigan," Trump said, referring to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who issued a stay-at-home order and a number of other emergency measures in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Under her leadership, "it's been like a prison," Trump claimed.

Trump has made similar claims this month. "She keeps her state closed," he said of Whitmer during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Oct. 8. "The churches are closed. The schools are closed, and the whole state is closed." In a virtual rally two days later, he told Michigan supporters "your governor has to open up her state."

Trump’s comments seem to place Michigan residents and businesses under a lockdown. That’s not the case. Whitmer declared a state of emergency on March 10 as the state discovered its first two confirmed cases, and issued the stay-at home order and business restrictions on Mar. 23. But her order was lifted statewide by Jun. 1.

Bars and restaurants across the state reopened shortly afterward, followed by barbershops, spas and salons in mid-June. Casinos in Detroit were allowed to reopen in early August. Schools across the state were allowed to resume in-person learning in the fall, with local districts setting their own criteria for reopening. And by early October, gyms, movie theaters and bowling alleys were cleared to reopen with safety precautions in place. Churches and houses of worship in Michigan were exempt from penalties under the state's order.

We reached out to the Trump campaign to explain his comments but didn't hear back.

Governor's order faced pushback

While many governors across the country issued stay-at-home orders at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, Whitmer’s was criticized as extreme or arbitrary. For instance, Michiganders were prohibited from traveling to vacation homes, and big-box stores were required to rope off areas selling nonessential items, such as paint and garden supplies.

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On April 15, thousands of people participated in a protest outside the state Capitol in Lansing against Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, and drew support from Trump. On April 23, dozens of protesters gathered outside Whitmer’s Lansing residence. And a week later, armed protesters entered the Michigan Capitol.

Whitmer’s actions have also faced pushback from the GOP-controlled Legislature, which challenged her emergency powers in court. After the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Oct. 2 that she did not have the authority under state law to issue additional emergency declarations, her administration and the Legislature began working together to enact new laws to respond to the pandemic.

Public opinion polls have shown consistent support for Whitmer’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. 

But with the restrictions lifted, the number of COVID-19 cases in Michigan is now increasing in the vast majority of the state’s counties. On Oct. 21, Michigan reported an daily average of 1,704 new COVID-19 cases in the last seven days, the state’s highest seven-day average yet.

Our ruling

Trump claimed that "it’s been like a prison" in Michigan under Whitmer’s leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.

Whitmer implemented strict emergency measures in March, but they were mostly lifted across the state by June 1. All businesses and schools are allowed to be open.

We rate Trump’s claim False. 

Our Sources

The Detroit Free Press, Paul Egan and Kathleen Gray, "Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issues 'stay at home' order for Michigan, effective at midnight," March 23, 2020

The Detroit Free Press, Brian Manzullo, "Michigan stay home order lifted: Read Gov. Whitmer's full executive order," June 1, 2020 

The Detroit Free Press, Paul Egan and Kristen Jordan Shamus, "Whitmer ends Michigan's stay home order, allows bars and restaurants to reopen June 8," June 1, 2020 

The Detroit Free Press, Adrienne Roberts, "What to expect as Michigan hair and nail salons, barbershops and spas reopen," June 15, 2020

The Detroit Free Press, Paul Egan, "Detroit casinos to reopen at reduced capacity; new restrictions Up North," July 29, 2020

The Detroit Free Press, Adrienne Roberts, "Michigan gyms can reopen Sept. 9: What you need to know," September 3, 2020 

The Detroit Free Press, Paul Egan and Dave Boucher, "Michigan movie theaters, bowling alleys can reopen Oct. 9, Gov. Whitmer says," September 25, 2020

The Detroit Free Press, Niraj Warikoo, "Churches in Michigan still get penalty exemption under new stay-at-home order," March 24, 2020

The Detroit Free Press, Paul Egan, "Michigan's stay-at-home order: We answer 20 frequently asked questions," April 13, 2020

The Detroit Free Press, Paul Egan and Kara Berg, "Thousands converge to protest Michigan governor's stay-home order in 'Operation Gridlock'," April 15, 2020

Donald Trump, tweet, April 17, 2020

The Detroit News, Beth LeBlanc, "Protesters gather outside the governor's Lansing residence over stay-home order," April 23, 2020

The Detroit Free Press, Paul Egan, "Michigan is considering move to ban guns inside state Capitol Building," May 5, 2020

The Detroit Free Press, Todd Spangler, "Poll: Michigan voters show support for Gov. Whitmer's handling of coronavirus," May 20, 2020

ClickOnDetroit.com, Ken Haddad, "Poll: Michigan voters continue to back Gov. Whitmer’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic," September 9, 2020

The Detroit Free Press, Dave Boucher and Todd Spangler, "Michigan Supreme Court rules against Whitmer on emergency powers but effect unclear," October 2, 2020

The Detroit Free Press, Pat Byrne, Brain McNamara, Brian Todd, Kristi Tanner and Nisa Khan, "Michigan coronavirus cases: Tracking the pandemic," accessed October 23, 2020

Factbase, Interview: Sean Hannity Interviews Donald Trump Live Via Telephone - October 8, 2020 

Factbase, Remarks: Donald Trump holds a virtual rally Michigan Tele-Rally - October 20, 2020 

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More by Clara Hendrickson

Trump says Michigan has been “like a prison.” But most COVID-19 lockdowns ended in June.

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