Gilchrist to GOP leaders: Enforce a mask mandate in Legislature

    Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist attended the Detroit Memorial to Honor Victims of COVID-19 on Belle Isle in Detroit | Ken Coleman

    Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist on Wednesday called for GOP leaders to enact and enforce a mask mandate in both legislative chambers, citing recent infections among elected officials, staffers and a general upward trend of COVID-19 cases in the state.

    The Michigan Legislature currently does not have mask requirements, leaving members to wear protective face coverings at their own discretion. Many Republican lawmakers have chosen to work maskless in the state Capitol and in committee hearings, including some who have now tested positive for COVID-19, like state Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain).

    In an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), Gilchrist urged the Republicans to set politics aside and adopt best practices for containing the virus.

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    “I acknowledge that mask wearing has become politically charged, but I am calling on you to join me in putting politics aside on this issue,” Gilchrist wrote. “This is not a political issue. Leader Shirkey, beyond colleagues in the Senate Chamber, we are engineers—men of science—at heart and by training.

    “This is a matter of science. Masks are proven to be an effective and simple way to slow the spread of this virus.”

    Gilchrist notes that he has lost 23 people close to him to COVID-19, including family members. 

    “In addition to my family, I fear for the safety of the people I know working in the frontlines every day in your district and across our state,” he wrote. “…They all deserve to know their safety is respected by their leadership.”

    The request comes as Michigan’s COVID-19 case numbers see yet another increase. As of Wednesday, 130,842 total Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 6,847 have died from the virus — 1,016 new cases and nine additional deaths since Tuesday.

    Shirkey and Chatfield have previously declined to require members to wear masks, and additionally do not require lawmakers to publicly disclose their COVID-19 status if they test positive.

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    Spokespersons for Shirkey and Chatfield did not immediately return a request for comment.

    Laina G. Stebbins
    Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, immigration and criminal justice. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or listening to podcasts, she loves art and design, discovering new music, being out in nature and spending time with her two cats Rainn and Remy.