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Michigan governor calls on protesters to avoid unsafe demonstrations

DETROIT (Reuters) - Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Monday pleaded for residents of her state to refrain from holding more demonstrations protesting the coronavirus-related shutdown because of the need to follow guidelines designed to contain the spread of the virus.

FILE PHOTO: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer gestures as she welcomes Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden during his campaign stop at Cherry Health clinic in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

“I really hope that people don’t continue to have those types of demonstrations,” she said at a news conference. “The worst thing we could do is gather without observing all of the CDC recommendations about wearing a face mask and staying six feet apart.”

On Friday, President Donald Trump, a Republican, who has traded jabs with the governor over her state’s handling of the outbreak, tweeted: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” along with similar tweets naming other states with Democratic governors. Trump’s tweet came one day after he laid out guidelines for a three-phase process for states to emerge from their coronavirus shutdowns, including continued minimization of non-essential travel during the first phase.

Michigan, which Trump narrowly won in 2016, is considered a crucial swing state in the November presidential election.

Whitmer said Friday that she hoped Trump was not encouraging more protests with his tweets and said Michigan’s economy would begin reopening May 1.

On Monday, Whitmer, who said she would cut her pay by 10% during the outbreak, said now was not the time for political sparring.

“It is our time to put aside our politics, to come together and defeat our common enemy, which is COVID-19,” she said.

Michigan, a state with one of the highest number of COVID-19 infections, has become a focus of agitation to relax social-distancing rules that are among the strictest in the nation after Whitmer, widely seen as a potential running mate for presumed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, extended them through the end of April.

On Monday, Whitmer said that on a telephone call Vice President Mike Pence had with governors, she asked that federal officials echo states’ calls for citizens to stay at home to remain safe, and that Pence agreed.

Amid sweeping stay-at-home orders in 42 U.S. states, people have taken to the streets in some states in protest. Public health officials have warned against a premature easing of social distancing orders.

As of Monday, Michigan had 32,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,468 deaths, but Whitmer said the number of new cases was showing signs of leveling off.

Last Wednesday, protesters defying the restrictions from the steps of the state Capitol in Lansing shouted, “lock her up” about Whitmer, echoing a chant that Trump encouraged during his 2016 campaign rallies in reference to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Whitmer said Monday that Michigan has the capacity to conduct 11,300 tests for COVID-19 a day, but has only been able to do about half that due to a shortage of supplies.

“Robust testing is essential,” she said.

Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Leslie Adler

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