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Baraga County officials: We won’t enforce COVID restrictions

L’ANSE — In a letter Monday night, Baraga County officials said they would no longer enforce the state’s COVID-19 restrictions in the county.

Described by the officials as a “manifesto,” the letter was posted Monday night on a Facebook page for Brogan’s recent sheriff campaign. Signing along with Sheriff Joe Brogan were Prosecutor Joseph O’Leary, Clerk Wendy Goodreau, Treasurer Jill Tollefson and the five members of the county board — Gale Eilola, Will Wiggins, Dan Robillard, Lyle Olsen and William Rolof, the latter of whom was chosen as board chair at a meeting shortly before the post.

The letter would not affect the state’s ability to impose fines or revoke permits such as liquor licenses.

Brogan did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. In a Detroit Free Press article Tuesday, Brogan said the officials were responding to feedback from residents angered by the restrictions.

“Our county government feels that it’s the choice of the owner if they want to serve (indoor dining). We understand that the threat of the pandemic is a real threat,” Brogan said. “But it should be up to the business owner and the customer if they choose to dine in, and not the government essentially telling people who can (do) business and who cannot.”

In the letter, officials said the state coronavirus restrictions of the past year “have not been seen in North America since the days of King George III and the American Revolution.”

The letter said the restrictions “arbitrarily pick economic winners and losers” and infringe on constitutional protections such as the right to assemble and the right to travel.

At the start of the pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued coronavirus orders through emergency authorization passed in 1976, which expired after 30 days, and 1945, which could continue indefinitely. In October, the state Supreme Court ruled the 1945 law unlawfully delegated legislative power to the executive branch.

Since October, orders have come from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services under authority from legislature passed after the 1918 flu epidemic.

Orders currently in effect include a mask mandate in public spaces and a ban on indoor dining set to expire Friday. Whitmer has said she would consider lifting the order ahead of time pending COVID data coming in from the post-holiday period.

As of Friday, Baraga County had a seven-day average of 1.8% positive tests and 16.7 cases per million residents, the latter on a 61-day declining trend. At its peak in November, the seven-day average topped 1,600 cases per million.

According to state data, there have been 566 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Baraga County as of Tuesday. There have also been 29 deaths, giving it the highest per capita rate in Michigan. U.S. Census estimates put the county’s population at 8,209 last year.

Tollefson could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Messages were left with the eight other officials seeking comment Tuesday, as well as the state attorney general’s office.

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