Gov. Whitmer curbs virus price-gouging

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LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Sunday in an attempt to curb excessive price increases of emergency supplies and food during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The state reported 20 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the Michigan total to 53. Included in the new positive tests is the first child, a boy in Oakland County, and the first in Ottawa County west of Grand Rapids.

Whitmer, who has declared a state emergency, closed all schools and prohibited gatherings of more than 250 people, said she saw "incredibly disturbing" photos on social media of patrons still cramming into establishments and not observing social distancing.

She urged residents to stagger their visits to groceries so they can restock shelves and encouraged President Donald Trump to declare a federal disaster to help workers qualify for unemployment benefits as a result of the global pandemic. She also scrapped earlier guidance to do elbow bumps instead of handshakes and said to keep at least 6 feet between one another.

"We are going to get through this. But it's going to require every one of us to do our part," Whitmer said.

Her temporary measure, which takes effect Monday, restricts a person or business from reselling goods or products that are "grossly in excess of the purchase price of the product." Also, a business or individuals cannot sell a product at more than 20% higher than the purchase price unless the increase is "due to bringing the product to market."

A violation would be a misdemeanor. The restrictions are in place through April 13.

The Michigan attorney general's office said it received more than 75 complaints of price-gouging.

"Businesses cannot and will not use this state of emergency as an economic opportunity," Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The disease has infected over 169,000 people worldwide, and more than 6,500 people have died so far.

Also Sunday, Michigan's chief medical executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, said for the first time that the state lab was having trouble quickly reporting results given the rising volume of tests. Private labs and hospitals have started doing tests in recent days, too.

"We do have a capacity challenge that we're working as quickly as we can to address," Khaldun said. "We will have to think differently about how we prioritize testing across our state."

Those getting priority include those most likely to have contact in contact with the disease and those who are most likely to get very ill if they have it, Khaldun said.

The Michigan Supreme Court also announced emergency steps Sunday, including allowing trial courts to reduce the number of cases to limit crowds in lobbies and corridors and encouraging the use of technology for remote participation. The measures will be in effect until April 3.

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