Monday, March 23, 2020, 3:20 pm By: Alice Dreger
Above: Mayor Ruth Beier leaning out the upstairs window of her home on Sunset Lane for a photo by ELi’s Gary Caldwell. What still makes her smile? ELi found out.
“Where shall I start?” Ruth Beier asked rhetorically at the start of our check-in phone interview at midday today.
Beier decided to start at the top — with the federal government.
“I am angry because the federal government should have in place a nationwide stay-at-home order, so that we could end this virus. And they should have told any company they can to retool immediately and build what [medical providers] need.”
She lists off ventilators, hospital beds, and personal protective equipment like masks and gowns, for a start.
“If Trump wants to be a wartime president, then he should act like it!” she exclaimed.
Beier is also frustrated with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, who finally issued a stay-at-home order today, effective midnight.
“I’ve been jumping up and down for weeks,” said Beier, “talking to the County, talking to the Governor. There was no reason not to do this three weeks ago. This is not a surprise. Everybody knew this would happen. They say ‘every day the situation is changing’ but you knew exactly what would happen. Look at every country where it has happened. There was no question.”
Beier calls the scene “unconscionable.”
The mayor and other members of Council tried over a week ago to get the Ingham County Health Department to close down bars to stop hundreds of students from congregating following MSU’s decision to end in-person classes. They met resistance from Health Department personnel who said there was “no imminent danger.”
Two Council members have told ELi that the City Attorney essentially shrugged his shoulders, saying that there was little they could do.
What if, Beier asked today, the East Lansing parties in bars and houses had not become “a nexus” for students spreading the disease — students who then spread out across the state and country, potentially spreading it more?
Answering her own question, she said, “We would be on our way to the other side of this, instead of just beginning — where we will have five- to ten-times as many sick people as we have hospital beds. I just don’t understand it. Everybody who works in government knows how to read. You don’t have to be a scientist. You just have to know how to read.”
At the March 11 meeting of City Council, Beier questioned why leading City personnel including the City Manager and Fire Chief (who is the emergency operations head) weren’t taking more drastic measures at that point. Even then, Beier, who is an economist by trade, could see the growth curve that was forming.
There there’s the issue of the schools. Beier works for the Michigan Education Association (MEA) — the teachers union — and she says there is no reason why the State should continue to insist that school districts must be open for 180 days this academic year in order to get full State funding.
There is “no way” to reach that number of days in session now, Beier says, “and anything that puts pressure on schools to open before this fades out is ridiculous. The State could be putting all the school districts at ease.” (ELi reported yesterday on the confusion and frustration currently plaguing East Lansing Public Schools families, including apparently the governor’s.)
“But the group I’m most angry at,” says Beier, “is the Michigan Chamber [of Commerce].” They have resisted a stay-at-home order, Beier says, believing that it would be best for businesses to stay open.
“They put profits ahead of health. It is just unconscionable.”
She also suspects the ultimate economic impact would have been far less had the virus been handled with a stay-at-home order weeks ago.
Also reached by phone, Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens agreed with Beier that the right decision was to work hard on breaking up groups as early as possible.
“At this point, we want to limit the spread and make sure the hospitals and agencies have the resources they need to help those who can be helped,” he said.
Asked about the mood among City workers, Stephens said they were glad to keep working as possible, but, “Everyone is scared – that will be natural.”
Stephens said he was impressed with how many community members have stepped up to help others.
“People are doing incredible things to keep doors open and to keep doors closed at the same time. I have to thank the community members who have stepped up and taken social-distancing seriously while also being socially conscious. It’s a great thing to see, even if I am seeing it through a computer screen.”
Asked what she’s doing to keep her spirits up, Beier brightened immediately by talking about the teaching she is doing as part of her second grade class at Ralya Elementary in the Haslett Public Schools district, where Beier is currently a student teacher. As ELi’s Ann Kammerer reported in December, Beier has been retraining to become a teacher.
Beier said today that her Ralya Elementary class is using online learning — “a class-wide app we use for homework that everyone has access to, something we’ve been using all year. We classify it as enrichment. It is just a few minutes a day — I am just doing math with them — but I think we can get through the whole year’s math curriculum doing this.”
She laughed and said she could get through a lot more than usual in a shorter span of time “because I don’t have to do any classroom management.” She said the teacher she is working with is doing reading and other activities with the kids online.
“The kids just love her. They tune in to her teaching like it’s a [TV] channel.”
Beier said that to keep herself sane while stuck at home, she is also running, reading, studying Spanish, “and trying to figure out how we will do education if the schools don’t open in the fall.”