Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urges Michigan residents to stay the course on social distancing as protesters loom

With protesters filling the streets of Lansing in their cars and more on the front lawn of the state Capitol, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer urged residents to continue to social distance to help flatten the curve.

Whitmer spoke from Lansing Wednesday afternoon as protesters railed against her stay-at-home order, demanding she reopen the state. During her address, she gave an update on the total number of deaths and cases, which reached 1,921 and 28,059, respectively, on Wednesday.

She said that, just by being in Lansing, they put themselves and others at risk of catching the virus.

"I was really disappointed to see people congregating, not wearing masks. I saw someone handing out candy to little kids barehanded; people flying Confederate flags; untold numbers to gas up [for the drive] here; grab a bite on the way home. We know this rally endangered people," she said.

FOX 2 was in Lansing, maintaining social distance, from protesters earlier in the day who said it was their right to protest. Whitmer said that's true and she supports the right to free speech and respects their opinions, but she said just by being in Lansing it could cause the curve to lengthen instead of flatten.

"The sad irony is that they protested the stay home stay safe order and they might have created the need to lengthen it," Gov. Whitmer said.

She admitted that she knows people want good news and want to know when the state will reopen but promised to alert everyone when the time is right.

Whitmer did, however, recommend small business owners to start planning what a re-opening of their business looks like if they haven't already done so. How does the business operate while keeping employees and customers safe? She's asking for that kind of help and cooperation from small business owners in this trying time. 

"Put energy into planning because we know COVID-19 won't be gone on April 1 or May 1, or June, July or August 1. This is a virus that will continue to spread unless we all do our part," She said.

Whitmer's address comes as hundreds, perhaps thousands, were protesting in Lansing as part of Michigan Conservative Coalition's massive 'Operation Gridlock' protester in Lansing on Wednesday. Thousands of people packed the streets around the Capitol to protest the governor's Stay Home, Stay Safe order.. She said while that was happening, she was on a Zoom call with first responders who are working in hospitals to keep people safe and alive during the virus. Gov. Whitmer said she asked them what they would say to the protesters.

"The first answer was to make sure they understand how serious this is," she said. "They could get COVID-19 and have it for days before it even shows up in symptoms. They might live but someone in their house could have it and die. Those who lose their battle die alone."

Arguing that more emphasis be placed on reopening business, many residents are worried the restrictive social distancing measures add only a marginal benefit at the expense of the state's economy.

While Whitmer acknowledged the pressure her constituents were under as the economy sputters, she's also rebuked calls to ease restrictions - arguing she's "got to listen to medical experts to know when and how it's safe to reengage our economy."

Some feel that their constitutional rights have been infringed by the order, however. On Tuesday, four Michigan residents filed a federal lawsuit against Whitmer and her order, claiming their right to associate with their friends and family was being abused.

RELATED: Michigan residents sue Gov Whitmer saying pandemic executive order goes too far

"It's taking a sledgehammer to an ant," said attorney David Helm on Tuesday. "We believe it is over-broad and over-reaching. There is a way to do it appropriately without infringing on Constitutional rights like the governor has."

Questions over when and how to restart the economy are among the many questions state and federal lawmakers are facing as the country contends with uncertainty over the COVID-19 outbreak. While there are some indications that Michigan may be over the peak of new COVID-19 cases, Whitmer and her chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun have cautioned they aren't out of the woods yet. 

RELATED: Fauci: 'We're not there yet' on key steps to reopen economy

The country's top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has echoed similar concerns that reopening the economy too soon could lead to a second outbreak.

At the same time, Michigan and the country's unemployment rate has spiked with 10% of the workforce out of a job. Problems with the state's unemployment filing website have exacerbated issues for workers in Michigan who have struggled to apply for aid.