LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer faced a new controversy Friday amid rising coronavirus case numbers, after a top aide posted family photos on social media from a beach in Florida, apparently acting against Whitmer’s advice to Michiganders.
The conservative publication Breitbart on Friday posted photos it said Tricia Foster, Whitmer’s chief operating officer, posted on her Facebook page, showing what appeared to be her teenage daughter and her daughter’s friends vacationing on a beach. The article included screen shots of comments on the photo that included references to the Florida Keys and to Foster also being on the spring break trip.
Whitmer’s office did not deny the report, but dismissed it as a partisan attack.
The photos no longer appeared on Foster’s timeline Friday afternoon, but the Free Press spoke to a Facebook friend of Foster who saw the beach photos before they were taken down.
Whitmer said April 2 she was concerned about spring break and people traveling. She specifically mentioned Florida, which, like Michigan, has a high proportion of cases of coronavirus variants that are more highly infectious.
Bobby Leddy, Whitmer’s press secretary, said the Breitbart article is “a partisan attack from a garbage white nationalist website.”
Leddy said Foster “is fully recovered from COVID and fully vaccinated,” and noted the Centers for Disease Control recently gave updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can travel within the United States.
Asked whether Foster’s daughter and daughter’s friends were also fully vaccinated, and whether he was saying Whitmer approved of Foster’s Florida trip, Leddy said: “I don’t have anything additional to add.”
Foster did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Whitmer had called last year for greater transparency by the Republican-controlled Legislature in disclosing COVID-19 cases, but had not disclosed that one of her top aides had contracted the disease.
Leddy said that unlike members of the Legislature, the governor’s staff has been working from home and not interacting with members of the public.
If people do travel, Whitmer said, they should work from home and have school from home for a least a week when they return, assess whether they need a COVID-19 test and get vaccinated.
“Warnings ‘are for thee… not for we,'” Michigan Republican activist Tori Sachs tweeted in response to the Breitbart story, in a reference to top Whitmer aides not complying with the governor’s requests to state residents.
Michigan is currently leading the nation in new coronavirus cases and positive test rates. On Friday, Whitmer said the entire state is a “hot spot,” and requested — but did not order — Michigan high schools to offer remote education for two weeks after spring break, youth sports to pause all activities for two weeks, and people to avoid eating indoors at restaurants for the same amount of time.
Foster, who formerly headed the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, last April was named Whitmer’s chief operating officer, managing cabinet affairs and administrative functions within the executive office.