Lawmaker to governor: Lawn care essential to fight EEE

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Before health experts were warning about COVID-19, the health alert in southwest Michigan was in Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE.

The rare mosquito-borne illness took its toll on several Michigan communities last year. The state reported a total of 10 cases and six of those patients, all of them in southwest Michigan, died after contracting the illness.

Citing EEE, a state lawmaker has called on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to loosen restrictions on certain businesses deemed nonessential under the her executive orders related to coronavirus. Sen. Kim LaSata says the current rules could put the public at risk for another potential EEE outbreak. 

LaSata, a Republican from Bainbridge Township, represents Michigan’s 21st Senate District, which includes much of southwest Michigan hit hard by last year’s EEE outbreak. 

Earlier this week, LaSata sent a letter to Whitmer requesting she amend the executive order to “classify lawn care and landscape professionals as essential” as their work helps curb the mosquito population.

“While your initial ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ Order was put in place to protect the health and safety of all citizens, I believe you have done so at the expense of protecting our population from other health hazards,” LaSata stated in the letter. 

“This is in my mind just very obvious,” LaSata told News 8. “It’s a no-brainer that landscapers should get back to work.”

LaSata said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tips for combating EEE include keeping grass cut short, shrubbery trimmed and other maintenance covered by landscape services. 

“There are a lot of people who are not able to do this on their own, so they hire landscapers,” LaSata said. 

A spokesperson for the Berrien County Health Department said there’s still no predicting what kind of mosquito season is ahead. It’s still too early to collect that type of data. In the meantime, the health department remains focused on its COVID-19 response. 

“Certainly, we can be taking preventive actions to prevent mosquito bites but right now we have people who are getting very sick and who are dying of a disease that is spread from person to person,” said. “Which is why we are continuing to encourage social distancing and heeding executive orders at this time,” Gillian Concord with Berrian County Health Department said. 

The Berrien County Health Department has tips for preventing EEE on its website.

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