Top Aide Ignores Gov. Whitmer's Warning, Goes to Florida on Spring Break Gov. Gretchen Whitmer introduces then-Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden delivers remarks about health care at Beech Woods Recreation Center October 16, 2020 in Southfield,m Michigan. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
By Charlie McCarthy | Monday, 12 April 2021 12:41 PM
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., continued to face blowback Monday after a top aide posted photos of family members at a Florida beach while COVID-19 cases continued to rise in Michigan.
Tricia Foster, Whitmer's chief operating officer, took to social media to post photos reportedly showing her teenage daughter and her daughter's friends vacationing on a beach, according to the Detroit Free Press. The images, first reported by Breitbart on Friday, appeared to show activity that went against Whitmer’s advice to her state’s citizens.
The controversy did not disappear during the weekend.
"Will [Whitmer] prove to Michigan how serious she believes this virus is and fire Ms. Foster or perhaps suspend her without pay or will she do absolutely nothing about it and continue her mantra: What is good for me is bad for thee," News Talk WBCK said on its website Monday.
"Warnings 'are for thee … not for we,'" Michigan Republican activist Tori Sachs tweeted in response to the story.
While not denying the report, Whitmer’s office dismissed the story as a partisan attack.
The Facebook photos received comments that included references to Siesta Key, near Sarasota, and to Foster also being on the trip.
One friend commenting on Facebook said she thought she saw Foster on the Florida beach.
"I swear I saw you walking today," the person said, according to Breitbart.
"Likely," Foster responded.
When asked where one of her absent family members was — apparently her son — Foster responded, "home with covid [coronavirus]."
Foster added, "Missing his [senior] trip to the Bahamas so planned girls plan b 24 hours before flight."
By Friday afternoon, the photos no longer appeared on Foster's timeline. The Free Press spoke to a Foster Facebook friend who saw the photos before they were removed.
Just a week before the Foster story broke, Whitmer said she was concerned about spring break and people traveling. The governor specifically mentioned Florida, which has a high proportion of cases of more highly infectious coronavirus variants.
Whitmer's press secretary, Bobby Leddy, said the Breitbart article was "a partisan attack from a garbage white nationalist website."
"[Foster] is fully recovered from COVID and fully vaccinated," said Leddy, who added the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently gave updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can travel within the United States.
Leddy did not say if Foster's daughter and her daughter's friends also had been fully vaccinated. Asked if Whitmer approved of Foster's Florida trip, Leddy said: "I don't have anything additional to add."
Last year, Whitmer called for greater transparency by the Republican-controlled Legislature in disclosing COVID-19 cases – but she failed to disclose that one of her top aides had contracted the disease.
Leddy said the governor's staff has been working from home and not interacting with members of the public, unlike members of the legislature.
Whitmer said people who travel should work or attend school remotely for at least a week after they return home.
The Free Press reported Michigan was leading the U.S. in new coronavirus cases and positive test rates, something that prompted Whitmer to call the state a "hot spot." She requested Michigan high schools implement a post-spring break two-week restriction period of remote education, the pausing of youth sports, and avoid eating indoors at restaurants.
Foster was named Whitmer's chief operating officer last April. Former head of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, she manages cabinet affairs and administrative functions within the governor’s office.