News Story

Whitmer Insists Travel Restriction Is Science-Based, Gives Rationale That Isn’t

USA Today said ‘no evidence’ virus spreads from gas pump handles

In defending her COVID-19 epidemic lockdown orders Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has frequently said they are based on facts and science. But one rationale the governor has given for orders restricting travel — that the virus can be transmitted from touching gas pump handles — has generated questions.

Whitmer said in a May 3 interview on CNN, “We are going to listen to facts and science.”

In an April 14 interview with National Public Radio, she said, “We’re going to have to make decisions based on the best science, the best medical advice and what’s in the best public health of the people of our individual states.”

And Whitmer followed with an April 21 op-ed in The New York Times, writing, “Each action has been informed by the best science and epidemiology counsel there is.”

Yet one rationale given by Whitmer to defend the order restricting travel does not appear to have met the “best science” standard.

Whitmer has said more than once that gas pump handles play a part in the spread of COVID-19. Those comments resembled some social media posts that national media fact-checkers have branded as partly false.

In one instance, Whitmer was speaking of a Michigan man who contracted COVID-19 reported that he believed he got the coronavirus by touching a gas pump handle.

“Think about how many people touch a gas pump handle in the span of three days and that’s why we don’t want anyone on the road who doesn’t have to be there,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer also talked about the dangers of pumping gas and transmitting the coronavirus while being interviewed on The Today Show.

“The fact that we’re cracking down on people traveling between homes or planting or landscaping or golfing, really, for a couple more weeks is not going to meaningfully impact people’s ability to do so, because the snow will do that itself,” Whitmer said on April 15, according to the transcript. “But, the more people that are traveling, the more people that are touching that gas pump is — we know that COVID-19 can last 72 hours on stainless steel — so think about the people that have to touch that gas pump, the nurses and the police and the paramedics and the pharmacist and the food clerks that are the true superheroes right now. If we’re all traveling and touching the same, that means we’re spreading COVID-19 and might actually take people off the front line who we desperately need.”

In an article published on March 28 (and updated on April 6), USA Today reported that claims that the novel coronavirus was quickly spreading via gas pumps was “partly false.”

“Although the virus can spread from contact with droplets on surfaces, there is no evidence to suggest it spreads quickly via gas pumps or hard surfaces in general,” the publication reported. “According to the CDC, person-to-person contact is the main method of transmission.”

The fact-checking site Snopes called the claim that COVID-19 was being spread by gas pumps a mixture of truth and falsehoods.

Snopes stated on March 22: “What’s True: Gas pump handles are a potential source of surface contact transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus. What’s False: Gas pumps are only one of many commonly-handled objects that could transmit the COVID-19 coronavirus, and we have found no substantiated reports of anyone’s having been infected in that fashion yet.”

Whitmer’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment.