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In November 2020, amid a global spike in COVID-19 coronavirus cases, social media users shared a meme that claimed to include a picture of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer failing to wear a face mask to protect against the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first recommended mask-wearing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in early April 2020. In July 2020, Whitmer put a mask mandate into effect statewide.
Mask-wearing as a mitigation against the spread of the pandemic has become a polarized issue, with supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump viewing them as unnecessary. So an image of Whitmer, a Democrat, not wearing a mask amid a global spike in cases in November 2020 seemed ripe for outrage.
The picture, however, was taken in late February 2020, before COVID-19 was widespread in the U.S., before Michigan had its first confirmed case, and before masks were recommended by public health officials for the public at large. The picture was snapped by Frank Cusumano, a local elected official in Macomb Township, who told The Associated Press that he took the selfie on Feb. 24, 2020, at the Palazzo Grande, a conference and event space in the Detroit suburb of Shelby Carter Township (she can be seen mask-less in the lower left corner of the image above).
Photographs published by the local Macomb Daily newspaper show Whitmer was attending an event for the business community in Macomb, in which she can be seen in the same room and wearing the same gold jacket as depicted in the meme.
The meme exploited the fact that Whitmer wore the same jacket to the business event in February and again at a Nov. 15, 2020, news conference in which she announced new restrictions amid surging COVID-19 cases. At the November news conference, Whitmer wore a mask, as can be seen in the upper right corner of the image above.