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This is what life is really like in Lansing, Michigan, the Midwestern capital where anti-lockdown protests have gained infamy

In this April 30, 2020, photo, protesters rally at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich. Gun-carrying protesters have been a common sight at some demonstrations calling for coronavirus-related restrictions to be lifted. But an armed militia’s involvement in an angry protest in the Michigan statehouse Thursday marked an escalation that drew condemnation and shone a spotlight on the practice of bringing weapons to protest.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Sarah Bence is a writer and freelancer based outside of Lansing, Michigan. 
  • The area has made headlines recently due to large protests against the coronavirus lockdown.
  • In Lansing, retailers and coffee shops are offering curbside pickup, and local farms will bring fresh produce to your car.
  • While many people are abiding by safety restrictions, others are frequenting parks and other public places without face masks and mingling with people from different households.
  • Bence predicts challenges ahead with maintaining social distancing as the state makes plans to reopen.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

My hometown of Lansing, Michigan has made it onto the international news radar — and this time it's not due to yet another turkey blocking downtown traffic. Our new notoriety is thanks to a series of anti-lockdown protests, including "Operation Gridlock," where 4,000 cars blocked the area around the capitol. This was part of the first protest on April 15, which spurred a series of similar protests across the nation. Viral photos of, among others, a woman holding a "Heil Witmer" (sic) sign on the capitol steps circulated in the press.

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On Thursday, April 30, another protest occurred — this time with armed men entering our capitol building, forcing some Michigan lawmakers to wear bulletproof vests. More viral photos circulated: a man screaming in the face of Michigan State Police, and people waving confederate flags.

Friends have been checking in on me after seeing the news coming from Lansing — "We've been seeing the news from Michigan and wanted to make sure you were okay? It looked close to home," one friend all the way over in England texted me. 

And she's right; it is close to home. If I drive 15 minutes from my house, I'm on the steps of the capitol — the same steps where armed anti-lockdown protesters gathered. But if I drive 15 minutes in the other direction, I'm in farmland. This is the nature of Michigan.

The Michigan coronavirus situation

Michigan has had more than 4,000 deaths from coronavirus. As of the time of this writing, we're ranked as the state with the fourth most deaths, and seventh most cases. The vast majority of coronavirus cases are in Detroit. Ingham County, where Lansing is located, is just over an hour northwest of Detroit. It is increasingly referred to as a "virus suburb" of Detroit.

Lockdown measures here are strict, and my household is taking them particularly seriously as I have a family member with a rare lung disease. I've had my own employment struggles, after being laid off from a pediatric therapy clinic and losing all of my pet sitting income in mid-March. Luckily, I've been able to pivot to full-time freelance writing from home. Being the person least at risk for the virus in my household, I am also the only one who regularly ventures outside our neighborhood, primarily for the weekly grocery trip or to pick up occasional take out food. Due to the lack of travel, I haven't had to refill my gas tank since March.

So what is life in Lansing really like? It's not like those viral photos you've been seeing. For the most part, people are doing their part, following our governor's orders, and staying home. 

SEE ALSO: I'm a pet sitter whose business has been decimated by COVID-19 — here's what I'm doing to protect myself and stay afloat financially

SEE ALSO: Tennessee is one of the first states to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Here's what life is like in my home state, which had crowded checkout lines at the grocery store even at the height of social distancing.

Even before lockdown in March, people began to panic-buy food.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Michigan's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order on March 23. But even back on March 15, it was hard to find items like bread, canned foods, cleaning products, toilet paper, and meat in the grocery store. 



By May, stores were better stocked.

This is the same bread aisle on May 7. Grocery stores are now better stocked in many items than they were in March. However there is a noticeable meat shortage.



Many perishable foods, however, are still hard to find.

High demand item signs are now a familiar sight. They encourage shoppers like myself to limit the amount we buy of certain products — I haven't seen much ramen in the last two months.



Chains and local business alike are enforcing protecting wear orders.

As of April 24, Governor Whitmer revised the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order to require Michigan residents to wear masks in confined public places. A May 1 shooting at a Family Dollar in Flint, Michigan, occurred when a security guard asked the shooter to wear a mask. 



Local farms are offering no-contact pickup for fresh produce.

My family gets fresh vegetables from Swallowtail Farms. The farm is located in Mason, which is a town in Greater Lansing, about 20 minutes from my house. Swallowtail Farms had no-contact pick up in place before coronavirus, but they now offer car delivery as well.



It's a great way to support small businesses and get healthy groceries.

I feel lucky to be able to support local businesses like this farm. I still have to go to the grocery store, but this at least helps limit my time there. Others are not as lucky — Lansing Food Bank traffic has dropped significantly during the pandemic, but the need for groceries is still great. 



Some chain retailers are offering curbside delivery.

On May 7, Governor Whitmer extended the stay-home order to May 28. Many strip malls are filled with shuttered buildings, but some shops, like Party City in Frandor, are offering curbside delivery. Public gatherings are still banned. 



Dine-in eateries are still closed, but some are also offering curbside pickup.

While Governor Whitmer has loosened some restrictions as part of her Michigan Safe Start plan, restaurants, bars, and movie theaters are still closed. In Lansing, I was able to get curbside delivery from Blue Owl, my favorite local coffee shop in the REO Town neighborhood. 



Even in lockdown, there have been some changes around Lansing.

Formerly, I would sit at Blue Owl in REO Town for hours doing work on my computer. During my visit, I saw the neighborhood's murals had been redone since my last time in the area two months ago.



Usually bustling areas of Lansing are eerily deserted.

The Michigan State Capitol building is located just a few blocks over from REO Town. When I drove through, there were some cars parked, but the area was pretty empty — nothing like "Operation Gridlock." 



These are the Michigan State Capitol steps — completely empty on Wednesday, May 6.

Less than a week ago, they were crowded with armed anti-lockdown protesters who made it into the capitol building itself. There is an open carry law in Michigan, but according to Governor Whitmer on May 7, there are conversations happening about changing the law that allows assault weapons in the capitol. 



Other services like landscaping and lawn care were allowed to resume.

Lawn care businesses are permitted to resume work in Michigan, as of Governor Whitmer's April 24 revision of the stay-home order. There was a lot of contention about this prior to the revision.



Despite the shutdowns, spring is still blossoming across the state.

With the weather warming up in Michigan (there was snow on the ground here in mid-late April), people are heading outside. The Michigan State University horticulture gardens in East Lansing are open, despite the University being closed for all in-person classes. There are signs warning visitors to "practice extreme caution."



Sculptures in public parks are covered to discourage touching.

Some popular installations at the Michigan State University horticulture gardens, like this interactive sculpture, have been covered in tarps to discourage touching shared surfaces.



More people are getting outside to go on walks.

Like many people in my neighborhood, I've been going on more frequent neighborhood walks. However, it's sometimes difficult to practice social distancing when sidewalks get crowded with bikes and families — the new rush hour. Few people wear masks.



In other public places, however, some people aren't social distancing.

On my walks, I pass through the local elementary school's playground. I often see teenagers and kids hanging out together. They are clearly from multiple households, and rarely wear masks.



I'm still walking dogs.

I've also been walking my 90-year-old neighbor's high-energy dog for her since March, when her daughter got stuck in the UK. On our walks, I often see neighborhood kids have decorated the roads with chalk. This one says, "See the good."



Like many, I've picked up baking during lockdown.

Besides getting outdoors, our "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order has also driven me to try making sourdough — an experiment that has so far been spectacularly unsuccessful.



With a new regulations in the works, safe social distancing may be harder for Michiganders

With spring now in full swing in Michigan, and Governor Whitmer's evolving Michigan Safe Start plan, there will definitely be challenges ahead with maintaining social distancing. My hope is that Lansing, and the rest of our state, can continue to forge ahead together. 

Sarah Bence is a pet sitter and freelance writer based in Michigan. She has written for Lonely Planet, Fodor's Travel, Roadtrippers Magazine, World Nomads, and more. She also manages a blog called Endless Distances about gluten free and celiac-safe travel. Bence has a bachelor's degree from Kenyon College in English and Creative Writing, and also a MSc in Occupational Therapy from the University of Plymouth in southwest England. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.





* This article was originally published here Press Release Distribution

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