Gov. Gretchen Whitmer held a press conference today to announce her signing of Executive Order 2020-42 and to discuss other measures being taken by the state of Michigan to alleviate the spread and adverse effects of COVID-19.
Whitmer was joined by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Executive Order 2020-42 serves as an extension of Whitmer’s original “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order that went into effect on March 24. On March 26, Michigan had 2,856 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 60 deaths; as of today, there are now 21,504 confirmed cases and 1,076 deaths.
The new order prohibits public and private gatherings of any size and requires all non-essential workers to stay home until April 30. Essential workers are categorized as employees involved in health care, public safety, law enforcement, public health and grocery services.
The order also imposes stricter limitations on grocery stores and pharmacies. Large stores, such as supermarkets and wholesale vendors, are expected to limit the number of people in the store at one time to "no more than four customers for every 1,000 feet of customer floor space.” Small stores and pharmacies are required to allow only 25% of the total occupancy limit in the building at once.
Businesses will have to establish lines using floor markings that distance patrons six feet away from each other while they wait. Sections of stores dedicated to carpet, flooring, furniture, garden centers and paint are to be closed until the end of the order.
“If you’re not buying food or medicine or other essential items, you should not be going to the store,” she said.
Whitmer said that she encourages households to limit the number of household members running errands to the “the minimum extent possible.”
“Unless you have no other choice, your whole family shouldn’t be running errands with you,” she said. “The fewer the people (going out), the better.”
Banks, credit unions, pharmacies, grocery stores and gas stations will continue to function throughout the order. The full list of essential services that remain open can be found at michigan.gov/coronavirus.
While gatherings are prohibited, the order allows for outside public recreation such as running, walking, hiking, kayaking and canoeing so long as participants practice social distancing while doing so. Whitmer said that these acts are important but urged citizens to follow the guidlines presented.
"When we all take this seriously, we will save lives in Michigan," she said. "We will save the frontline health care providers that are struggling to keep up with the need. And we will come out of this in a more robust way where can get our economy re-engaged."
In addition to Executive Order 2020-42, Whitmer announced the creation of the Michigan Coronavirus Taskforce on Racial Disparities. The taskforce, led by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, will be composed of leaders across state governments and healthcare professionals from afflicted communities.
“This virus is holding up a mirror to our society and reminding us of the deep inequities in our country, from basic lack of access to care, to access to transportation, to lack of protections in our workplace,” she said. “These inequities (have) hit people of color and vulnerable communities the hardest.”
Whitmer added that the taskforce will begin meeting this week to start “providing recommendations” on addressing racial disparities in healthcare throughout COVID-19.
“This is a start, and we’re going to continue to keep running,” she said. “It should not have to take a crisis like this for us to really address this, but here we are. It is an opportunity to examine it, to understand it and to do better.”
Whitmer also fielded questions related to exceptions from the shutdown for golf courses and landscaping businesses. She said that there will be no exceptions granted for either.
“It’s not critical infrastructure,” she said. “They are not necessary to sustain life. And, to be candid, just by engaging in it can expose people to risk — serious risk.
“We’ve got two crises that we’re confronting right now: one’s a health crisis and one’s an economic crisis. If we don’t get the health crisis under control, the economic crisis will go on and on and on," she said.
Michigan currently has over 800,000 total claims for unemployment, a process made more difficult by overloaded services on websites used to register as such. In response, Whitmer said that the state of Michigan has quadrupled the number of employees at the Unemployment Insurance Agency and that they’re actively re-evaluating the filing system.
“This incredible number of 6.6 million people last week across the country who are trying to file for unemployment has crashed state systems across the nation,” she said. “I don’t give that as an excuse because we’ve got to get it right.”
“This is an unprecedented number of people that are looking for help, and so we’re rebuilding the system. I think that we’ve gotten it in a pretty good place, from what I understand,” she said.
Whitmer also said that the state stockpile of medical supplies has been set up but she’s still asking hospitals to be as conservative as possible with materials while providing superior care.
“The thought of a (federal) stockpile is a dream right now because we’re just trying to get our hands on every mask, every N95 ... every gown and every glove we can get,” she said. “Some hospitals have a few days worth, and that’s a vast improvement from where we were a week and a half ago where we were literally worried about getting through the weekend. But, some are still having to conserve … and that’s generally the general rule right now.”
With the order in place, Whitmer said that she could not guarantee that things will return to normal by April 30.
“If we think that on April 30, that we just flip a switch and life returns to how it was, it’s not going to be how it was,” she said. “We just all have to kind of come to terms with that. And that’s the harsh truth.”
Those struggling with the current conditions can receive counseling through the 24/7 Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.