Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a partial reopening of the state in a press conference Monday.
As the number of COVID-19 cases is decreasing in Michigan, the governor’s order allows retail businesses in the upper peninsula and greater Traverse City area, including bars and restaurants, to reopen with limited seating Friday.
According to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS, Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state has recorded 51,915 total cases of COVID-19 and 4,915 deaths. She stated case and death trends continue to improve, and over 28,000 people in the state have recovered from the disease.
Despite the promising numbers, Whitmer stressed the order is not a “wholesale reengagement of indoor dining” and that people must still adhere to social distancing guidelines.
The order also allows for local governments to decide the extent of which business can reengage.
“If (local governments) want to take a more cautious course, they’re free to limit the operation of restaurants or bars within their jurisdiction, including restricting such establishments to outdoor seating,” she said.
Whitmer also announced the signing of an executive order to protect workers as sectors of the economy are reengaged, which requires businesses that resume in-person work to develop a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan.
Reopening businesses must also provide COVID-19 training to workers that covers workplace infection-control practices, the proper use of personal protective equipment, steps that workers can take to notify an employer of coronavirus symptoms or a diagnosis and how to report unsafe working conditions.
The governor also signed an executive directive calling for the appointment of a director of COVID-19 workers safety to help ensure businesses are in compliance with the requirements reopening businesses must meet.
Republican lawmakers, who declined an extension on the governor’s state of emergency order last month, have long awaited the decision to begin reengagement. When Whitmer declared a new state of emergency without the Republican-majority legislature’s approval, the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate filed a lawsuit against her. The suit claims she overextended her executive power in issuing a new state of emergency order following the termination of the prior one, which the legislature claims she cannot do without their approval. The case is expected to go to the state Supreme Court.
The Michigan Republican Party issued a statement supporting Whitmer’s decision to reopen businesses in parts of the state.
“After months of dragging her feet, Governor Whitmer has finally decided to move forward with opening Michigan in the safe and strategic manner Speaker Chatfield and Majority Leader Shirkey proposed weeks ago,” the statement said. “After feeling the pressure of 48 other states reopening, Governor Whitmer rightfully concluded that the people of our state are smart enough to be trusted and she regionally reopened Michigan. While many hardworking Michiganders and small business owners would have welcomed this development weeks ago, it’s better late than never.”
Whitmer stressed the continual importance of social distancing and use of PPE, especially in the regions set to reopen, as reengagement of other sectors is dependent on how well they do in keeping COVID-19 numbers down.
“The whole state is watching to make sure we get this right,” she said. “If we get this right, we will be able to take the next step. … But, it’s dependent on all of us doing our part.”