Michigan business leaders urge Whitmer and Republicans to unite on COVID

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As a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic takes hold in Michigan, a bipartisan group of business leaders has a message for the state’s elected officials: It’s time to battle the virus, not each other. 

The situation is now urgent, they said, due to rising COVID-19 cases that this week mirror the peak infections from early April. Hospitalization rates are up, and outbreaks are spreading across all age groups; and though deaths are up, they remain far lower than in the spring.

 

The health crisis is rebounding in a state where more than 2 million people experienced some job loss since March and as many businesses still try to rebuild lost revenue. 

“We have a lot at stake economically to not let this get out of hand,” said Gerry Anderson, chairman of DTE Energy and co-chair of the Michigan Economic Recovery Council (MERC).  

Anderson is among the 32 business leaders who signed the three-page letter that was delivered to elected officials on Wednesday. He was joined by leaders from CEOs of companies across the state that ranged from global brands like General Motors and Dow, to Meijer, Wolverine Worldwide and Steelcase. Multiple universities and health care facilities are on the list, as are business advocacy groups like the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Lansing Regional Chamber, the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Michigan Manufacturers Association.

Related: Coronavirus hits new high in Michigan. Is it a ‘blip’ or ‘surge’?

 

What Michigan needs, according to the letter, “is complete unity of purpose and a strong collective response across our state. We call on our government leaders to foster that unity.”

That’s a reference to months of sniping between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican Legislature over the governor’s emergency power authority since the pandemic hit in March, efforts Anderson and MERC played a role in. A Michigan Supreme Court ruling Oct. 2 negated Whitmer’s executive orders, effectively ending her ability to issue executive orders without input from the legislative branch. 

Since then, Whitmer and the Legislature have had to agree on which of her orders to codify into law, including ones that extend unemployment benefits. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHSS) has since issued its own orders, such as mandatory mask-wearing, that were similar to Whitmer’s.

Republican leadership in the Legislature continues to push against the Democrat’s steps to control the virus, which have included occupancy limits on businesses and social gatherings. More recently, their discussions have ranged from herd immunity policies (promoted by some Republicans, opposed by Democrats) to enacting local control authority to opt-out of state lockdown orders if warranted. 

The result, Anderson said in an interview with Bridge Michigan on Wednesday, is confusion for the public and greater risk of virus spread. 

That confusion, he added, showed up in public behavior. People were showing up at hospitals, stores and supermarkets without masks, while outbreaks have been tied to social gatherings. All of that increased the risk of more public spread, Anderson aid. 

“When behaviors change, results change,” said Anderson. (Disclosure: The DTE Energy Foundation is a funder to the Center for Michigan, which includes Bridge Michigan.)

Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson, chairman of DTE Energy, is among 32 business leaders who signed a three-page letter delivered to elected officials on Wednesday. (Courtesy photo)

Parsing details about regulations is not productive when the pandemic appears to be heading for peak infection rates, he added.

After the Supreme Court ruling “we then started to see lots of public discussion about what was needed and what was not needed,” Anderson said. “As you’ve got a second wave on your doorstep, that’s not creating the unity and mindset and clarity that you need to turn it back."

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, agreed. 

He said businesses have a range of approaches to operating during the pandemic, but a common goal is to remain open. Many were closed by executive order for two months or longer, and reopening has come with capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements. 

“We need to continue to take this virus seriously,” he said. “We need to understand that controlling the virus means economic success. These two are interlinked.”

Baruah noted some recent steps toward bipartisan leadership in the state during the pandemic, including a plan to limit legal liability for businesses. Democrats and Republicans agreed on the budget approved for this fiscal year, which resulted in funding for the Going Pro and Pure Michigan career and tourism programs. 

“We just want to encourage that continued ethos,” Baruah said.

Sandy Baruah

“We need to continue to take this virus seriously,”  said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. (Courtesy photo)

Beyond unity, Anderson said that elected officials should stop trying to look for new ways to reduce statewide mandatory protection standards until the virus is under control again, as it was in June.

Until then, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services regulations on masks, workplace practices and public gatherings “are sufficient,” according to the letter.

“We hold these views because of what we have learned in our hospitals and businesses: the disciplined use of COVID-19 safety practices clearly works to minimize viral spread,” it says. 

“And we hold these views because the evidence strongly suggests – both in Michigan and the other states/countries in which many of us operate – that without such clear standards, people struggle to band together to effectively control viral spread. “

That doesn’t mean that today’s regulations need to stay in place uniformly across the state until the pandemic is over, Anderson says. 

“We can refine them over time if we want to,” Anderson said. “But this is urgent enough that we can’t spend time arguing about [them].”

Anderson said that by midday Wednesday he hadn’t heard a response from Republican legislators. A spokesperson for the Michigan House of Representatives did not provide a response when asked by Bridge Michigan. 

“I’m hopeful they will pay serious attention,” Anderson said. 

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Comments

M
Wed, 10/21/2020 - 7:51pm

Republicans have done nothing but obstruct everything that the Governor has done to ensure our safety during this pandemic. The Republican Michigan Supreme Court has even agreed with Republican legislators to take the Governor's powers away. Their non scientific heard immunity approach will cost countless more lives.

Don
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 9:07am

It seems that the republicans are getting paid to kill off Americans with the virus!!!

John Q Public
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 9:51am

I surely hope the Republican legislators will listen, but unfortunately I doubt it. They only seem to be interested in opposing Whitmer's policies while turning a blind eye to the science.

Jake K
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 9:54am

Bipartisan cooperation would certainly be beneficial for this challenge and all others...but we have to have bipartisan LEADERSHIP as well. There is no indication within the current state or national administrations that even hint that such posture is realistic. Unfortunately every time our Governor, AG or SoS flex their muscles and try to establish orders beyond their intended reach, the response from the GOP is to become even more inflexible. We really need administrations that focus on the whole...people and country...rather than exclusively on party politics and their voter base. Possible?

MW
Mon, 10/26/2020 - 10:01am

Whitmer's phased reopening plan followed the guidelines the White House released back in April for slowly reopening the economy but the GOP didn't want that. There is no middle ground when one side was literally ignoring the best scientific advice in favor of pretending the virus can just go away on its own.

chief54
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 10:35am

This proposal is probably way more then the leaders of the legislature can absorb. When the leader of the senate wants to run up the death rate because he believes, like Trump, the virus is a hoax does not seem capable of any common sense solutions.

I'm sure that most of those that signed the letter are Republicans so it might have some impact but who knows.

Anyway, we're still in a serious health situation that's not going away soon and now that the Republicans are in charge we can only pray that they will do better then Trump has done to protect us.

Robert E Balwinski
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 10:38am

The Supreme Court of Michigan poo-pooed Governor Whitmer's EO's regarding dealing with the coronavirus. The Republican House and the Republican Senate rejoiced.
QUESTION: What is the plan of the Republican House and the Republican Senate to deal with ever increasing COVID-19 cases in Michigan?

MW
Fri, 10/23/2020 - 9:32am

Shirkey already said what he wants and that's a herd immunity plan which would result in thousands more unnecessary deaths and countless Michiganders with long-term health problems.

duane
Fri, 10/23/2020 - 12:15pm

Robert,
You are only listening for what you want to hear. All the Supreme Court did was tell the Governor that her authority is limited and she must work with the Legislature on taking over control of the way of life for all the people in the State.

Mo' Money
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 11:33am

Amen. Progressive Democrat business owner here. Please cut the crap, wash hands, wear masks, socially distance and let's make MONEY again. Why are some people insisting on ignoring the virus that killed 225,000+ Americans? That dumb attitude is hurting our economy and our emotional well being. Trump is only concerned with being reelected and avoiding jail. He does not give a rat's behind about the rest of us and our families. It's all about his inflated ego and fear of looking like the loser that he truly is. The sad part is that even when he loses, he will still be bloviating to his followers a barrage of lies, misinformation, disinformation on platforms such as FOX News. We can all do much better.

Biden Harris 2020! Vote NOW!

Anonymous
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 1:51pm

Republicans aren't interested in solutions, they're only interested in limiting the Governor's powers and trying to demonize her just like their fascist leader.

Todd Priest
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 2:32pm

Why unite with a tyrant?

Jim C
Sat, 10/24/2020 - 3:42am

I agree. Trump is not only a tyrant, but a fool.

Matthew M
Fri, 10/23/2020 - 11:08am

Warning us to wear masks or else? If you haven't noticed already. You can't eat at a restaurant, shop for groceries, pay for gas, get on a bus, walk to class or even pick up a pizza without a mask on! Threatening too shutdown schools only makes this problem worse. Our kids deserve a normal upbringing regardless of our differences in policy.

Joseph KS
Sun, 10/25/2020 - 12:52pm

Children running around without masks at school could result in vulnerable teachers a d caregivers contracting the disease and dying. And theres still not enough understanding on the long-term effects of having lived through the virus. Are you advocating for those risks just so kids can avoid wearing masks at school?