Opinion | Gov. Whitmer must do more on reopening Michigan small businesses

Matt Hall is a member of the Michigan House of Representatives who serves on the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and critical to sustaining a healthy local economy. They sponsor local charities and youth sports programs, provide jobs and paychecks for our neighbors and contribute to the identity and charm of our communities.

Five-and-a-half months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is still mandating some local businesses remain closed – even with hospital beds and PPE available and data suggesting they can reopen while employing carefully crafted safe and responsible reopening plans.

The Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic has listened to their stories of hardship as they struggle to pay bills and put food on the table for their families while waiting for state government to answer the call.

Cindy Scharns operates Branch Gymnastics in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. She told our committee when testifying in late July that gymnastics is a sport that requires physical distance between athletes to prevent injury. Equipment is already spaced out for safety reasons. She presented a safe reopening plan with health screenings, increased time for sanitation and smaller class sizes. While Scharns waits months for a response from Gov. Whitmer’s administration, her athletes have opted to train in Indiana and Ohio where similar training facilities have been open since May.

Hockey is also a sport that has built-in mitigation features. Players wear protective equipment including helmets with plastic face shields. Recently, we heard testimony from Mindi Priskey, a skating coach at Mount Clemens Ice Arena, who underscored the importance of recreational opportunities for kids. Michigan is in the top 5 states in the nation for ice skating sports, but they are one of just a handful of states currently without open rinks.

Local YMCAs and fitness centers also remain closed, despite developing plans that would allow them to open safely – including frequent sanitation, mask wearing and requirements to wipe down equipment before and after use. These centers keep people healthy and active, mitigating the underlying health conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes that make people more susceptible to COVID-19.

Information provided to our committee by fitness industry leaders showed a .002 percent positivity rate among members and a .257 percent rate for staff over a month-long reopening period in areas of California. Planet Fitness facilities that have reopened in other states reported a .00074 percent positive test rate for members. The data, which Gov. Whitmer frequently claims to be following, shows these facilities can open responsibly with very little risk.

Our committee has gotten results for people who can resume their livelihood safely and sensibly. In early June, Michigan was the only state nationwide to not have a date or plan for reopening hair salons. We heard testimony from frustrated salon owners and workers who submitted a safe reopening plan based on safe practices developed in other states to the governor, only to be ignored for months. Their stories received a great deal of attention, and Gov. Whitmer announced she would be reopening salons and barbershops statewide just days later.

Workers at Goldfish Swim School testified July 29 that Michigan was the only state prohibiting indoor swimming instruction for children and noted health expert reports stating chlorine kills the virus in pools. Goldfish proposed taking extra precautions and mirroring safe reopening procedures approved in other states – such as equipping their instructors with face shields and requiring proper spacing to respect social distancing guidelines. Even though these workers teach important, life-saving skills to our children, Governor Whitmer’s administration had not signed off or followed up with them on what else was needed to safely reopen.

Hours after our hearing, Gov. Whitmer reversed her position and reopened indoor youth swimming instruction with capacity requirements.

While I appreciate the governor reopening some of these sectors, her administration must do more. Respond and communicate. If a safety plan is not adequate, then clearly explain what is lacking and what more they must do to permit them to reopen safely. These local job providers have been patient. They have said they are entering a critical, make-or-break stretch for their livelihoods. We owe it to them to be responsive and work together to find ways for them to resume their lives safely.

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Tue, 09/01/2020 - 8:36am

Whitmer has kept my business closed since it is impossible for me to maintain a 6 foot social distancing. So far the state has not enforced the rule much, but if I were to run anyway, like many are doing, then my insurance would likely not cover any incidents that might arise from the activity. So I'm collecting unemployment and applying for grants which I have not received yet trying to wait out this BS and not go bell up. Since all my business is done during the spring and summer, I'm already done for this year and won't be able to make any money again until spring. In my opinion, this was handled by the governor very poorly and now she is even cheating us out of extra $100 for unemployment benefits for unemployed that she caused.

Tue, 09/01/2020 - 9:53am

Sounds like your beef is with your insurance company. Why do you even need insurance if everything is so safe?

Sun, 09/06/2020 - 8:52am

A comment from someone who has no clue what it is like to loose everything they have worked decades for by some arbitrary order from a governor who also has no clue. I guarantee that my business would be far safer than any casino, lottery outlet, hair salon or other businesses that are now opened by gaining her special favor somehow.

Gimme Gimme
Tue, 09/01/2020 - 9:54am

That government cheese is never enough. I hear ya!

Tue, 09/01/2020 - 8:50am

Thank you Matt Hall for a sensible commentary on this situation. Michigan will certainly be facing a longer economic recovery if we don't have better and more quantifiable guidance. The people of Michigan have been told time and time again - we need to "flatten the curve" and it has been flattened (% of Diagnostic tests that were positive) with slight ups and downs since June. What are the numbers goals to move forward? What numbers represent a need to draw back? There is nothing provided by our governor to indicate what is driving her decisions to hold back or move forward on getting our economy open so we can begin our recovery. Provide us data/goals so that we can all understand the reasoning. I'm proud to be from Michigan, and thankful for having level-headed legislators like Matt representing us.

Tue, 09/01/2020 - 9:25am

The state would have been better off if the governor issued conditions that each business must meet to open, rather than arbitrarily deciding who is essential and who isn’t. And here her decisions lacked any semblance of common sense. It was as if she wanted to punish some people and let others slide by. Her list was the least fact based item during the whole pandemic.

Get Real!
Tue, 09/01/2020 - 10:01am

I wish GOP representatives like Matt Hall would have supported wearing face masks, social distancing, and testing from the beginning and throughout the crisis so that we never would have had the cases we had. I say that as a business owner and concerned human being. Now that the cases are increasing again, I wish the same thing. The governor in not the problem the virus is along with the virus deniers. Countless unnecessary deaths and economic hardship resulted and continues to result from Republicans who don't take the virus seriously. Stop following your cult leaders and show some scruples.

Too rich!
Tue, 09/01/2020 - 10:17am

When there's one positive covid case in the legislature, they close down immediately, go on vacation, but continue to criticize the governor nonstop, notwithstanding her excellent work curtailing the virus. There's a reason the cases have risen on the Michigan borders, people going into those neighboring reckless states. Businesses should be able to open with care, but the state is working on a shoestring budget with a huge shortfall. We can't expect businesses to operate on the "honor" system. We need government regulators to make sure those businesses don't cut corners, that they take measures to safeguard the public. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Everyone has to work together, rather than against each other. All I see is conflict with little cooperation. I guess Republicans think "cooperation" is code for "communism". That's why our country is falling apart. "Divided we fall."

Tue, 09/01/2020 - 12:30pm

Our Governor has acted responsibility on reopening out state. All businesses need to reopen so they have a chance of survival. We all know what to do to be safe and we no longer need governmental involvement in closing, limiting all our small businesses. We also need the Freedom of information act available so we the people can see what is going on in our government.

Tue, 09/01/2020 - 7:51pm

I have supported Governor Whitmer's safety measures so far. But I do agree with the pints made by Representative Hall. There are some activites which remain closed, but can safely be reopened. I also believe public movie theaters is one of these that can have restrictions and safely reopen.

middle of the mit
Tue, 09/01/2020 - 8:41pm

Business people have been saying all summer they can do this. They have been telling us there is nothing to worry about getting infected by others at their establishments, but Republicans still push for immunity for these business people AGAINST their employees or customers contracting the virus at their establishment.

If you are so confident you can do this.........why the need for immunity from lawsuits? Why is Mike, the first comment, telling us his insurance company probably won't cover his business?

It IS LITERALLY an insurance companies business to insure you against loss. Yet they won't do it for a pandemic that certain members of society are still confused amongst themselves whether or not this is a deadly virus or nothing more than the cold and flu?

Makes you wonder why........doesn't it?

Why won't an insurance business insure you against losses you know you are going to take?

When you can answer that question, you might understand why your business isn't open.

If half your customers weren't flagrantly dismissing the mask mandates and others weren't assaulting your employees and other customers for the drastic cause of "Freedumb to NOT wear a mask during a global pandemic" your insurance company would likely cover you.

You want to blame people?

Take some of it! It's called Personal Responsibility. You are familiar with the concept? And it doesn't just refer to responsibility for yourself.


When you have a sense of personal responsibility, it means you are willing to accept and live by society’s established standards of individual behavior. When these expected standards aren’t met, someone with personal responsibility doesn’t seek others to blame, rather they’re able to maturely respond to the presented challenges themselves and take any blame for their actions.

But see, even here, we are expected to live by "societies established standards". And those are the standards that Personal Responsibility is defined. So......if most of the country is being responsible by wearing masks to stop the spread of a disease, are those societies standards, or do we get to have our own individual standards? And if that is the case........who is supposed to assimilate if they move here, and why should they?

Conservatives......every time they make an argument, I am left with ohhh sooo many questions...................That they will NEVER contemplate and I will NEVER get an answer to.

Ben W Washburn
Tue, 09/01/2020 - 8:55pm

Hello: I'm a long-time centrist. I applaud Matt Hall's commentary. We all need more of that kind of analysis. I'm a fan of our Governor, but she should always listen carefully to all constructive criticism. I would note that the Governor faces some highly probable reasons to take care as September unfolds. It does not take much to unleash a new surge of COVID, and already, there is evidence that the reopening of colleges could have just that result, not to mention the reopening of our schools., So far, the Governor's directions have kept Michigan out of the National news. But, it doesn't take much to blow that case. Matt Hall: keep on doing what you are doing. Small businesses need your voice, and our Governor needs to be listening.

Wed, 09/02/2020 - 4:21pm

So, the first covid death from the Sturgis bike rally has just been reported. You republican legislators don't care about that. And you didn't care about the republican groups backing and arranging the crazy armed militia groups attacking our capitol building and threatening nurses and doctors! Here's a good metaphor: the gop watched the fire starting, did nothing, mocked and deliberately obstructed the ppl that were trying to put out the fire, then the gop continued to throw jugs of gasoline on the fire while they bitch and whine that the fire hasn't been put out yet. No gop ppl get to complain. You've done nothing but make the crisis worse. Shut your pie holes and let the intelligent adults get us out of this mess you created.