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