Michigan residents must stay at home and away from non-essential workplaces through April 30, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday, extending an initial order that went into effect on March 24.
The new order extends many of the requirements of the previous one, including a ban on gatherings or non-essential in-person work. But it includes stricter restrictions on stores that are allowed to remain open and specifically bars non-essential travel.
“Now is not the time to pull back at all. It is the time to intensify. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Whitmer said during a news conference Thursday.
Large stores will be required to limit the number of people allowed in at once to four customers per 1,000 square feet and small stores must limit customers to 25 percent of total occupancy. Stores must put up markings to show customers where to stand to remain six feet apart while waiting in line, and big stores have to close sections for gardening, painting, furniture, carpeting and flooring.
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Stores will also be required to reserve at least two hours weekly for vulnerable populations to shop, including people over the age of 60, pregnant women and people with comorbidities like heart disease and diabetes.
Auto dealers, previously closed under the first order, will be allowed to open only for remote sales, though showrooms will be required to remain closed.
Whitmer’s first stay-at-home order was set to expire April 14, but cases have continued to climb since it went into effect. As of Thursday, Michigan had 21,504 confirmed cases of the virus and 1,076 deaths. Officials say it’s necessary to continue to slow the number of serious cases being sent to the state’s swamped hospital systems.
“All model projections are clear that without sustained social distancing measures, more people will die and hospitals will become overwhelmed,” chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said. The stay at home order “is the most important thing we can do to slow the spread of this disease” because it allows time for officials to build up field hospitals and collect necessary supplies like PPE and ventilators.
The head of the Michigan State Medical Society, Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala, said Whitmer’s extension was “the wise thing to do at this time.”
But top leaders in Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature blasted Whitmer’s extension, arguing the state should begin relaxing restrictions on regions with fewer cases or businesses that could operate safely with social distancing policies.
“Family-owned businesses have been run to the ground and hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs because of it,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican from Levering, wrote on Twitter. “Unemployment is skyrocketing and our government has not been there to answer the call.”
“We deserve better! This is unacceptable.”
The governor’s extended Stay-at-Home order is the wrong call and is bad for Michigan families. We had a chance today to protect public health and take a positive step towards recovery. Unfortunately, rather than focus on what’s safe, the governor decided again who is “essential.”— Lee Chatfield (@LeeChatfield) April 9, 2020
Chatfield is urging Whitmer to tailor restrictions based on “safe” jobs not just “essential” ones.
Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, urged “common sense revisions” and said without them, Whitmer’s new order will “unnecessarily hurt” regions and business sectors.
“Individuals living in regions of the state that are experiencing little to no growth in infection rates should be able to return to their jobs to support their families if proper safety protocols are put in place,” he said in a statement.
Whitmer, however, said Thursday her extended stay-at-home order is the best way to continue to slow the spread of the deadly virus.
It’s understandable people want more exemptions to the order, she said, but “I’m in the business of saving lives, and that’s precisely what this order is going to do.”
While Republicans have argued companies like golf courses and landscapers could operate safely, Whitmer said they are “not necessary to sustain life” and suggested re-opening them would put more people back on the roads, stopping to fill up for gas and interacting in other ways that increase exposure risk.
The new stay-at-home order will not likely be the last action the state takes to protect public safety, she said.
“While we hope to re-engage parts of our economy, we must always do so driven by what the best science and best practices for health indicate,” she said.
Business groups largely supported the extension. Detroit Regional Chamber president and CEO Sandy Baruah said the order is "clearly in line with all public health guidance and the President’s social distancing guidelines through the end of April." Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan said small business owners were expecting the extension and while some were “quite disappointed with that, they weren’t surprised.”
Retailers are sorting out the changes in the order, said Meegan Holland, spokesperson for the Michigan Retailers Association. Some questions were raised right after Whitmer’s address about the new regulations that stores will have to establish. “The burden is on the retailer to make that happen,” she said.
While not challenging the goal of keeping people at home, many of the state’s store owners are looking for certain measures that will allow them to “compete with Amazon and other marketplaces that are eating their lunch right now,” Holland said. One example, she offered, could be to allow a non-essential store, like a bookseller, to take online orders and ship them.
“We think that can be done safely right now,” Holland said. “It’s happening with restaurants doing take-out. We believe retailers can do the same thing and still keep their communities very safe.”
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