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Coronavirus pandemic extends Michigan stay-at-home order until end of April

Related: What Michigan's new coronavirus stay-at-home executive order means

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.

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. 

Like the first stay-at-home order, the new order requires businesses in “non-essential” industries to close and for their workers to stay home. It includes an exception for businesses and employees in industries nationally deemed to be critical to sustaining life, including health care, grocers, public works and energy companies among others.
People will still be allowed to go outside to exercise or walk their pet, to go to essential places like the grocery store or gas station, as long as they stay 6 feet away from one another, but will be specifically banned from traveling for vacation or other non-essential reasons.

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.

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.  

“Similarly, businesses that can implement strict health and safety measures should be permitted to remain open and operational regardless of whether they are deemed ‘essential.’”

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.”

Whitmer’s initial stay-home order took effect March 24 and was set to expire April 14. It was initially met by confusion, prompting widespread questions over which type of businesses were considered critical — and could therefore stay open — and who would enforce it. 
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel asked local law police to handle frontline enforcement and eventually provided requested guidance. Her office has issued multiple cease-and-desist letters to non-compliant businesses and promised to prosecute local cases if necessary. 
Officials in Detroit and Wayne County, where COVID-19 has hit hardest, have recently ramped up enforcement efforts. City police last weekend checked 792 locations for potential violations, issued 74 citations, talked with two non-compliant businesses and broke up nine parties.
Michigan residents have done a better job staying home than fellow Americans in most other states, according to cellphone data mapped by The New York Times. 
The Michigan Legislature on Tuesday voted to extend Whitmer’s emergency authority through April 30, but Republicans denied the 70-day extension she requested and have begun urging the governor to allow more flexibility for businesses that they contend can operate safely with social distancing policies. 
Shirkey has formed a bipartisan workgroup that will provide the governor with recommendations on how and when to re-open businesses.
Whitmer has formed her own economic advisory team, headed by DTE Energy Chairman Gerry Anderson, to consider similar issues.
Bridge reporter Paula Gardner contributed to this report. 

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