Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s expansion and extension of her “stay-home” order is prompting anger over its economic impact and calls by some municipal leaders to reject parts of it.
Whitmer’s Thursday order is more sweeping than those in other states, barring the sale of paint or plants at stores, lawn services, the use of power boats (but not kayaks) and most travel to cottages and second homes.
In a state where the vast majority of coronavirus cases are in southeast Michigan, some say the measures are too extreme. In Alpena, where there are no cases yet, landscaper Brandon Hawley said he’s been stopped by local police enforcing the state order.
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“We should be able to go out and work,” said Hawley, owner of Dependable Lawn Care and Property Services.
“We’re not sucking on people’s door knobs when we’re done with the job.”
Republican leaders, who generally had supported the Democratic governor’s policies during the crisis, now call the extension through the end of April overly broad.
“Call on your own circles of influence .....to then call upon theirs ....to ‘bury the Gov with voices of disagreement and concern,’ ” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, wrote in a message to GOP senators.
“Tell her she is destroying our HEALTH by killing our livelihoods,” he wrote.
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Whitmer’s order came the day before Michigan recorded its deadliest day yet in the pandemic on Friday, with 205 COVID-19 deaths including 175 in the past 24 hours. The state has the third-most cases nationwide.
And while the overall new cases have declined for a week since a high of nearly 2,000 on April 3, Whitmer and health experts said it’s no time to relax. They point to scientific models that show tough social distancing measures slow the virus that has killed nearly 1,300 statewide in one month, more than die in car crashes in an entire year in the state.
“These people were husbands, wives, grandparents, sons, and daughters,” Whitmer wrote on Twitter on Friday “We are not out of the woods yet.”
Models predicting a decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths assume a continuation of strict stay-at-home orders for at least 30 days. If those are relaxed, officials believe infection rates and deaths will soar.
Even the model that estimated deaths would peak on Thursday or Friday, which has been routinely cited by the White House, based its assumptions on restrictions continuing through the end of May.
A “significant flattening” in cases on Friday prompted Michigan Medicine to pause plans to build a field hospital. The decline is the result of tough social distancing, said Dr. Matthew Sims, an infectious disease expert at Royal Oak-based Beaumont Health.
“Flattening doesn’t mean it’s safe to break social distancing,” said Sims. “Because once you do that (the virus) is going to surge.”
‘It’s an order, not a suggestion’
Many opponents of Whitmer’s new order say they also favor social distancing, but contend that some businesses could safely re-open and don’t require frequent human contact.
They’re especially upset that the extended “stay at home” order did not take updated federal standards into account when deciding what was “essential.”
Whitmer’s orders have both relied on a March 19 guidance from the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to identify critical infrastructure workers exempt from the stay-home order.
The governor’s new order disregards “any subsequent guidance” from the same agency, including an expanded list released March 28 that added workers from housing construction firms, gun shops shooting ranges and other sectors.
That new federal guidance recommends exemptions for landscapers “who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences” or businesses.
The Whitmer administration has offered similar guidance but concluded that “in nearly all cases,” landscaping and lawn care do not qualify for that exemption.
In neighboring Ohio, officials adopted the new federal guidelines in extending the state’s stay-home order to May 1 and are allowing lawn care.
As the days get longer and warmer and the grass in many yards grows higher, some local leaders have challenged the governor’s position.
“I do respectfully disagree” with the state’s blanket ban “and view lawn service as an essential service for seniors and those with special needs,” Fouts wrote on Facebook.
Speaking to WXYZ-TV on Friday, Whitmer said communities shouldn’t strictly enforce ordinances that require residents to keep lawns from becoming unruly during the pandemic.
“Local governments shouldnt be giving people fines during this time. We are in a state of emergency. I have issued an executive order. It’s an order. Not a suggestion,” she said.
She added that her order intends to protect landscapers, who she said are often paid low wages and lack health insurance, from spreading COVID-19.
Many business owners feel they can run their businesses and not run afoul of the limits on group size and social distancing.
Jason Verlinde, an insurance agent in Richmond in northern Macomb County, said he knows of many small business owners who understand the need to stay safe.
“It’s a combination of frustrations and that things could be opened up more in certain industries using common sense,” he said.
He works with the owner of a greenhouse that has $250,000 in Easter lilies. They can’t take them to Eastern Market in Detroit or big retailers — and they can’t sell them directly to customers because that trip is “non-essential.”
“I think it’s a ‘common-sense’ frustration,” Verlinde said. “I don’t think anyone thinks they should be able to go to a high school football game or go to a restaurant and sit side-by-side.”
The Michigan Conservative Coalition on Friday announced plans for “operation gridlock” at the state Capitol.
The grassroots group is urging citizens and small business owners who have “had enough of Lansing’s erratic, unilateral orders that threaten Michiganders’ economic existence” to surround the Capitol building in their cars on Wednesday, displaying signs, making noise and being as disruptive as possible from the confines of their own car.
The Michigan Republican Party has repeatedly accused Whitmer of attempting to “audition” for the vice presidential nomination by criticizing the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in nationally televised interviews on CNN, MSNBC and other cable networks.
‘Our lives are not normal’
That people are chafing at the restrictions is understandable, said Bernie Porn, a Michigan pollster. Some of them are “debatable,” he said.
It’s also understandable that people in Michigan are getting upset.
The international polling firm of Stan Greenberg, who rose to fame identifying the “Reagan Democrats” of metro Detroit, has found that people around the world are showing less support for leaders as the virus spreads and restrictions remain in place.
After a “horrible” winter for plowing work, Hawley, owner of the Alpena lawn care company, said he was counting on a productive spring and said he is confident he and his employee could adhere to social distancing guidelines by working more than 6 feet apart.
“I own a rental property, so I have a little revenue there, but other than that, this is my livelihood,” he said of the lawn company he started in 2014. “I put all my cards on the table for this.”
Sims, the Beaumont doctor, said he recognizes the frustration but cautioned patience. There’s still no cure or vaccine for the coronavirus, and the only way to stop it is to prevent people from seeing each other.
“I know just how close we got to overwhelming our healthcare system,” he said.
“I don’t blame anyone for being frustrated. Our lives are not normal. They are not what we want them to be.”
“It’s not simple and it’s not easy,” he said.
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