Manufacturers will be allowed to resume production on Monday, May 11, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday, with major auto manufacturers allowed to reopen a week later on May 18.
She also signed an executive order Thursday extending the state’s stay-at-home order two more weeks through May 28 and outlined a six-step economic re-engagement plan to reopen the state’s economy.
The return to manufacturing will mark the largest economic reopening since the first stay-at-home order went into effect on March 24, which shut down most businesses that aren’t considered essential for human life as a coronavirus outbreak descended on Michigan. Suppliers will have a one-week head start to ramp up production before automakers return to work.
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Nearly 20 percent of the state’s economy is in the manufacturing industry, Whitmer said, calling it a “sizable, but incremental” re-engagement. About 4 to 5 percent of the workforce is already considered an essential worker under existing restrictions, she said.
“This is truly good news for our state,” Whitmer said. “It’s a major step forward on our MI Safe Start plan to re-engage our economy safely and responsibly.”
Businesses will be required to abide by safety measures including daily coronavirus symptom screenings, barring visits from non-employees, staggering shifts to avoid crowding, establishing six-foot distance guidelines between workers and requiring masks for onsite workers.
The Big Three auto manufacturers — General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler — will start work with 25 percent of their employees and will be “phasing up from there.”
“As we’ve done the risk assessment, we feel comfortable that with these safety protocols we can safely re-engage,” she said.
Earlier this week, General Motors notified union workers that factories will reopen on May 18 and said some factories will ramp up next week in preparation.
“The companies contractually make that decision and we all knew this day would come at some point,” said United Auto Workers president Rory Gamble in a statement Wednesday. “Our UAW focus and role is and will continue to be, on health and safety protocols to protect our members.”
The rest of the stay-at-home order remains largely the same: People aren’t allowed to leave their homes except to get groceries, go to the pharmacy, exercise or other essential trips.
Michigan has been one of the hardest-hit states by the coronavirus, with 45,646 cases and 4,343 deaths from the virus as of Thursday morning. But the number of new cases and deaths every day has been flattening over the last few weeks, and the state has been increasing its capacity for testing and the health care systems are better able to serve patients’ needs, Whitmer said.
“We have to re-engage like a dial, not a switch that goes on or off, but a dial that we can turn and we can continue to turn the intensity up if everyone does their part,” she said.
The fourth phase will come when COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are clearly declining — which the state will hopefully enter “in short order,” Whitmer said. That is likely to allow people in other “lower-risk” businesses such as retail and offices to return to work with safety measures and reduced capacity. Small gatherings will also be allowed.
The fifth phase, in which outbreaks are quickly contained, will allow larger gatherings and most businesses to reopen with safety measures. That would include restaurants and bars reopening and in-person schooling and travel to resume.
In the sixth phase, Michiganders can return to normal.
“That’s going to be a while,” Whitmer said, and realistically will be out of reach until an effective therapy or vaccine is widely available.
The state may return to any of the earlier phases if cases spike and aren’t able to be contained.
Republican leaders — who have pushed for a faster economic reopening and on Wednesday sued the governor for unilaterally extending emergency declarations — criticized the timing of the move.
"It’s been nearly 60 days since Michigan announced its first cases of Covid-19 and the Governor is just now revealing that we are in phase three of her six-phase plan," Senate GOP spokesperson Amber McCann said in a statement. "Michiganders cannot be expected to wait for Governor Whitmer to dole out exceptions for parts of our economy and abide by orders that leave the majority of citizens wondering when the Governor will grant them permission to resume their lives."
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