LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday lifted her stay-at-home order, allowed outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people and announced plans to let restaurants, bars and retail stores open across Michigan within the next week.
The move marks a major de-escalation of the state’s fight against COVID-19, the infectious disease that has sickened more than 57,000 Michigan residents since March, but only about 1,000 in the past week despite increased testing.
Michiganders have lived under broad restrictions since March 24, when Whitmer first restricted personal travel and ordered residents to stay at home whenever possible.
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“We've made some sacrifices when it comes to the global pandemic,” Whitmer said of the past 69 days. “We’re seeing our numbers continue to improve, and that is cause for feeling optimistic.”
Effective immediately, Michiganders are allowed to travel anywhere in the state and can gather outdoors in groups of up to 100 people, provided they maintain 6 feet apart from one another.
Retail stores across the state will be permitted to open for in-person customers on Thursday but will be required to adhere to new capacity limits and safety protocols.
And beginning June 8, all Michigan restaurant dining rooms and bars can reopen at half capacity.
Swimming pools and day camps for kids will also be permitted to reopen June 8. Unless local regulations prohibit it, libraries and museums can reopen the same day,subject to capacity limits.
Whitmer announced similar changes for northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula two weeks ago, but her new order applies to the entire state.
Only a handful of business types remain closed across Michigan, including gyms, hair salons, indoor theaters, tattoo parlors, casinos and “similar establishments,” according to her order, which says activities there “involve close contact and shared surfaces” that could allow the virus to spread.
Sen. Tom Barrett, a Charlotte Republican who has been critical of the governor’s handling of the economy during the pandemic, called news of a partial statewide reopening “overdue but certainly welcome.”
But he urged her to continue relaxing rules.
“People understand the risk with this now,” Barrett said. “We haven't overrun the health care system, we’ve stocked PPE, we’ve built thousands of ventilators. We can’t continue to keep people locked in their homes forever.”
Whitmer previously reopened manufacturing, construction and outdoor businesses like golf clubs and landscapers statewide.
And the governor said Monday she may soon allow theaters, indoor gyms and personal service companies to reopen in northern Michigan, indicating she plans to issue another executive order later this week.
“It will depend on the numbers, of course, and we’ll be watching it closely,” she said. “Local leaders always retain the ability to keep restrictions in place if they think they need them.”
Whitmer also made clear that she could tighten restrictions again if Michigan is hit by a second wave of COVID-19.
To that point, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, warned the “threat of the disease has not gone away.”
“There's no vaccine. There is no antiviral treatment, and we do not expect to have one for several months,” Khaldun said. “Just one person can still infect many, many more people. So it's incredibly important that businesses open up, they do so in the safest way possible.”
Restaurants and bars allowed to reopen June 8 can allow only 50 percent of their usual customers inside at any one time, must keep six feet of distance between tables and ensure that workers have personal protection equipment like masks.
Allowing more owners to reopen next week is “huge” and comes “not a moment too soon,” Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, told Bridge Magazine.
“This industry needed this opportunity, and we are appreciative and ready to get back to work.”
Restaurants and bars in northern Michigan accepted a “huge responsibility” by reopening before the rest of the state have been doing well, Winslow said.
“Even some of the heavy hitters like Short’s [Brewing Company] managed to have huge crowds and manage them safely with distance in-between anyone waiting in line to get in, anyone who is in the restaurant and everyone operating with the proper amount of PPE,” he said.
Retailers that had been allowed to operate by appointment will also face new regulations as they reopen to more in-store customers. Smaller stores with less than 50,000 square feet will be required to operate at 25 percent capacity, for instance.
“Retailers in northern Michigan proved that it can be done safely, so we’re glad the rest of the state’s retailers are being given the same chance,” said Meegan Holland, vice president of communications and marketing for the Michigan Retailers Association.
Whitmer’s new executive order moves the whole state into the fourth phase — “improving” — of the economic recovery plan she developed with a team of business and health care leaders.
“The data has shown that we’re ready to carefully move our state into this next phase,” the governor said. “We owe it to our frontline heroes to make sure we get this right.”