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Stay at home, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says as coronavirus cases soar

Related: What Michigan’s coronavirus stay-at-home order means for residents

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday ordered Michigan residents to stay home unless they work in a “critical” industry or engage in permitted activities, escalating the ongoing fight against a deadly coronavirus spreading across the state and country. 

“This is a test unlike any we’ve seen before,” Whitmer said in an 11 a.m. news conference. “We are up to it. We will get through this. But be smart, take every precaution and do your part.”

The “stay home, stay safe” order takes effect one minute after midnight and will last at least three weeks, through April 13. People who do leave home for permitted reasons must adhere to social distancing measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The eight-page order, as signed by Whitmer, begins with a warning that it  “must be construed broadly to prohibit in-person work that is not necessary to sustain or protect life.”

But the order includes several exemptions for residents who leave home for work that is necessary to protect life or conduct “minimum basic operations,” including tasks to protect the value of company inventory or take care of animals. Businesses that employ “critical infrastructure workers,” including the health care industry,  can generally continue in-person operations under the order. 

The order also includes an exemption for “operations necessary to enable transactions that support the work of a business’s or operation’s critical infrastructure workers,” but does not elaborate on what that means.

Companies will have until the end of the month to designate critical infrastructure workers and those needed to continue basic minimum operations.

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“I would anticipate that there would be fines associated with not doing that, and they will be shut,” she said. “We have a moment to stem the crisis that we see unfolding before us, and it’s going to take all of us to take this action seriously.:” 

The order allows residents to leave the home for outdoor activity, including walking, hiking, running and biking, provided they maintain a 6-foot distance from one another.

Whitmer made clear that pharmacies and other important businesses will not close, and restaurants can continue with carry-out and delivery orders.

“Your grocery stores will be open,” Whitmer said. “I have checked on our whole supply chain for food, and it will be accessible. Do not panic. Do not hoard.”

The order comes as Michigan’s coronavirus case count continues to rise. As of Monday morning, there were 1,232 confirmed cases and 15 known deaths in the state, according to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive.

"If we do nothing, very rough models estimate that the number of cases in Michigan could increase five-fold in the next week," Khaldun said. "We are acting right now to decrease that number."

“The current trajectory that we're on looks a lot like Italy,” Whitmer said, referencing the European hotspot with more than 53,000 cases and 4,827 deaths as of Sunday.

The order reflects recommendations from Michigan business groups, whose leaders urged against overly broad action and spent the weekend discussing the parameters of a stay-home mandate with the Whitmer administration, said Rich Studely, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. 

Governors in at least eight states had already adopted some form of a shelter in place order, and some of the early orders were "blunt instruments" adopted out of necessity, Studley said. 

"I think one of the things that's helpful to the governor and our state is that, as challenging as the situation is here in Michigan, we've had the ability to learn from governors in states on the west coast and east coast where the coronavirus hit earlier and has been more severe," Studley said. 

Weekend conversations between business groups and the Whitmer administration included how to define essential industries that should be exempt from the order and how quickly certain businesses would be able to shut down in a safe fashion, Studley said. 

The chamber of commerce will urge members to "fully comply," he said. 

Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said business’ ability to self-designate their supply chain and non-essential businesses’ ability to designate critical employees will allow basic operations to continue and may make it easier for the economy to rebound once the crisis is over. 

Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, said the provisions that help businesses continue basic functions. 

“This doesn’t compromise [the public health response,] it makes it stronger,” he said. For example, a payroll company ensuring people continue to get paid in multiple industries, “that’s an enhancement. That protects the public health and ensures that there’s not undue disruptions to the things that still have to happen.”

The order uses federal guidelines to identify critical infrastructure workers exempt from the stay-home mandate, including those in health care and public health, law enforcement, food and agriculture, energy, water, transportation, "critical manufacturing" and chemical supply chains.

Michigan is also exempting workers in areas like child care and certain suppliers or distributors that serve critical industries.

Riley Beggin contributed to this report

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