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Major business groups in Michigan are recommending Gov. Gretchen Whitmer avoid a “shelter-in-place” order, warning that such a move to help stop the spread of the coronavirus could be disruptive to supply chains that keep essential facilities like grocery stores and hospitals operating.
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Association of Michigan are in agreement that a stay-home order is not yet necessary. Chamber CEO Rich Studley sent a two-page letter to Whitmer on Friday, which is also supported by the Detroit Regional Chamber.
Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said the administration is reviewing Studley’s letter and declined to provide further comment.
“Nothing to add besides simply reiterating that there are no plans for a statewide shutdown,” Brown said Saturday afternoon.
Whether Michigan would move to a shelter-in-place status as California, New York and Illinois have done has sparked widespread speculation in the past few days. Whitmer has said it’s being looked into but Michigan is “not there” yet.
Studley’s letter, sent to Whitmer on Friday, recommends against a stay-home order that “starts from the premise that most, if not all, 877,000 businesses in Michigan should be closed, while a select few are allowed to stay open.”
“Not all Michigan businesses need to cease operations due to the threat of COVID-19,” the letter says. “For example, many businesses provide essential services and goods to our citizens. We cannot risk a disruption in the supply chain or a break in the distribution cycle. In addition, many businesses have non-interruptible operations and those operations need to be protected as we move forward. Finally, we would urge you to allow businesses to continue operations unless there is a high public health risk to employees or the general public.”
Michigan now has 787 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including eight deaths, one in Kent County and seven in metro Detroit.
Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan and former lieutenant governor under Gov. Rick Snyder, said SBAM is in “total agreement” with the Chamber’s letter.
“We have deep, deep concerns about the ability of the government to define and let alone implement what is essential and not essential without a long lead time,” Calley told MiBiz.
He cited grocery stores in particular, some of which are already seeing a rush of customers following an order last week mostly closing bars, restaurants and venues.
“There would be upwards of hundreds of different types of businesses that would be required in order to keep (grocery stores) operating in a way that would be under an extraordinary amount of stress,” Calley sad. “The demand and the reaction would put so much stress on that system.”
Calley added: “The state should be identifying the activities that add risk and banning those activities, as opposed to doing a broad ban and trying to figure out what activities are essential for life.”
However, some cities and states have taken stronger measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Shelter-in-place orders generally shut down non-essential activity, but allow businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies to remain open.
Limiting the spread and “flattening the curve,” which describes spreading out the number of positive cases over time, is meant to avoid stressing hospital capacity. Health experts agree that the window is rapidly closing in Michigan to avoid that stress on health care facilities. Some hospitals are already running low on supplies and are seeking donations.
Calley is concerned a stay-at-home order could not only stress supplies but also cause panic.
“Health professionals know health. What they don’t know is public safety,” Calley said responding to criticism that business groups’ position could be perceived to downplay public health risks.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Michigan State University pediatrician who helped expose the Flint water crisis, said on Twitter Saturday: “I remember the last time Michigan put $$$ over public health. It didn’t go so well.”