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Michigan business organizations were publicly supportive of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home order, although they surely want more clarity on how to proceed.
Statements from a variety of organizations offered understanding about the need for the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the resulting chaos and havoc on employers, employees and the state’s economy.
Yet businesses also want more guidance on what kinds of businesses exactly are affected by the order.
“We know it’s going to be tough. We also know it’s important to do what we can now to stem the tide, and this executive order certainly airs on the side of caution. We are urging businesses and business leaders to use their best judgment to do what they can to aid in this public health battle,” said Andy Johnston, vice president of government and corporate affairs at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
“This is confusing and chaotic for everyone as we try to really get a grip on this,” Johnston said.
The Grand Rapids Chamber also wants clarity on the order’s effect on hotels and critical skilled trades such construction and HVAC professionals who work on homes, as well as Michigan-based companies that do business with businesses outside of the state.
The state by Monday afternoon set up a FAQ website to offer some clarity. Hotels may stay open by “but must limit functions and operations.”
“Under the order, workers at hotels and motels are critical infrastructure workers to the extent they ‘provide temporary or permanent housing … (and) shelter ... for ... otherwise needy individuals.” The order defines “otherwise needy individuals” as “anyone residing in a hotel or motel at the time the order was issued or anyone seeking shelter during the current pandemic,” according to the state website.
While Whitmer said the state could fine and force businesses violating the order to close, Johnston believes those trying to comply won’t have to worry.
“I think the state will be gracious with businesses that follow the intent and spirit” of the executive order, he said
Gov. Whitmer issued the order Monday for residents to stay home and for non-essential businesses to close.
The executive order took effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and remains in effect until 11:59 p.m. April 13. The order prohibits “in-person work that is not necessary to sustain or protect life” and states that “no person or entity shall operate a business or conduct operations that require workers to leave their homes or places of residence except to the extent that those workers are necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations.”
A few hours after Gov. Whitmer issued the executive order, the Michigan office of the National Federation of Independent Businesses put out a statement asking for more clarity on who’s affected and who’s not.
The order follows federal guidance released last week that defines “critical infrastructure workers” as people in health care and public health; law enforcement, public safety and first responders; food and agriculture; energy; water and wastewater; transportation and logistics; public works; communications and I.T. (including the news media); critical manufacturing; hazardous materials; financial services; chemical supply chains and safety; and defense industrial base.
Under the order, grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations and pharmacies can remain open.
“Small business owners appreciate and understand the seriousness of the current situation with the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Charlie Owens, state director for NFIB in Michigan. “However, we need more specificity on the types of businesses that can remain open during the period of the ‘Stay at Home’ order.”
Owens pointed to a similar order last week in Ohio that had a list of specific businesses that were “essential” and can remain open.
“The stay at home order issued by the Ohio Department of Health included a more detailed description of small businesses that included contractors, laundering and dry-cleaning, hardware supply stores, and more and that would be helpful here,” he said.
In crafting the order, the Whitmer administration was listening to the business community across the state while trying for a balance of “doing what we can to aid in this public health battle while mitigating what can potentially be just devastating economic consequences,” Johnston said.
In a daily briefing for members on the pandemic, Small Business Association of Michigan CEO Rob Fowler said the governor’s office reached out to business groups for their views.
“The governor actually has been thinking about this for a while and to her credit reached out to the business community,” Fowler said. “We had a busy weekend really trying to shape it a little bit.”
Still, SBAM “would be advocating for some things that maybe were missed,” President Brian Calley said.
“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done on this. So this isn’t the end, this is just the starting point,” he said.
The governor issued the order after the number of COVID-19 cases in Michigan doubled over the weekend to 1,232. One model anticipates “that if we stay on our current trajectory,” Michigan will become “just like Italy” and 70 percent of the state’s 10 million residents could get infected and 1 million would require hospitalization, Whitmer said.
“This virus is spreading exponentially,” she said, noting that Michigan has 25,000 acute care hospital beds.
Calley warned that the number of cases will rise quickly as more testing occurs.
While the governor’s order might seem like “a dramatic or drastic action to take, probably two weeks from now it won’t seem (that way). The context will be different,” Calley said.
“There’ll be a clearer picture about what the overall infection rate is, and what the load on the hospitals is, and I do suspect in a few weeks that this action looking back is going to look very reasonable, even if it doesn’t look very reasonable to you today,” he said.
The governor was willing to make some adjustments before issuing the executive, according to Fowler.
Among the worries for businesses was that the order “cannot choke off the supply lines or supply chains of the critical industries,” he said. “They answered with a fairly workable kind of solution.”
“Critical infrastructure” companies are allowed to declare themselves as such and “anybody in their supply chain, they can also designate. It doesn’t have to be approved by any kind of bureaucracy,” Calley said.
“If fact, it doesn’t even have to be reported, but you do have to keep documentation. It makes it very clear in the order that you’re expected to keep documentation for who your suppliers are that are necessary,” he said.
For companies that have different lines of business, they may continue producing components that “are part of the critical infrastructure,” but must halt production of ones that are not, Calley said.
Businesses also may continue “basic operations” on site “just to keep the thing alive down to its essence,” Fowler said.
Basic operations include processing transactions and payroll, maintaining I.T. systems, paying bills, maintaining inventory, checking on the security of the business, and making bank deposits. Companies have until March 30 to designate staff they consider needed to maintain minimum operations.