As phased-in regional approach to putting Michigan’s economy back to work from the COVID-19 pandemic will start with workplaces that have the lowest risk and include new practices for employers to follow.
The state likely will require employers to check employees for symptoms when arriving at work and to practice distancing within the workplace, said Gerry Anderson, the executive chairman of DTE Energy Inc. and the co-chair of the Michigan Economic Recovery Council. The availability of personal protection equipment in the workplace “is going to be vital,” Anderson said.
“So masks will be ubiquitous in almost every workplace in Michigan,” he said. “Gloves and face shields will be in widespread use as well.”
The Michigan Economic Recovery Council is advising Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on a plan for the state’s economy once stay-home restrictions ease.
The panel of businesses, labor and health care executives has two goals: “To put Michigan on the path to full economic recovery as safely and as quickly as is feasible,” and to carefully stage the economic recovery “in a way that safeguards the health of our residents, and the health of our workers,” Anderson said Monday as he joined the governor in previewing the plan.
“The basic idea then …. is to phase the restart of Michigan’s economy in regions of the state that have clearly stabilized, generally starting that phase-in with the lowest-risk workplace types and expanding over time, and always deploying these new best practices as we stage in new work,” Anderson said.
The Michigan Economic Recovery Council divided the state into eight geographic regions based on where people travel to and from work each day and the presence of local hospitals, plus the status of the pandemic and its progression, Anderson said.
The panel has been developing best practices for various workplace types to mitigate risks. The practices are reviewed by University of Michigan occupational health experts to “make sure we’ve got them right,” Anderson said.
Once finalized, the practices “are the basis for directives that will be issued by the state, which will define rules of the road, so to speak, for COVID-19 (and what) will be required in the workplace in the future,” Anderson said.
The economic plan coming together seeks to balance getting the state’s economy going again without triggering a second wave of COVID-19 cases across the state. Whitmer described the planning as “a rigorous process designed to save lives.”
“It’s important to point out that stopping is simple. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s simple. Re-engaging is complicated,” Whitmer said. “We can’t eliminate risk completely, but we need to get it down as low as we possibly can manage, so being thoughtful about what this really looks like, this re-engagement, is important.”
Whitmer warned that if a second COVID-19 wave emerges, the state will return to tighter restrictions. She plans to ask the state Legislature to extend the current state of emergency by 28 days.
Incremental moves to restart economic activity in the state could begin within the next week or two with the residential and commercial construction industries and outdoor enterprises, Whitmer said, adding that “we’re taking a hard look at industrial to see if we’ve got the protocols and what precisely that will look like.”
“I anticipate in the coming days I’ll have a lot more to say on the timeline,” she said. “What we want to do as we turn this dial is to re-engage incrementally, so we can continue forward motion, not to jump in and have to move backward. None of us wants that. This is really the smartest way to proceed.”
As the plan for the state economy gets put together, a West Michigan business advocacy group wants “one plan” for employers to follow.
Doug DeVos, co-chairman at Amway and past chair of the West Michigan Policy Forum, said coronavirus and COVID-19 are “not just going to go away.” Getting businesses back open and the economy moving again requires a single plan and a phased-in approach, plus a reliance on data, science and facts “so we can have objective steps as we go forward,” DeVos said Monday during a Zoom gathering with local health care executives.
“We really need to coalesce around something we can all get behind and move forward,” he said. “We are going to rely on our medical experts, absolutely. We can’t just jump into something and make mistakes and costs thousands of lives, or take a step backward from the work that we already have accomplished.”
The need for a balanced approach was illustrated as well Monday in a joint statement from the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) and the Michigan State Medical Society.
The two organizations said they are “standing together because public health and economic health are both essential and must be approached that way to move the state forward.” They agree and believe that a “thoughtful and careful approach must be taken that prioritizes both public health and workers’ opportunity to feed their families,” according to their statement.
Reopening the economy requires a phased-in, regional approach that “allows the state to evaluate and health providers to address any negative public health outcomes that may result,” according to SBAM and the Medical Society’s statement.
“Reopening Michigan won’t and can’t be like flipping on a light switch,” SBAM President Brian Calley said in a statement. “Public health and the economy must be considered together for us to truly recover from this crisis. Doing so will help restart our economy and protect the health of Michiganders, which will benefit us all.”
Finding the “new normal” requires:
- Continuing social distancing and other strategies for the foreseeable future to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus
- Having people who can work from home continue to do so
- Wearing masks in public and using other personal protection equipment, especially for workers who interact with the public
- Daily health screenings for employees and regular sanitation and hygiene schedules for washing of hands, tools, surfaces.
“COVID-19 has had devastating human and economic effect in Michigan and though we seem to be headed in a more positive direction, it’s clear that we will have to get used to a ‘new normal,’” said Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society, in a statement. “We need to remember that now more than ever, we’re in this together and need each other to get through this.”
As of Monday, Michigan had 38,210 confirmed COVID-19 cases during the pandemic, an increase of 432 cases from the day before. There have been 3,407 deaths in the state from COVID-19, a one-day increase of 92.