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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has escalated the state’s effort to stop the exponential growth in coronavirus cases, issuing a stay-home order for residents and for non-essential businesses to close.
Michigan now joins Illinois and Ohio with stay-home orders that “suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life,” according to Whitmer’s executive order signed this morning. The order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on March 24 and lasts through April 13.
The order follows federal guidance released last week that define “critical infrastructure workers” as those 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.
Whitmer’s order also includes child care workers and designated suppliers and distribution centers. See here for a full list of workers affected by the order.
Businesses that don’t comply with the order will face “ramifications,” Whitmer said, including potential fines.
“If you’re not an essential business, you need to close,” Whitmer said.
While she recognized concerns expressed over the weekend from the business community, Whitmer said the economic impacts of not taking stronger action now would result in more economic pain.
She encouraged residents to get outside for fresh air if needed while maintaining social distancing. Grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations and pharmacies are among critical businesses that will remain open.
Whitmer’s order comes as the virus is “spreading exponentially” in Michigan, Whitmer said in a news conference today. Michigan now has 1,232 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 15 deaths as of this morning.
The stay-home order is meant to avoid stressing Michigan’s health care system, including available critical care beds and ventilators. Some hospitals have sought donations for equipment like masks and sanitizer.
“The current trajectory we’re on looks a lot like Italy,” Whitmer said. “We’ve got to do everything in our power to keep that from happening in Michigan.”
An hour before the governor issued the order, Ann Arbor-based research firm Altarum released results of a survey conducted in recent days that shows a vast majority of Michigan residents will shelter in place.
Of the more than 7,000 residents who took the online poll since Thursday, 90 percent said they would follow the recommendation.
“These are very early results, but based on activity so far we’re finding the public is eager to share how they are coping with this rapidly evolving public health crisis,” said Altarum chief operating officer Dan Armijo. “It’s critical to understand public perception in this rapidly changing crisis in order to effectively influence specific behaviors and reduce the spread of coronavirus.”
Virtually every respondent said social distancing is necessary and nearly two-thirds indicated somebody in their household is at high risk. One in 10 reported possible COVID-19 symptoms in their household.
The top concerns among survey respondents were a relative getting infected, access to testing, and getting infected themselves. Respondents were least worried about running out of necessities.
Following reports over the weekend about major business groups opposing a stay-home order, at least one group praised Whitmer’s action.
Business Leaders for Michigan said the COVID-19 pandemic represents “a public health emergency that is unprecedented in our lifetime. The first priority in a situation like this has to be to protect the public’s health and safety.”
“The action the governor took today will impact all of us but was necessary to ensure that all Michiganders have the best opportunity to remain healthy through this crisis,” BLM said in a statement. We understand that the economic impacts of this period will be painful for Michigan’s residents and businesses, and we stand ready to help the Governor and our state manage both the mitigation process and the recovery that will follow.”
Many employers already have been having employees work at home because of the pandemic.
At Grand Rapids-based Priority Health, which employs about 1,000 people in West Michigan and more than 1,500 statewide, 99 percent of employees have been working at home and “are very productive,” CEO Joan Budden said.
For employees who lack internet access, the health insurer is looking at whether they can continue to go to the office, Budden said.
Budden views Gov. Whitmer’s order as “trying to make it measured so it’s balanced between what we need to do and being conscious about the impact on the economy, but effective.”
Priority Health has always had a strong work-at-home policy, which enabled employees to move quickly to transition to working at home, Budden said.
“That actually has gone better than most people expected, I think,” she said.
Fifth Third Bank, the market leader in West Michigan, as well commended the governor for “a swift response to the pandemic and joins in asking its customers to stay-at-home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.”
“We fully support Gov. Whitmer’s actions to help protect our fellow citizens and encourage anyone not engaged in essential work or activity to stay at home,” said Greg Carmichael, chairman, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bancorp. “Across our footprint, we have adjusted our banking experience to keep our customers and employees safe. We appreciate our customers’ understanding during these challenging times that we will accommodate their needs for access to essential banking services as we navigate through this unprecedented situation together.”
Fifth Third branch lobbies remain open to serve customers by appointment only. Many banks have made the same move and encourage customers to use ATMs, online or mobile banking.
Fifth Third today also said it will make a special payment of up to $1,000 to branch, operations and call center employees “who are providing essential banking services on site to customers during the coronavirus pandemic.” The bank will pay employees in $500 installments in April and May.
MiBiz Senior Reporter Mark Sanchez contributed reporting.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with comment from Priority Health CEO Joan Budden and Fifth Third.