Published in Economic Development
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Gov. Gretchen Whitmer COURTESY PHOTO

Whitmer: Michigan makes ‘big step forward’ in reengaging economy

BY Monday, June 01, 2020 04:40pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order today that moves Michigan into the next phase of a pandemic reopening plan and rescinds a statewide stay-home order in place since March 23.

The order paves the way for restaurants, bars and retail stores statewide to reopen in a week with capacity limits while allowing for gatherings of up to 100 people. It also comes at cities across the U.S. and in Michigan are under nightly curfews due to violence that followed peaceful protests against police brutality over the weekend.

The reopening will happen in stages over the next week. The phase 4 “improving” stage of Whitmer’s MI Safe Start plan indicates cases, hospitalizations and deaths are “clearly declining,” and low-risk businesses are allowed to open with strict safety measures. Residents are still encouraged to maintain social distancing and wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“The data has shown we’re ready to move the state into this next phase,” Whitmer said today, which she called a “big step forward.”

The state will effectively list which businesses can’t yet reopen yet as opposed to those that can, which Whitmer said is meant to “flip the mindset. It’s good news. We still have a strict responsibility to make sure every one of us is doing our part to lower the chance of a devastating second wave.”

Starting June 8, restaurants and bars will be restricted to 50 percent capacity limits as has been the case in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula since May 22. Whitmer said those two regions will move to phase five, the “containing” stage, later this week, which indicates outbreaks can be contained quickly and allows increased gathering sizes.

On Thursday, retail stores are able to fully reopen, but also with capacity limits.

“We are pleased that Gov. Whitmer is allowing retailers to open their doors to customers again. Retailers in northern Michigan proved it could be done safely and now the rest of Michigan’s retailers are being given that chance,” Michigan Retailers Association President and CEO Bill Hallan said in a statement. “Retailers were worried shoppers may be hesitant to venture out, but Memorial Day weekend in northern Michigan quickly revealed there is a pent-up demand. Many retailers all over the state said they’ve been busy with appointments and filling orders the past week, so we hope this broader opening allows more stability as stores recover from the shutdown.”

In another sign of re-engagement, the state Treasury Department announced today that retailers will begin redeeming bottle deposits on June 15. Refunds are capped at $25 daily, and during the initial phase, retailers must limit the volume of weekly returned beverage containers to no more than 140 percent of their average weekly collection volume, state officials said.

However, not all sectors of the state’s economy are ready for re-engagement. According to Whitmer’s order: “Other businesses and activities that necessarily involve close contact and shared surfaces, including gyms, hair salons, indoor theaters, tattoo parlors, casinos, and similar establishments, will remain closed for the time being.”

She said these businesses could reopen in the next two to three weeks.

Today’s press conference also followed a weekend of protests against police brutality, and violence that ensued in Lansing, Detroit and Grand Rapids. Earlier in the day, Whitmer was among state governors on a call with President Trump, who encouraged them to use force if necessary to stop violent protesters.

Whitmer said she was “very frustrated” with the call, adding that Trump’s remarks are the “antithesis of what we need as a country.”

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, the first African American to hold the office in Michigan, said the country is reeling from the systemic racism in U.S. institutions. The protests follow the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, who died after a white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes.  

“As a black man in America, it is hard enough to breathe on most days. The last few months this has become even more difficult,” Gilchrist said. “The scab covering the wounds of oppression has once again been ripped off. Black people across our nation are suffering and suffocating from an injustice that we know all too well.”

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