EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with comments from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Association of Michigan and the Michigan State Medical Society.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has outlined a new plan that lifts restrictions on restaurants, event venues and workplaces as the state meets a series of COVID-19 vaccination thresholds.
Under Whitmer’s “MI Vacc to Normal” plan, the state would allow in-person work to return for all business sectors two weeks after 55 percent of the population 16 years and older, or more than 4.45 million Michigan residents, is fully vaccinated.
At 60 percent, or more than 4.85 million residents fully vaccinated, the state would increase indoor capacity at sports stadiums, conference centers, banquet halls and funeral homes to 25 percent. The state also would increase capacity to 50 percent for exercise facilities and gyms and lift curfews on restaurants and bars.
Two weeks after 65 percent, or 5.26 million residents are vaccinated, the state would lift all indoor percentage capacity limits and only require social distancing between parties, and further ease limits on residential social gatherings.
Once the vaccination rate hits 70 percent, the state within two weeks would lift orders on gatherings, the use of face masks and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services would “no longer employ broad mitigation measures unless unanticipated circumstances arise, such as the spread of vaccine-resistant variants,” the governor’s office announced this morning.
Business advocates say the governor’s plan offers what they have long sought amid the state-imposed restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic: Specific targets to meet to get restrictions lifted and fully reopen Michigan’s economy.
“To have goals in place that are achievable and allow us to plan for the future is welcome news after 13 months of uncertainty,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “This is the kind of guidance we have been asking for on behalf of our members. There is still work to be done to get West Michigan back on the track it was on pre-pandemic. We’ve known that vaccines could provide a path out of this pandemic and now, with these goals, we have a plan in place to continue moving the economy forward.”
Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley said Whitmer’s plan “does exactly” what’s been sought.
“This pandemic has been extremely difficult for everyone, and now we know what’s needed to help us return to more normal activities,” Calley said. “Widespread vaccinations are the way out of this pandemic, and we urge Michiganders who have not gotten a vaccination yet to do so.”
As of today, more than 6.8 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Michigan and 4 million residents — or 49.6 percent of the state’s 8 million residents 16 and older — had been fully vaccinated, according to a state dashboard.
Medical experts generally cite the 70 percent threshold as what’s needed to achieve so-called “herd immunity” that can bring the pandemic under control and prevent spread of the coronavirus.
“On our path to vaccinating 70 percent of Michiganders 16 and up, we can take steps to gradually get back to normal while keeping people safe,” Whitmer said in a statement.
The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association called the governor’s plan “encouraging” and said that at the present vaccination rate and the state’s goal of getting 100,000 people vaccinated daily, reaching the first and second phases could come “in a few short weeks.”
“Our state’s bars and restaurants have been waiting for an indication of the end of the pandemic,” MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis said in a statement. “Having a set plan to get establishments fully reopened is promising.”
“Phase 2, which will expand operations for large indoor venues, will help those businesses that have had to cancel weddings, fundraisers and events for more than a year,” Ellis added. “While bars and restaurants are looking forward to reaching Phase 4, for a full reopening, we wish more was included for our industry in earlier phases. Currently, surrounding states are following guidelines that we won’t hit until the third phase.”
Today’s statement from the governor’s office included comments supporting the governor’s plan.
Bryan Rief, chair of the Michigan Fitness Club Association and CEO of Planet Fitness Michigan Group, called the plan “a step in the right direction.”
Larisa Draves, executive director of the Michigan Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, said the COVID-19 pandemic has “been especially difficult on our tourism and hospitality industry.”
“Having a plan for further reopening provides continued hope for all Michigan citizens and for our industry,” Draves said in a statement encouraging “all Michiganders to do their part by getting vaccinated.”
Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society, said in a separate statement that Whitmer’s plan finally “lays out the path to returning our economy and much of our daily lives back to pre-pandemic norms, which is what we all want.”
Mukkamala reiterated that “COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and readily available to everyone 16 years and older in Michigan.”