‘MI Safe Start’ plan will relaunch businesses in waves

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday announced the MI Safe Start plan for economic reengagement, saying it would be an “incremental and cautious” plan to get things moving again while preventing a second wave of coronavirus infections.

“We are in a position to start thinking about what the future looks like,” she said. “In the coming weeks, we will continue reengaging sectors of our economy and putting more Michiganders back to work. I’m going to sound like a broken record, but we have to be really smart. We have to get this right. None of us … wants to see a second wave, and we can’t risk that from happening.”

She said there would not be a concrete timeline for developments, saying they would be based on data about the spread of the virus and that she would keep citizens informed about what’s happening. If cases begin to spike again, she said she may slow reopening or strengthen restrictions again. But if things look good for a period of a few weeks, she said she would keep moving forward.

“Stopping is simple — that doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s simple. Reengaging is complicated,” Whitmer said.

The governor was joined at the press conference by business and health care leaders leading the new Michigan Economic Recovery Council, which, with help from experts at the University of Michigan, will advise the progression of the economic reengagement. It is taking cues from businesses overseas that have already reopened and from essential businesses both domestically and abroad that have kept operating during the pandemic.

MERC has broken down the state’s economy both by job type and region, based on how people travel to and from work and the health care system in each area as it looks into how to relaunch business.

“The basic idea … is to phase in 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,” MERC co-chair Gerry Anderson, the executive chair of DTE Energy, explained.

The council is creating health safety best practices for each workplace, like symptom checks upon entry, social distancing and intensified sanitation. Anderson added the use of masks will be “ubiquitous in almost every workplace in Michigan,” and gloves and face shields would be used in many places.

Widespread closures aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus have been brutal for Michigan workers. The state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency said Monday that it has given 1,018,315 unemployed Michiganders as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak more than $1.6 billion in benefits. Whitmer acknowledged the hardships Michigan residents are experiencing, but thanked them for complying with the stay-at-home order and helping to keep COVID-19 under control.

CONSTRUCTION MAY BE NEXT TO RESTART

Last week, Whitmer extended Michigan’s stay-at-home order through May 15. Under it, people must now wear masks while in enclosed public places like grocery stores. Places like gyms, movie theaters, bars and restaurant dining rooms must remain closed, but the revised order also immediately loosened several other restrictions, including for landscaping and plant nurseries.

On an interview with Politico, Whitmer said she may soon allow construction to restart if coronavirus hospitalizations continue to drop and testing rises.

“I would anticipate in the coming days if our trajectory of hospitalizations continues to go down and our ability to test continues to go up that we will go into the next low-risk category,” Whitmer said. “That might include some construction, for instance. That might include some additional outdoor enterprises.”

However, at the press conference, Whitmer said that while construction would be one of the first industries to go back to work, it wasn’t quite time yet.

MORE THAN 38,000 COVID-19 CASES IN MICHIGAN

According to state data released Monday afternoon, 432 new COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Michigan, bringing the total to 38,210. The daily increase in cases is the lowest since March 22.

The state has recorded another 92 deaths linked to coronavirus, bringing the total to 3,407.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun on Monday said cases are continuing to plateau, but stressed that there are still many people sick, many are still dying and that different parts of the state are seeing different developments.

In Michigan, the outbreak has been concentrated in and around Detroit. Wayne County, including the city, has seen 15,872 cases (124 more than the day prior) and 1,622 deaths (42 more than the day previous). Oakland County has 6,913 cases and 631 deaths. Macomb County has 5,245 cases and 527 deaths. Genesee County has 1,483 cases and 165 deaths.

According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, as of Monday, a total of 1,363 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19. State figures show 37 have died. A majority of the confirmed cases are at the Lakeland Correctional Facility near Coldwater. A total of 254 MDOC staff members, including 31 at the Lakeland facility, have tested positive for coronavirus. The state says all prisoners at Lakeland will be tested for COVID-19 by the end of the week.

The state has expedited the parole process to try to minimize the prison population and slow the spread of the virus behind bars.

Kent County recorded two more deaths, bringing the total to 34. The total number of cases is now 1,100. With 69 more cases than the day prior, 16% of all new cases reported statewide were in Kent County.

Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties each recorded one more death for totals of 12 and 11, respectively. Kalamazoo County says all its patients who have died have been older than the age of 60. Kalamazoo County has a total of 300 cases and Calhoun County 203.

COVID-19 presents with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. For most who contract it, symptoms are mild. Though anyone can get it and anyone can develop a serious case, the people most at risk to develop severe complications are older people and those with preexisting health problems.

Everyone who has coronavirus symptoms and essential workers who are not showing symptoms can now get tested. You can find a testing location near you on the state’s website and get information on how to set up an appointment.

On Saturday, the most recent day for which state data is available, labs ran 5,874 samples for coronavirus and about 13% came back positive. Those percentages are improving; one week prior, about 4,500 samples were tested and 21% came back positive. One week before that, about 3,200 samples were tested and nearly 30% were positive.

Whitmer, a Democrat, said Monday that she intends to ask the Republican-led Michigan Legislature to extend the state of emergency for coronavirus another 28 days; it’s currently set to expire at the end of April.

The state of emergency is the declaration that puts the state government in position to take special actions; it is not the same as the governor’s stay-at-home and other executive orders aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. Whitmer argues Michigan law gives her the power to maintain the state of emergency without the Legislature, though she says she wants to work with lawmakers.

“I have multiple distinct independent authorities of constitutional and statutory power to keep people safe as the governor of the state Michigan,” she said. “The emergency powers that I have as governor do not depend on an extension from the Legislature, but the protections for our health care workers do and so it’s better for everyone if we work together to get this right and that’s precisely what I am trying to do.”

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