Gov. Whitmer signs order to allow construction next week

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LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday signed an executive order allowing construction and real estate companies, as well as businesses that primarily work outdoors, to reopen May 7.

The executive order, which the governor said earlier in the week was coming, requires the businesses going back to work to set up safety measures for workers. Those include, among other things:

  • Establishing a site supervisor to enforce COVID-19 controls,
  • Conducting daily health screenings,
  • Identifying high-risk areas and controlling them,
  • And making sure there are enough places for workers to wash or sanitize their hands.

The order also allows for manufacturing that facilitates safe and socially distant workplaces, like plants that make partitions and cubicles.

“Work is going to look and feel a little bit different than it has in the past,” Whitmer said at a Friday afternoon press conference, “but these necessary steps will keep us safe as we reengage our economy.”

She reiterated that decisions about what businesses would reopen and when were not up for negotiation with the Legislature. She compared reopening the economy to turning a dial, not flipping a switch.

Looking ahead in economic reengagement, Whitmer said the automotive companies and autoworkers union have been looking into safety measures for when it’s their turn to go back to work.

“That will be an upcoming turn of the dial assuming everyone continues to do the right thing and we see our numbers keep going down,” she said.

>>Slides from Friday briefing

42,356 CASES AND 3,866 DEATHS IN MICHIGAN

According to data released by the state Friday, Michigan has recorded an additional 77 deaths linked to coronavirus for a total of 3,866. An additional 977 cases were confirmed, bringing the total to 42,356.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said she was encouraged of the continuing plateau in case figures, which she credited to Michigan residents following the stay-at-home order, though she said the threat of a second spike in cases remained if social distancing measures were abandoned.

The outbreak has been concentrated in and around Detroit. Wayne County has recorded 16,970 cases (241 more cases than the day prior) and 1,802 deaths (20 more). Oakland County has had 7,423 confirmed cases and 705 deaths. Macomb County has had 5,623 cases and 614 deaths.

Genesee County has had 1,600 cases and 192 deaths.

Within the Michigan Department of Corrections, 1,560 inmates have the virus and 42 have died after contracting it.

There were three more deaths in Kent County for a total of 36. There were also 121 new cases confirmed for a total of 1,600.

Kalamazoo County reported six more deaths (not in a single day) for a total of 19. It said all the patients who have died after contracting the virus have been over the age of 60.

Calhoun County and Ottawa County each two more deaths for totals of 15 and 11, respectively. Calhoun County has 231 confirmed cases and Ottawa County 254.

Khaldun noted an increased rate of rise in West Michigan.

“Compared to last week, we had a 48% rise in cases in Kent County, 41% in Muskegon County and 23% in Ottawa County. Testing has also increased in these areas, which is very good. We also know that if we test more people, we’re going to find more disease, and that is definitely what we want. Knowing where the disease is is how we will help to stop the spread,” Khaldun said. “We also know that in this area of the state, 10% to 20% of the tests done are coming back positive and ICU bed utilization is about 70%.”

Kent County health officials have said they are conducting targeted testing in high-risk places like nursing homes and workplaces where there may be an outbreak. They also noted that West Michigan may see similar numbers in a plateau over coming weeks.

Khaldun promised the state would be looking with local health departments and looking for pockets of outbreaks. She specifically noted cases at workplaces, including food processing facilities. She did not name any, but Herbruck’s egg farm near Ionia has had dozens of cases traced back to it and as of Thursday, the JBS meat packing plant in Plainwell had 94 associated cases.

“We think that in some cases, it’s actually spread into the community,” she said. “Our local health departments are really on top of this.”

Both Herbruck’s and JBS are still operating. Management at both has said they are taking measures to screen employees and provide them with personal protection equipment, and keep the workplace clean.

Michigan has ramped up testing in the last week or so. Across the state Wednesday, the most recent day for which state data is available, 10,452 samples were tested for coronavirus — the largest number in a single day yet by thousands. Of those tests, 11.6% came back positive. The percentages of positive tests are looking better. One week prior, on April 22, about 7,500 samples were run and nearly 17% were positive. One week before that, on April 15, about 4,600 samples were tested and nearly 29% were positive.

COVID-19 presents with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Everyone who has 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.

STATE OF EMERGENCY

Whitmer on Thursday extended Michigan’s state of emergency through May 28. That state of emergency is separate from her stay-at-home order, still in effect through May 15. She also signed another executive order keeping gyms, barbershops, entertainment venues, bars and restaurant dining rooms closed until May 28.

The Democratic governor’s move to extend the state of emergency came after the Republican-led state Legislature refused to do it. The Legislature did authorize suing her over the way she has handled the pandemic, though no such lawsuit had been filed as of Friday afternoon.

Whitmer described the Legislatures’ moves as “political gamesmanship without substance,” saying that lawmakers know a state of emergency is necessary.

“We are not out of this crisis, and it is important that we do the next right thing and it’s going to be driven by the data and it’s going to be driven by medical experts, not political pulls, not political posturing and not political maneuvers like you saw yesterday at the Capitol,” she said.

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