Whitmer OKs nonessential health procedures, small gatherings

Coronavirus

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday further relaxed stay-at-home restrictions, saying a ban on nonessential health procedures would be lifted next week and that groups of up to 10 people can gather immediately ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

Retailers can reopen by appointment only, starting Tuesday, as long as there are no more than 10 customers inside at a time. People also can make an appointment to visit an auto dealer showroom. Social distancing requirements remain in place.

The stay-home order, which remains in effect through May 28, will likely be extended, she said.

“This will not look like business as usual, although it will start to look at little more normal,” Whitmer said during a news conference. Hours later, she won the first legal round over Republican lawmakers who challenged her authority to extend emergencies without their approval and order sweeping restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Restaurants will remain closed to dine-in customers, except in northern Michigan. The closure of places of public accommodation such as casinos, gyms and hair salons remains in effect statewide.

>>Online: Slides from Thursday press conference

“We have taken a lot of steps in the past few weeks,” the governor said, noting the previous reopening of industries statewide, such as manufacturing and construction, and the pending partial reopening Friday of bars, restaurants and retail stores in northern Michigan, where cases and deaths have been low. “We’ve got to take a pause and see what it means in terms of what happens with COVID-19 numbers and the potential spread.”

Nonessential surgeries and other services have been banned for two months as part of virus controls, and hospitals in the Detroit area have had to permanently or temporarily lay off employees while focusing on COVID-19 patients. Hospitals elsewhere in Michigan have made cuts, too, due to the delay in nonessential procedures. Many doctors have been conducting appointments via telemedicine, and dentists have closed their practices except for emergencies.

The ban on nonessential procedures will lift May 29, Whitmer said.

Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society, said physicians “would like to get back to taking care of our patients and catching up on a lot of work that has been put on hold. … We are ready to see you.”

A trade group said stores that previously were not deemed essential are ready to reopen after weeks of preparations, but its leader expressed disappointment that they cannot do so until the day after Memorial Day.

“Most retailers in Michigan are unnecessarily missing out on important holiday weekend sales,” said Bill Hallan, president and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association. “We look forward to working with the governor to accelerate the opening process.”

Restaurants, bars and other shops can reopen in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula Friday, the governor announced earlier this week, though those businesses must exercise safety precautions like limiting capacity, practicing social distancing and requiring workers to wear masks.

CORONAVIRUS CASES, DEATHS AND TESTING

Some 5,129 deaths in Michigan have been linked to coronavirus, with the state adding 69 deaths to the record Thursday. The state noted 31 of those deaths were discovered in a check of death certificates to find any that had not previously been reported.

Also according to data released Thursday, 501 more cases were confirmed Wednesday for a total of 53,510 since the outbreak began in March.

Wayne County, where Michigan’s outbreak has been the worst, has had 19,538 confirmed cases (106 more than the day previous) and 2,313 people have died (29 more). Oakland County has had 8,125 cases and 945 deaths. Macomb County has had 6,420 cases and 772 deaths.

In Genesee County, where Flint is, there have been 1,926 cases and 240 deaths.

Within the Michigan Department of Corrections, where every inmate is being tested, there have been 3,257 cases, 62 more than the day prior. The number of deaths linked to the virus stood at 60.

Kent County recorded two more deaths for a total of 62 and 109 more cases for a total of 3,145.

In Rockford, the much-loved Corner Bar announced Thursday that it would be closed for a while after a worker tested positive for the virus, which he got from a family member. He has been out of the restaurant since his family member tested positive for the virus and that he doesn’t have contact with customers. Still, Corner Bar said it was closing anyway to clean and screen its staff. It said it was in contact with the health department about next steps.

COVID-19 presents with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. You can find a testing location near you on the state’s website and get information on how to set up an appointment.

On Tuesday, the most recent day for which state data is available, labs in Michigan tested 18,359 samples for coronavirus and 6.6% were positive. That’s the fourth most tests run in a single day and the fourth lowest positive percentage.

Testing has been increasing and positive rates declining. Here are the testing numbers and positive rates for the last month, going back by one-week increments:

  • May 12: 14,387 samples, 6.1% positive.
  • May 5: 10,776 samples, 8.5% positive.
  • April 28: 8,069 samples, 12.4% positive.
  • April 21: 7,009 samples, 17.9% positive.

In the region of the state that includes Grand Rapids, 2,796 samples were tested Tuesday and 9.2% were positive. In the region that includes Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, 903 samples were tested and 8.5% were positive.

TRACKING CORONAVIRUS

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