LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that auto and other manufacturing workers can return to the job next week, further easing her stay-at-home order while extending it through May 28 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Manufacturers — which account for 19% of the state’s economy — can resume operations on Monday, which is key for auto parts makers a week ahead of automakers’ planned phased-in May 18 restart. Factories must adopt measures to protect their workers, including daily entry screening and, once they are available, the use of no-touch thermometers.
“As we’ve done the risk assessment, we feel comfortable that with these safety protocols, we can safely reengage,” Whitmer told reporters. “This is truly good news for our state.”
The Democratic governor, whose emergency powers are being challenged in court by the Republican-led Legislature, lengthened the shelter-in-place order to last nearly two more weeks in a state where more than 4,300 people have died from COVID-19 complications and where 1.3 million workers have filed for unemployment over seven weeks. The restrictions had been scheduled to expire May 15.
“We are still safer at home,” said Whitmer, who outlined six stages in which the economy will be reopend. The state, she said, is in the third, “flattening” stage. If hospitalizations continue to drop and cases and deaths rise less rapidly, small gatherings and some office and retail work could be allowed in the next stage.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, of Clarklake, said Whitmer “released a Powerpoint that brings us no closer to understanding her decision-making.”
The order continues to limit travel, except for certain reasons like caring for a family member. Asked what she would say to people who want to visit their moms over Mother’s Day weekend, the governor said to send a card, do a Zoom video call and “go big” later when gatherings are OK again.
CASES AND DEATHS
Michigan has recorded 93 more deaths linked to coronavirus, bringing the total to 4,343. The 93 deaths added to the sum include 38 discovered in a routine check of death certificates to find any that weren’t previously reported.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said the seven-day average of cases is down 15% over the previous last week. She cited declines in southeast Michigan, where the outbreak has been the worst, and in West Michigan, which had seen higher numbers in recent weeks.
Despite the encouraging data, Khaldun said there are still outbreaks that are “of concern.”
“While the rate of spread of disease is slowing, we still have spread in many parts of the state,” she said, continuing to urge people to not go out unless it is necessary.
In Wayne County, including the city of Detroit, there have been 17,667 confirmed cases (96 more than the day prior) and 2,012 deaths (39 more). In fellow metro Detroit counties Oakland and Macomb, there have been 7,624 and 5,876 confirmed cases, respectively. Oakland County has had 789 deaths and Macomb County 678 deaths.
The field hospital in a downtown Detroit convention center no longer has patients and has officially closed, Mayor Mike Duggan said.
Kent County recorded one additional death for a total of 41. There are 2,076 confirmed cases, 60 more than the day prior.
Kalamazoo County reported two more deaths for a total of 25 and Ottawa County three more for a total of 17. Kalamazoo County has 561 confirmed cases and Ottawa County 331 cases.
On Tuesday, the most recent day for which state data is available, labs in Michigan tested some 10,584 samples for coronavirus and 8.6% came back positive.
“The percent of those who are overall testing positive is declining significantly,” Dr. Khaldun said at a Thursday press conference with the governor in Lansing. “Overall, since this outbreak started, about 1 in 5 of every person who’s tested has tested positive for the virus. But in recent weeks, that has actually dropped to 1 in 10.”
One week prior to Tuesday, on April 28, About 8,000 samples were tested and 12.5% were positive. One month prior to Tuesday, April 7, a little more than 4,000 samples were tested and more than 30% were positive.
So far, more than 250,000 coronavirus tests have been conducted in Michigan. More people are getting tested each week: Khaldun said the goal is to expand daily testing to 15,000. She said the federal government will be providing enough swabs and transport media for that number during May, though the supplies haven’t arrived yet.
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.
AUTOMAKERS TO REOPEN MAY 18
Michigan, home to the Detroit Three carmakers, has about 630,000 manufacturing workers who make up 13% of the state’s workforce. John Walsh, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, estimated that more than half were laid off because of the pandemic and the moves taken to slow the virus’s spread.
He credited Whitmer for bringing together business and labor leaders “to ensure our workers can return to the job safely. The safety of our workers is our top priority, and I am confident that Michigan manufacturers are prepared to deliver on the worker protections included in today’s order,” he said.
The measure requires businesses to train their employees on using personal protective equipment, including wearing masks when they cannot consistently stay 6 feet from others. Face shields should be considered for those who are closer than 3 feet apart.
General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler will reopen plants starting May 18. The Monday restart will “allow us to get an even further head start on resuming production,” said Carl Beckwith, senior vice president of global operations for Dana Inc., a Toledo, Ohio, auto parts maker with three Michigan factories.
At least 25 employees at auto facilities represented by the United Auto Workers have died as a result of COVID-19, although it is not known if they were infected at work. The union said it wants as much testing as possible and a commitment to the full testing of workers as soon as it is available.
The plant closures have cut off almost all revenue for the automakers, which count the money when vehicles are shipped to dealers.
AP writers Tom Krisher and Ed White in Detroit, and Corey Williams in West Bloomfield contributed to this report.
**Correction: Due to a typo, a previous version of this article misstated the number of deaths in Ottawa County. The figure has been updated to reflect the correct number of deaths reported to the state as of Thursday.