Whitmer extends stay-home order through May 15, eases rules

Coronavirus

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday lengthened her stay-at-home order through May 15, while lifting restrictions so some businesses can reopen and the public can participate in outdoor activities like golf and motorized boating during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We do know that (staying at home) worked and we’ve pushed the curve down, and it’s because all of you,” Whitmer said, addressing Michigan residents at a Friday morning press conference. “Today’s announcement is a step forward. There is and will be light at the end of the tunnel. But I want to be crystal clear: The overarching message today is still the same. We all need to do our part and staying home is the best way to prevent spread of COVID-19.”

>>Read the full stay-at-home order | Slides from briefing

The measure immediately replaces one that was scheduled to expire next week. Michigan has more than 3,000 deaths related to COVID-19, behind only New York and New Jersey among U.S. states.

People are now required, rather than encouraged, to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces such as grocery stores if they can medically tolerate it. Employers must provide non-medical grade masks to their in-person employees.

In a statement provided to News 8 later Friday, SpartanNash said it would comply with the new rules and ensure its customers are complying, too.

“Under the order, no one will be subject to criminal penalty for going without a mask,” Whitmer said at the press briefing, “but a face covering is crucial to protecting the public and our critical employees.”

She said N95 masks, which offer the highest level of protection, should still be reserved for front-line workers only.

>>How to make a mask | How to wear and clean a mask

Landscapers, lawn-service companies, plant nurseries and bike repair shops can resume operating, subject to social-distancing rules. Stores selling nonessential supplies can reopen for curbside pickup and delivery. Big-box retailers no longer have to close off garden centers and areas dedicated to selling paint, flooring and carpet.

Whitmer said people with multiple in-state homes can resume traveling between them, though it is strongly discouraged.

“We will consider this the preliminary stage of economic reengagement,” said the Democratic governor, adding that her administration is studying data and ramping up testing and contact tracing that are crucial. She urged people to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus and to adhere to social distancing guidelines when in public.

“We will make informed decisions in the coming days about potential further economic reenagement,” she said. “But it depends on you.”

The order — which business groups called a positive step — continues to prohibit in-person work that is not necessary to sustain or protect life, with exemptions for various critical jobs. Restaurants remain closed to dine-in customers under a separate measure, and bars, movie theaters, gyms and other sports facilities also are still shuttered.

The order continues to prohibit in-person work that is not necessary to sustain or protect life, with exemptions for various critical jobs. Restaurants remain closed to dine-in customers under a separate measure, and bars, movie theaters, gyms and other sports facilities also are still shuttered.

The prior stay-home order, in tandem with guidance issued by Whitmer’s office, prompted lawsuits on behalf of anglers, landscaping companies, cottage owners and criticism from Republicans who control the Legislature. Amid a heated floor debate, the Senate voted on party lines Friday to limit her emergency powers despite a certain veto.

Both the House and Senate also formed a special joint committee to review the state government’s response to the outbreak.

Whitmer defended the previous order, which she issued April 9 and was stricter than one that took effect March 24. Imposing some of the country’s toughest restrictions, she said, was necessary because of what were rapidly rising cases and deaths that threatened to overwhelm hospitals.

“Michigan’s COVID-19 experience was tougher than just about any other state,” said Whitmer, whose moves have been backed by health experts and in public polling. The state on Friday reported 1,350 additional cases for a total of more than 36,600, though the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Whitmer said landscaping and other outdoor activities are “lower risk.” While golfing is allowed, the use of carts is not. State parks will generally remain open and people already were allowed to run, walk, hike and ride bikes.

James Mastrangel, owner of Farmington Hills-based Hometeam Lawn Sprinkler Services, said it lost about $20,000 in gross sales over the past two weeks.

“We’re blessed,” he said. “We (only) lost two weeks of business. May is actually our biggest month, followed by June. It’s just going to be a delay.”

Workers will wear masks and gloves and sanitize sprinkler controls they touch, Mastrangel said.

An April 24, 2020, emergency alert announcing the extension and revision of the stay-at-home order.

Whitmer told The Associated Press that her administration is talking with medical and business experts to assess different jobs and industries for risk, to promulgate safety protocols and to determine “markers” that need to be reached before reopening additional sectors. She said more will be revealed Monday.

“This is one of what will be many waves,” Whitmer told the AP. “My hope is that we can contemplate the next one. But it all depends on if people observe these best practices, if we can keep the COVID-19 trajectory headed downward and if we can keep people safe.”

At the press conference, she qualified that if Michigan starts to see troubling increases in cases and deaths, she may order a step back and again tighten up restrictions, saying the state must remain “nimble” in its response.

“My hope, though, my fervent hope, is that people still take this incredibly seriously,” she said.

She said more information on coming “waves” of the economy reopening would be announced next week.

The governor’s emergency and disaster declarations, which she cited again in the new stay-home order, may expire next Thursday.

One state law, from 1945, gives Whitmer broad authority to unilaterally declare and end an emergency, while another — enacted in 1976 — requires legislative approval for an extension. GOP senators voted to repeal the 1945 law and to cut in half how long a declaration can last if legislators do not vote.

Though Whitmer would veto the legislation if the House also passes it, a fight may be looming if Republicans refuse to lengthen the emergency as a way to demand future changes to the stay-home restrictions.

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 people who are older 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.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said a plateau in cases is cause for “cautious optimism,” but said “we are by no means out of the woods.”

“If any of these things — trends in cases, hospital capacity or public health system capacity — if any of those three things appear that they are going in the wrong direction, we will need to look at strengthening our public health and social distancing requirements again so that we can prevent another surge in cases, ” she warned.

She urged everyone to follow the safety guidelines in the governor’s updated order and said employers providing safe workspaces will be key in keeping the virus under control.

  

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