Gov. Gretchen Whitmer today further lifted restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a resumption of non-essential medical procedures starting May 29.
Executive orders the governor signed this morning also allow automotive dealers and retailers to reopen by appointment beginning Tuesday of next week. Retailers can only have up to 10 people in the store at a time, and employees will have to wear masks. The governor also partly lifted restrictions to immediately allow small gatherings of up to 10 people as long as they practice social distancing.
“This will not look business as usual, though it will start to look a little more normal,” Whitmer said in urging people to remain vigilant, practice social distancing and safety, particularly over the Memorial Day weekend.
“What we don’t want to do is simply drop all of our guard. What we don’t want to do is to simply re-engage as though nothing’s changed. Life has changed, and it’s important that we change along with it so we can safely get back to some normalcy,” she said.
Rescinding the executive order on medical, dental and veterinary procedures and surgeries provides relief for hospitals and health care providers who have been hit hard financially from the loss of revenue. Care providers say people also have deferred care during the pandemic, worsening the financial effect.
Whitmer decided to allow care providers to resume non-essential patient visits, surgeries and procedures after they built up inventories of personal protection equipment and staff has been trained on best practices to contain the coronavirus. As well, she acknowledged that patients putting off care “too long comes with an additional health consequence.”
“That’s why we wanted to recognize that this is a move that we can safely make now,” Whitmer said. “With the additional PPE and the time to implement strategies in our health care offices, we believe that this is a safe step to take and a necessary step to take.”
Outpatient medical facilities, including clinics, primary care physician offices and dental offices, will have to “adopt strict protocols to prevent infection,” the governor said.
Michigan State Medical Society President Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, a Flint area ear, nose and throat specialist, joined Whitmer this morning at a media briefing during which she announced the move. Many physicians have transitioned to telemedicine platforms to continue to see patients, “doing the best to make accurate diagnoses without the benefit of a physical exam, postponing procedures and worrying about their patients as well as the future of their practices,” Mukkamala said.
“To put it plainly, we 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,” he said. “Physicians, nurses, dentists and others throughout our health care system have answered the call in helping the sickest of the sick. Now, with this announcement that allows us to resume taking care of our patients in ways that are much more effective at healing them, we are ready to get Michigan healthy and well again.”
The Michigan Health & Hospital Association called the lifting of restrictions “a positive step for the health and wellness of residents and communities across Michigan.”
“Our member hospitals and health systems will continue to ensure that services offered adhere to strong safety, infection control and other COVID-19-related precautions,” the association said in a statement.
In limiting retail stores to appointments and 10 people at a time, Whitmer said “the congregation of people inside is what’s so dangerous, and that’s why appointment-only gives us the ability to start to re-engage this sector of our economy.”
The governor’s executive orders today follow prior moves to allow construction and manufacturing industries to resume, and to allow stores, restaurants and bars in parts of the northern Lower Peninsula and in the Upper Peninsula to reopen. She said she may extend the present stay-at-home order beyond May 28 and that future decisions on lifting more restrictions on other regions of the state will hinge on the progression of the pandemic, including data on lower and declining cases and deaths per capita, and hospital caseloads.
The governor said she wants “to continue turning this dial, but we are going to stay tethered to the data and the epidemiology to know when it is safe to do that.”
“We have to take pause and see what it means in terms of what happens with COVID-19 numbers and the potential spread of COVID-19,” she said. “This virus is still very present in the vast majority of our state, so we are asking people to be really smart as we take these steps so we don’t have to take a step backwards. We can keep moving forward,” she said. “But to know when the next step forward is, we’re going to continue to watch the data, monitor hospitalization rates, monitor our testing capacity and positive tests that are coming in, and stay very close to our local public health departments on what COVID-19 looks like as we determine next steps.
“We can’t drop our guard and run the risk of a second wave.”