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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Midland announces an accelerated plan to loosen statewide COVID-19 restrictions. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Midland announces an accelerated plan to loosen statewide COVID-19 restrictions. COURTESY PHOTO

Biz groups welcome Whitmer’s accelerated plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions

BY Thursday, May 20, 2021 03:31pm

Business advocates welcomed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s move to begin easing state COVID-19 restrictions on activities beginning next month.

Restrictions on all outdoor activities expire June 1 and capacity limits on indoor gatherings double to 50 percent, Whitmer announced today.

Starting July 1, the state will no longer have any limits on either indoor or outdoor gatherings.

The move aligns with new guidelines the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued last week. An order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services implementing the changes should come Monday next week.

“We are pleased Gov. Whitmer and (the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) listened to our pleas to lift the severe restrictions on indoor meeting, convention and event space. These industries have been suffering and losing business to other states who have been open and ready for the business,” Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Baker said in a statement. “Aligning restrictions to the CDC guidelines creates clarity for businesses and allows them to start planning for what will hopefully be a prosperous recovery. There is still work to be done to get these businesses on the track they were pre-pandemic, but we are confident that a reduction in confusion will help us get there.” 

Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley called the pending changes in state-imposed restrictions “an important step for small business owners everywhere.” 

Whitmer’s announcement today provides businesses certainty on when restrictions will end and allow banquet halls, convention centers and event venues to ramp up operations during June, and for summer festivals and community events to proceed, Calley said.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association also welcomed the “clear guidance.” 

“As Michigan’s hospitality industry now pivots to meet unprecedented pent-up demand to dine and travel free of occupancy restrictions, our focus will turn aggressively to securing workforce solutions that help restaurant, hotel and resort operators meet staffing needs,” MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow said in a statement.

Whitmer announced the planned lifting of the state restrictions this morning in Midland.

The changes come after more than 4.6 million people have been vaccinated, or 57 percent of the eligible population, COVID-19 cases and test positivity rates have declined for five weeks, and hospitalizations have decreased for three weeks, she said.

There were 1,642 COVID-19 hospitalizations across Michigan as of today, according to a state data dashboard. That’s down from 2,158 on Monday and less than half of the COVID-19 hospitalizations a few weeks ago.

“Our COVID metrics are trending downward in Michigan and across the country,” Whitmer said. “So, life is getting back to normal.”

As they welcomed the changes in restrictions, business groups urged the governor to bring workplace rules from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) in line with CDC guidelines.

MIOSHA is considering permanent rules that would retain workplace safety requirements.

The Grand Rapids Chamber urged the governor to have MIOSHA rescind the proposed permanent rules and “redraw them to match the federal CDC guidelines.” 

Following federal guidelines “allows employee safety to remain a priority, but also ensures that Michigan will be able to effectively compete with other states as we look to retain and attract business to Michigan as we rebuild the economy,” the Grand Rapids Chamber said.

MIOSHA’s proposal to make workplace safety rules permanent put businesses in a difficult position and would make them “victims of contradictory emergency orders issued by the administration. Rescinding these outdated draft rules is the first step in providing clarity for all employers and employees across the state,” according to a letter that nine business groups sent Wednesday to MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman.

“We are hopeful that the changes being promised on Monday will include the withdrawal of these unnecessary and burdensome permanent rules,” Charles Owens, director of the Michigan office for the National Federation of Independent Business, said today in a statement.

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, Michigan has had 881,057 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 18,815 deaths.

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