When looking to get Michigan back to business, the state must answer a variety of questions to assess the risk, according to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Whether a company’s functions are indoors or outdoors, whether it has interactions with the public, and whether tools and machinery are used by more than one operator are just a few of the considerations that come into play as the state plans for lifting a stay-home order in the coming weeks, Whitmer said.
The governor wants to avoid an economic re-engagement that’s “too early or (done) in too robust of a way,” leading to a second wave that “can be even more deadly and more devastating economically,” she said Tuesday during a daily briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic held by the Small Business Association of Michigan.
“Whether or not you agree with every action we’ve taken, we can all agree we do not want that to happen,” Whitmer said of a resurgence of COVID-19 in the coming months. “We all have a vested interest in making sure we get this right.”
The state also is looking “geographically at what’s happening in Michigan” in preparation for easing or lifting state restrictions when a state of emergency expires May 1, Whitmer said.
“As we are looking and assessing regional risks on top of all of these factors, we are very mindful of how important it is that you’re able to have notice and you’re able to understand the protocols and expectations of businesses that do re-engage,” she said. “The goal is to make sure we are laying the groundwork well in advance.”
Whitmer said the stay-home order seems to have worked “by and large” to slow the spread of the coronavirus around Michigan.
“We have seen that we have pushed down the curve, saved lives in the process, and kept our health systems afloat,” she said, noting however that “we are seeing concerning numbers crop up in different parts of rural Michigan that we are keeping out eye on.”
“We can’t let any of that get out of control because our hospitals in those areas just aren’t equipped to handle a massive number of COVID-19 patients,” she said.
The governor’s office is working with a panel of corporate and health care leaders — dubbed the Michigan Economic Recovery Council — to plan ahead for the eventual lifting of the stay-home order. Republicans in the state Legislature also have offered plans, as has the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Our country, state and region need to be prepared for an economic restart when the public health situation allows. Early and deliberate planning now, so we are prepared to unwind restrictions, will help mitigate the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the plan the Grand Rapids Chamber issued last week. “It is imperative to create pathways for regions where the curve has flattened to responsibly reopen so we can rebuild our economy as quickly, and as safely, as possible.”
The Chamber’s recommendations call for a phased-in approach that includes a creating “a framework based upon geographic and activity risk, as well as individual vulnerability,” and a “broad understanding of the risk profiles and the effectiveness of risk-mitigation measures based upon credible sources for employees and citizens to feel safe.”
“Our call to action is to be focused and nuanced based on individual communities, sectors and needs so we can rebuild our economy everywhere as quickly as we can,” according to the Chamber plan.
During Tuesday’s SBAM daily briefing, Whitmer cautioned that the state’s economy on May 1 “is not going to look like it was on March 9,” the day before the first two COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Michigan.
“It’s not we’re all going to jump right back in,” she said. “We’re going to have to be very (careful) ramping up and be nimble enough to know, ‘OK, if this is working and the numbers still look good, let’s take the next step.’ And it’s not going to be a finite date.
“We have to really be looking at what the numbers bear out, and if COVID cases start to ratchet up, we might have to be able to pull back from one step to the next.”
SBAM CEO Rob Fowler said the trade association recognizes and anticipates “this will come back in phases or stages, and that even the workplace is going to be different when we first come back, and there is going to be some responsibility for small businesses to be a part of this response.”
“They’re going to be asked to do things they haven’t had to do before,” said Fowler, citing workplace health screenings and the use of personal protection equipment at work.
Creating both consumer and employee confidence also is needed to get the state’s economy moving again, Whitmer said. The state may promulgate rules that incorporate best practices to follow, she said.
“People need to believe that it’s safe to return to some of these businesses,” Whitmer said.
As of Tuesday, Michigan had 32,967 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 967 from Monday, and 2,700 deaths, up by 232 deaths.