A dystopian way of life has settled over metro Detroit as the coronavirus rages, yet humanity shines in the face of COVID-19.
Detroit Free Press
LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Monday that she has lifted the state’s stay-at-home order and that all Michigan bars and restaurants can reopen at 50% capacity June 8.
But Whitmer said certain restrictions remain in place and she called on Michiganders to keep wearing masks in enclosed public spaces, maintaining social distancing of at least six feet of separation, and frequently washing their hands.
Some businesses where close contact is necessary — gyms, hair salons, barber shops, indoor theaters and casinos — will remain closed for now, she said, though tribal casinos that are not under state jurisdiction have already announced reopening plans.
Whitmer moved Michigan’s six remaining regions, comprising 93% of the state’s population, to Phase 4 — “improving” — two weeks after she announced that two regions in northern Michigan could advance to that stage.
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“We’re taking a big step forward today in Michigan,” but “stay smart, stay safe, and if you fit the criteria, get tested,” Whitmer said at a news conference.
Medical professionals said Whitmer’s plan can work if everyone does their part, but Michigan faces the risk of a second wave if people reengage carelessly.
Changes Whitmer announced include:
- Retailers can reopen to customers without an appointment on Thursday, with capacity limits.
- Restaurants can offer dine-in service starting June 8, with capacity limits.
- Bars can also reopen June 8, with capacity limits.
- Day camps for children and outdoor public swimming pools, with reduced capacity, can open June 8. Indoor pools must remain closed. Regulations are pending.
- Libraries and museums can open June 8, subject to capacity rules similar to those for retail stores.
- Effective immediately, groups of up to 100 can gather outside with social distancing, up from a threshold of 10. Indoor gatherings are still limited to 10.
- In-home services such as housecleaning can resume.
- Gyms and fitness centers can offer outdoor-only activities such as classes and training sessions as long as participants, coaches and spectators stay six feet apart.
- Office work that can’t be done remotely is permitted, though workers must continue to telework to the extent possible.
- Drive-in movie theaters can open.
- A phased resumption of bottle returns for deposits is to begin June 15, starting with stores that have self-serve machines for return of cans and bottles, located away from the main retail area.
- Schools remain closed, except for remote learning.
Whitmer said her goal is to shift the state to Phase 5 — “containing” — before July 4, and she hopes to announce later this week that northern Michigan, where cases are much less prevalent, has been moved to Phase 5. Gyms, theaters, and personal service shops such as barber shops and hair salons can open under Phase 5.
“We’re seeing our numbers continue to improve, and that is cause for feeling optimistic,” Whitmer said.
However, “nobody wants to move backwards, but if we see a spike coming, we may have to,” she said.
Also, “local leaders always retain the ability to keep restrictions in place if they think they need them,” she said.
On May 18, Whitmer announced that Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula had advanced to Phase 4. She also announced that bars and restaurants in northern Michigan would be allowed to reopen with restricted occupancy. That’s a change associated with Phase 5 of the reopening plan.
Under the “MI Safe Start” plan the governor announced May 7, Phase 4 is the “improving” state of Michigan’s economic restart, when cases, hospitalizations and deaths are “clearly declining.” Phase 5 is the “containing” stage, when there are continued case and death rate improvements, with outbreaks quickly contained.
Several of the Phase 4 elements are already permitted throughout Michigan, such as outdoor work, manufacturing, limited retail sales, public transportation with face masks and social distancing, and indoor gatherings of up to 10 people, with social distancing, which Whitmer OK’d on May 21.
Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society and a Flint-based ear, nose and throat specialist, said he believes the plan is safe, assuming Michiganders reengage in a safe and responsible manner.
But if that’d does not happen, he said a second wave of COVID-19 infections is “inevitable” as Michiganders begin to return to work and social activity.
“As we re-emerge and people start to interact, there will be some people that reengage in a less responsible way than they could have, and therefore create a second wave,” said Mukkamala, who also is on the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association.
“I do think that we will lose people unnecessarily because we don’t take reopening as cautiously as we could. Some people, and we’ve already seen evidence of some of their protests and the way that people are engaging – whether that’s college spring breaks or gatherings like storming the Capitol or gatherings like the protests for George Floyd – people that forget or intentionally don’t take precautions to do that activity responsibly, … that sort of disregard will cause unnecessary death.”
In a pandemic, Mukkamala said taking public health precautions such as wearing a mask shouldn’t be politicized as it has been.
“People that defiantly don’t wear a mask, and then question those that do is … sad, in my opinion,” Mukkamala said. “The fact that public health and mechanisms to keep people healthy have become politicized to the point that they’re being used to identify people’s politics is foolish.
“I mean, the purpose of wearing this protection is to keep you and those around you healthy, and no other purpose. It’s not like wearing a T-shirt with a candidate’s name on it or a party symbol or putting a yard sign out. The masks should not be equated with political ideology. And yet, I think that’s what it’s become in some people’s eyes and that’s unfortunate because that’s not at all its intention.
“… It would be such a kick in the gut to have to re-restrict people after loosening those restrictions. I’m really hoping that we can prudently reengage and not put us at risk of going back to more restrictions.”
Rob Casalou, CEO of Trinity Health Michigan, which includes the St. Joseph Mercy Health System, said the state is re-opening at a safe pace.
“We’re not doing too much too fast,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of people that believe we can start opening even a little quicker. Southeast Michigan is clearly ready now to begin opening up. … I think we’re on track here. We’re doing it the right way, definitely not too fast.”
He said the concern, however, is that people will become overly confident and opt out of the public health measures that flattened the curve initially.
“Everybody’s attention was on high in April because the virus was really rampant and the hospitals were filling up and it was news every day,” Casalou said. “Since our numbers have come down, … everyone thinks it’s OK. I think the worst thing we could do right now, as we open things up, is to let our guard down on real common sense stuff: washing our hands, wearing masks, social distancing. Those are all the things that allowed these numbers to come down. My biggest fear right now is that we collectively let our guard down.”
Masks, he said, should be apolitical.
“Masks definitely prevent the spread of this virus,” he said, citing recently published research about the rate of transmission among people wearing them and those who don’t. “My feeling is until we reach a point where we’ve got a vaccine or we have achieved some kind of immunity in the population, I believe in masks for health purposes. It’s not a political statement. It’s absolutely about protecting our population.”
Whitmer’s May 18 announcement reopening bars and restaurants only applied to the Upper Peninsula and Alpena, Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Crawford, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee, Montmorency, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon and Wexford counties in the northern Lower Peninsula.
Those same counties could be moved to Phase 5 later this week, Whitmer said.
Bill Hallan, president and CEO of Michigan Retailers Association, said his members are pleased.
“Retailers were worried shoppers may be hesitant to venture out, but Memorial Day weekend in northern Michigan quickly revealed there is a pent-up demand,” Hallan said.
Until Monday, Michigan’s stay-at-home order was set to continue through June 12. The state of emergency related to COVID-19 still runs through June 19.
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