LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will reopen parts of the state this week, including bars, restaurants and retail businesses, as coronavirus (COVID-19) numbers continue to drop, she announced at Monday’s briefing.
UPDATE -- May 18, 2020: Michigan coronavirus cases up to 51,915; Death toll now at 4,915
Businesses could start reopening as soon as Friday.
The move will affect two of the eight regions identified in the governor’s gradual reopening plan amid the coronavirus pandemic: one covers the Upper Peninsula and another includes 17 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula, including Traverse City.
Bars and restaurants will have to limit their capacity to 50%. Groups will be required to stay six feet apart, and servers will have to wear face coverings.
Office work also will be able resume if work cannot be done remotely.
“This is a big step, but we must all remember to continue doing our part to protect ourselves and our families from the spread of COVID19,” Whitmer said in a statement.
There has been heavy opposition to Whitmer’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the Republican Legislature. State legislators are suing the governor for extending her executive orders without their approval.
Michiganders have also taken to the Capitol Building for three major protests in the past month, most recently on Thursday.
Despite the lawsuits and protests, Whitmer has continued to take a cautious approach to reopening Michigan. While the Big Three automakers reopened Monday and other services, such as landscaping and construction, have been methodically resumed, Whitmer said her priority is safety.
“I know many people in our state are feeling frustrated,” Whitmer said. “Some are scared. Some are angry. That’s understandable, but now is not a time for division for hatred, certainly not a time for violence. Now is a time for us to pull together. Now is a time for unity.”
Whitmer announced last week that gatherings of up to 10 people could possibly be allowed by May 28, when the current stay-at-home order expires.
But during Friday’s briefing, she said Michigan isn’t yet ready to enter the fourth stage of her six-step reopening plan.
“I’ve been thinking about, ‘How can we drive home the story that is happening here, the stories that are not going to be called 5,000 lost lives?’” Whitmer said. “I want you to imagine as though you are standing on the stage of the Fox Theater in Detroit, which holds over 5,000 people. You look at that stage, and you know that nearly every empty chair represents a lost loved one, someone here in Michigan, someone with a story, someone with children or parents, someone with colleagues.
“These are people that were part of the fabric of our state. It’s so easy to look past this loss if it hasn’t hit close to home. It’s crucial for us to remember the families across Michigan who are still dealing with unbearable, unthinkable loss.”