Michigan Gov. Whitmer talks reopening northern economy, vice president speculation

Whitmer discusses plans to reopen industries in northern Michigan on TODAY’s 3rd Hour

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer appeared Tuesday on TODAY’s 3rd Hour to discuss the reopening of Michigan’s economy.

On Monday Gov. Whitmer cleared northern Michigan counties to partially reopen bars, restaurants and retail under her MI Safe Start Plan.

During her interview with host Craig Melvin, Whitmer says that the upper peninsula and northern counties in the lower peninsula have shown a decline in COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations. With a decrease in numbers the zones have been moved into the fourth -- “Improving” -- phase of Whitmer’s reengagement plan, allowing them to begin reopening some businesses.

MORE: Why Northern Michigan was chosen for next phase of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reopening plan

“(We will) measure, continue to monitor and continue to work with the locals to make sure that we’re doing this safely,” Whitmer said. “These incremental steps we think are safe to take now and we’re going to; and we’re going to continue to watch the data.”

Reopening businesses are still expected to maintain social distancing guidelines and implement safety protocols, including rigorous cleaning measures, limiting capacity to 50% and requiring workers to wear face coverings.

“We know that if we drop our guard now, we could be in for a second wave (of COVID-19) -- and that would make all of the sacrifices that we’ve made the last 10 weeks in vain and we’d have to take steps backward," Whitmer said. "While we’re not universal in a lot of things in this moment, I think we all know we don’t want to take a step backward. So everyone has to keep their guard up and be vigilant and do everything they can to mitigate the spread.”

Gov. Whitmer says the state is prioritizing its ability to test, trace and isolate COVID-19 in the state in an effort to better contain the spread of the virus. If the state does see a “second wave” after businesses begin to reopen, Whitmer believes the state can react quickly and will take necessary action.

LATEST DATA: May 18, 2020: Michigan coronavirus (COVID-19) cases up to 51,915; Death toll now at 4,915

“We’re going to know (if COVID-19 cases spike) quickly because we really dramatically ramped up our testing. We’re going to take steps to contain spread and if we see that it’s starting to look like community spread, we’ll take a step backwards if we have to," Whitmer said. "We have to be nimble, in this moment, and it’s not easy. There’s a lot of stress and anxiety, but we owe it to one another to do our part and continue getting this right. We’ve saved thousands of lives thus far. We can start to safely re engage but we all have to do our part.”

Permission to partially reopen businesses in northern Michigan comes just before the state’s stay-at-home order and controversial state of emergency label are scheduled to expire on May 28.

Whitmer is currently being sued by Republican Michigan lawmakers for extending the state of emergency without legislative approval.

The governor has also received significant backlash for her stay-at-home order from politicians and residents alike, resulting in multiple protests calling for less restrictive social distancing measures. Critics argued the governor’s initial decision to execute a statewide reengagement plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as northern regions were not as affected by the outbreak.

Still, Whitmer says her decision to allow a partial reopening in northern counties is based on data and not political pressure.

MORE: Everything you need to know about Gov. Whitmer reopening businesses in parts of Michigan

“I’m not going to succumb to political pressure or political demonstrations or social media pressure," Whitmer said. "The fact of the matter is we have to listen to our epidemiologists, we have to listen to our experts in our phenomenal research universities in Michigan. We are talking with international experts as well. We are going to stay tethered to the data, we’re going to follow the science and we’ve got to get this right. Anything else is going to put people in jeopardy and I’m not willing to do that.”

The remainder of the state is still in phase three of Whitmer’s reengagement plan, following protocols of the current stay-at-home order. The state’s manufacturing industry -- including the Big Three automakers -- have been allowed to resume operations as of May 11, with some reopening for the first time on Monday.

WATCH: How first day of reopening went for Ford, GM, FCA autoworkers in Metro Detroit

With talk of Whitmer being vetted for Joe Biden’s vice president running mate in the 2020 election, the governor assures her constituents that responding to the pandemic is her first priority.

“I’ve had a conversation with some folks but the fact of the matter is: All of my energy is going into helping my state through this crisis -- unlike one that we’ve seen in 100 years in this country. We need to get it right," Whitmer said. “I was elected to be the governor of the state of Michigan; it is the honor of a lifetime. That’s where I’m spending 100% of my energy and focus.”

Whitmer says she has kept up with Biden’s campaign for President of the United States in the upcoming election, and has had some formal conversations regarding her potential spot as his running mate.

Click here to read our latest coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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