Michigan’s reopening reaches phase 4 -- here’s the next stage and what it will take to get there

Entire state moves into ‘Improving’ phase of Whitmer’s reopening plan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revealed the six stages of her plan to reopen the state. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich. – The entire state of Michigan reached phase four of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reopening plan Monday. What is the next stage of the plan, and what will it take to get there?

Whitmer’s coronavirus (COVID-19) reopening plan consists of six stages. On Monday, six of the eight regions moved from the “Flattening” stage to join the other two regions in the “Improving” phase.

MORE: Here’s how all 83 Michigan counties are divided into regions in Gov. Whitmer’s reopening plan

Right now: Phase 4

According to the “MI Safe Start Plan,” here’s what the “Improving” phase means:

"Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are clearly declining.

"This phase occurs when the number of new cases and deaths has fallen for a period of time, but overall case levels are still high. When in the “improving” phase, most new outbreaks are quickly identified, traced, and contained due to robust testing infrastructure and rapid contact tracing.

“Health system capacity can typically handle these new outbreaks, and therefore the case fatality rate does not rise above typical levels. Though a community might be in a declining phase, the overall number of infected individuals still indicate the need for distancing to stop transmission and move to the next phase.”

This is the most significant step Michigan has taken since the state was shut down in late March.

What’s next: Phase 5

The next phase of the reopening phase is called “Containing.”

During Monday’s daily coronavirus briefing, Whitmer said she plans to move the Upper Peninsula and Traverse City Region -- the two regions that have been in phase four for multiple weeks -- into phase five.

“Later this week, I plan to issue an executive order to move regions six and eight to phase five,” Whitmer said. “It will depend on the numbers, of course, and we’ll be watching it closely. Local leaders always retain the ability to keep restrictions in place, if they think they need them.”

UPDATE -- June 1, 2020: Michigan coronavirus cases up to 57,532; Death toll now at 5,516

The rest of the state could follow soon thereafter, according to the governor.

“We need to continue following the data, especially in the Grand Rapids region,” Whitmer said. “But if the current trajectory continues, I anticipate in the next few weeks, we’ll be able to announce the rest of the state moving into phase five. No one wants to move backwards. But if we see a spike coming, we may have to. So please keep doing your part.”

According to Whitmer’s official MI Safe Start Plan, here’s what’s required to move to phase five:

"Case and death rates continue to decline, with outbreaks quickly contained.

"During the 'containing’ phase, new cases and deaths continue to decrease for an additional period of time. At this point, the number of active cases has reached a point where infection from other members of the community is less common.

"With widespread testing, positivity rates often fall much lower than earlier phases. Rapid case investigation, contact tracing and containment strategies cause new cases to continue to fall.

“But if distancing and other risk mitigation efforts are not continued, infections could begin to grow again because a permanent solution to the epidemic has not yet been identified.”

Stay-at-home order lifted

Whitmer has lifted the stay-at-home order for the entire state, meaning restaurants, and much more will be able to reopen as the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) slows.

Restaurants can reopen to dine-in service next Monday (June 8). Groups will have to remain at least six feet apart and servers must wear masks. Restaurants can fill to 50% capacity.

Outdoor crowds of up to 100 people are allowed, effective immediately, Whitmer said. Outdoor fitness classes, athletic practices, training sessions and games are allowed as long as coaches, spectators and participants not from the same household can maintain a distance of six feet from one another at all times.

Office work that can’t be done remotely is now allowed across the state.

In-home services such as house cleaning are also permitted, Whitmer said.

Retailers can reopen to customers without an appointment on Thursday. They had previously been allowed to take customers only via appointment.

Gyms, hair salons, tattoo parlors and casinos will remain closed because they require close contact with customers, Whitmer said.

Whitmer said her goal is to shift the state to phase 5, “Containing," before July 4.

On Sunday, the state announced 513 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, as well as an additional 28 deaths. Michigan has had a total of 57,397 cases and 5,491 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

As the daily rate of new cases and deaths continues to decline and overall testing ramps up around the state, Whitmer has started reopening certain sectors of the economy.

Her decisions are based on the six-phase model she released last month, called the “MI Safe Start Plan." In short, the model outlines how the state goes from a total lockdown due to the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 to returning to normal.

READ: Here’s how all 83 Michigan counties are divided into regions in Gov. Whitmer’s reopening plan

The six phases are uncontrolled growth, persistent spread, flattening, improving, containing and post-pandemic.

‘Improving’ phase

Before Monday, only two of the state’s eight regions were in the “Improving” phase of Whitmer’s reopening plan -- the Upper Peninsula and the Traverse City Region. All eight regions are now in that phase.

MORE: Here’s every Michigan county where bars, restaurants, retail reopened

Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, the Chief Medical Executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said those two regions had checked enough of the boxes required to move onto the fourth stage.

Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun. (WDIV)

“Both of those regions ... have sustained a low increase of cases per day," Khaldun said. "I’ve seen a steady decrease in positivity rates for tests that have been completed, and they have a low average number of deaths each day, when you compare them to the state average.”

Bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen at 50% capacity starting May 22. Groups are required to stay six feet away from each other and servers must wear masks.

Retail businesses were also allowed to partially reopen in those regions.

‘Flattening’ phase

Other than the two regions mentioned above, the rest of Michigan -- the Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Saginaw, Lansing and Jackson regions -- was previously in the “Flattening” phase of Whitmer’s plan.

There was some confusion over the hesitance to reopen more of the economy in the rest of the state, so officials released an online tool to try to explain their decision-making. It breaks down how close regions are to meeting the requirements for the next phase of the plan.

Both Khaldun and Whitmer hinted the rest of the state could join the “Improving” phase on Friday afternoon.

“As we continue to aggressively increase testing and the downward trend in cases continues across the state, in the upcoming days, we will be able to move forward different regions of the state in the MI Safe Start Plan," Khaldun said.

“If we continue on the trajectory we’re on, we’ll be moving more regions of the state forward in the coming days," Whitmer said.

Trend of slowly opening Metro Detroit

Metro Detroit -- part of the Detroit Region, which includes Genesee, Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties -- was in the “Flattening” phase for the entire month of May after the MI Safe Start Plan was announced. Some businesses still reopened along the way, though.

Whitmer first loosened restrictions April 24, when she extended her stay-at-home order through May 15. She allowed some businesses linked to outdoor activities, such as golf and motorized boating, to reopen.

Landscapers, lawn-service companies, plant nurseries and bike repair shops were allowed to resume operating, subject to social-distancing rules.

Northern Michigan got the green light to reopen Friday, and we took a firsthand look inside a popular bar and several other businesses.

On May 1, after again extending her stay-at-home order, this time until May 28, Whitmer reopened certain types of work that are typically outdoors, including construction work and real estate.

Michigan’s economy got a much-needed boost when Whitmer announced she would reopen manufacturing, including the Big 3 automakers. Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler would be allowed to reopen at the beginning of the following week, Whitmer announced May 7.

READ: How first day of reopening went for Ford, GM, FCA autoworkers

Whitmer announced May 21 that residents were allowed to gather in groups of as many as 10 people. Michiganders were previously restricted from visiting others and coming into contact with anyone outside their household, except in essential circumstances.

Retail businesses reopened Tuesday, as well as auto dealerships, by appointment. Retail businesses that reopen can have up to 10 customers inside at any time, Whitmer said.

Whitmer also lifted restrictions on health care providers who had to delay some nonessential medical, dental and veterinary procedures. Those procedures were allowed to resume Friday. Reopened health care facilities had to adopt strict protocols to prevent spreading the virus.

Several malls in the area reopened Thursday, including Briarwood in Ann Arbor, Great Lakes Crossing and Twelve Oaks.

Malls reopen in Metro Detroit: Can you touch surfaces? Is it safe to try on clothes?

More around Michigan

The state has seen more than just a pandemic over the last several weeks.

Thousands of residents in mid-Michigan were evacuated from their homes May 19 and 20 when the Edenville and Sanford dams failed, causing catastrophic flooding in and around Midland County.

Damages on one of two North M-30 bridges on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Edenville Township north of Midland. After two days of heavy rain, the Edenville Dam failed and flood waters rushed south, ravaging the landscape in its path. (Jake May/The Flint Journal, MLive.com via AP) (The Flint Journal MLive.com)

“I feel like I’ve said this a lot over the last 10 weeks, but this is an event unlike anything we’ve seen before," Whitmer said. "We’ve got to continue to all work together to observe best practices, do our part to help one another and to wear our masks and continue to try to social distance in this moment.”

The floods, which displaced more than 10,000 people but didn’t cause any confirmed casualties, ravaged roads and neighborhoods.

This weekend, Michigan was one of many states that saw protests related to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Detroit and Grand Rapids were among the cities that saw large protests against police brutality. While authorities said protests were primarily peaceful, there was some violence.

On Sunday, the third night of protesting in Detroit, more than 100 were arrested, including 28 Detroit residents and two people from out of state. The rest were from Metro Detroit suburbs.

The March Against Police Brutality protest on May 31, 2020. (WDIV)

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced an 8 p.m. curfew to try to control the protests after dark, but officials said some people didn’t adhere to the curfew.

Police used tear gas on protesters at times over the weekend. There were more reports of police making aggressive arrests and targeting clearly identified media members as tensions rose.

Other smaller protests took place in Royal Oak, Livonia and Marquette.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.