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Why Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer thought now was right time to reopen entire state

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

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer partially reopened the entire state Monday, lifting the stay-at-home order and allowing many businesses to resume operations.

Whitmer’s decisions are based on her six-phase coronavirus (COVID-19) reopening plan, which outlines specific requirements for each region to move toward a total reopening. On Monday, all of Michigan moved to the fourth phase, which is called “Improving.”

Most of Michigan has been under a stay-at-home order for more than two months. On May 18, Whitmer reopened the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula. At that time, the rest of the state was still in the third phase, known as “Flattening.”

Exactly two weeks later, the rest of the state caught up to Northern Michigan. What was behind that decision?

Phase 4 criteria

When regions six and eight reopened two weeks ago, here’s what Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the Chief Deputy for Health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the state’s chief medical executive, said about why the entire state didn’t move on to phase four.

Based on what we have seen in the upper part of the Lower Peninsula, and the Upper Peninsula, we are able to move forward with the next phase of reopening in those areas,” Khaldun said. “Both of those regions, as the governor mentioned, have sustained a low incidence of cases per day. 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.

“We’re continuing to monitor other areas of the state, where case numbers are declining, but they are not quite ready to move to stage four/ The Detroit Metro region continues to see improvements in the decline in cases, but they still have a relatively high rate at 27 cases per million people per day. This area has also seen an increase over the past week, and the percent of tests that are positive.

“The Grand Rapids region has seen cases declining over the past two weeks, but it’s still at a high case rate of 51 cases per million people per day. We’re going to continue to monitor each region in this way, as we cautiously move towards reopening the economy.”

Since May 18, the rest of the state has seen new daily coronavirus cases and deaths continue to decrease. On Monday, the state reported 135 new confirmed cases and 25 new deaths.

According to Whitmer’s “MI Safe Start Plan,” regions can move to the “Improving” phase when cases, hospitalizations and deaths are clearly declining. That has been the case around the state for weeks.

“When in the ‘improving’ phase, most new outbreaks are quickly identified, traced, and contained due to robust testing infrastructure and rapid contact tracing,” Whitmer’s plan states.

Michigan is increasing its testing numbers each day and is approaching its original goal of administering 15,000 tests daily. State officials said they plan to reach and surpass that goal.

The state has also hired more than 1,000 “contact tracers,” or workers who break the chain of spread. When someone tests positive, they’re assigned to a contact tracer. That person identifies everyone who might have been infected by that new positive patient and instructs them to self-isolate and monitor themselves for symptoms.

Read much more about contact tracing here.

For a region to move to phase four, the health system has to be able to handle the number of new outbreaks.

Michigan’s hospitals have survived what is believed to have been the highest point in the coronavirus curve. For example, Henry Ford Health Systems, which had more than 750 coronavirus patients at once two months ago, is now down to just 70 such patients.

“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," Whitmer’s plan states.

Clearly, that applies to the current restrictions, as Whitmer is now allowing many more businesses to reopen, as long as they follow social distancing measures and safe COVID-19 practices.

In short, Michigan has shown consistently declining cases and deaths and also has more resources than ever to fight the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, Whitmer saw fit to move the remaining regions to the “Improving” phase.

Stay-at-home order lifted

Whitmer lifted the stay-at-home order Monday for the entire state of Michigan.

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

Here’s a look at what’s reopening.

Restaurants

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.

All restaurants had previously been limited to carry-out and delivery services since Whitmer’s first stay-at-home order was issued in March.

Restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen May 22 in the Upper Peninsula and Traverse City Region, which includes 17 counties in the northernmost part of the Lower Peninsula.

Retail

Up until Monday, retail businesses were allowed to have up to 10 customers at a time, but all business had to be by appointment.

Now customers can shop without appointments, starting Thursday (June 4).

Social distancing and safe coronavirus rules will remain in effect.

Day camps and grad parties

Day camps for children, as well as pools, can open next Monday (June 8).

These types of outdoor activities had been a hot topic of discussion as the weather improves in Michigan.

Under the new order, outdoor high school graduation parties are also allowed, as long as people who don’t live together stay at least six feet apart. Those gatherings can’t exceed 100 people.

Outdoor fitness, athletic events

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

That means gyms and fitness centers can hold outdoor classes and workouts as well, but they have to meet the social distancing guidelines.

These guidelines are effective immediately.

No more than 100 people can gather.

In-home services

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

These services are allowed immediately, she said.

Theaters

Drive-in movie theaters can open, effective immediately, Whitmer said.

Indoor theaters remain closed.

Office work

Any office workers whose jobs can’t be done remotely may return to the office, effective immediately, Whitmer said.

This has been the case in the Upper Peninsula and Traverse City Region since they were moved to the “Improving” phase of the reopening plan. Now, it is effective statewide.

Employees who can effectively work from home should continue to do so, Whitmer said.

Crowds

Ten days ago, Whitmer allowed Michiganders to gather in groups of 10 people. Now, if the gathering is outside, that number has been increased to 100, effective immediately.

In addition to graduation parties and athletic events, any gathering of up to 100 people is allowed, as long as the social distancing measures are followed, Whitmer said.

What’s not opening?

Whitmer mentioned some specific businesses will not open because they require close contact between workers and customers.

Hair salons and tattoo parlors are not allowed to reopen, Whitmer said. The owners of Michigan barber shops, salons and spas came together just last week with an eight-step reopening plan and asked Whitmer to lift the ban on their businesses.

Gyms will also remain closed, though the aforementioned outdoor sessions are allowed under the right circumstances.

Casinos will remain closed, as well.

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


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