COVID-19 impact: Some jobless benefits extended; gyms, movie theaters, other businesses shut down

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Some Michiganders won’t have to worry about how they’ll afford to feed their families or keep the lights on.  

That’s due to new action from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday. She signed two new executive orders in response to COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus. One will temporarily expand eligibility for unemployment benefits due to the appearance of COVID-19. The other order temporarily closes a multitude of public places and limits restaurants to carry-out and delivery orders in response to COVID-19.

There are now 53 positive cases in Michigan of COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus, as of this story’s publication, although health officials believe that number is much higher. 

Graphic by Laina G. Stebbins

 

COVID-19 and unemployment

Executive Order 2020-10 aims to temporarily expand eligibility for unemployment benefits due to the appearance of COVID-19.

Under the new order, state unemployment benefits would be extended to the following:

  • People who have childcare responsibilities due to school closures or are forced to care for loved ones who become ill.
  • People who are sick, quarantined, or immunocompromised and don’t have access to paid family and medical leave or are laid off.
  • First responders or those who work in health care and become ill or are quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19.

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According to the news release, access to benefits for unemployed workers will also be extended. Unemployed individuals’ benefits will be increased from 20 weeks to 26 weeks. The application eligibility period will be increased from 14 to 28 days and normal in-person registration and work search requirements will be suspended.  

The state also is seeking solutions for self-employed workers and independent contractors who traditionally do not have access to unemployment insurance.

A statewide coronavirus hotline will be open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1-888-535-6136. Information can be found on the DHHS website or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website.

“While we work together to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, we must do everything we can to help working families,” said Whitmer. “This executive order will provide immediate relief to those who can’t go to work, and who rely on their paycheck to put food on the table for themselves and their families.”

Whitmer also is looking into ways to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19. According to a news release, she’s working with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in order to get an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Declaration for Michigan. Her office said the process has already started and once it’s granted, small businesses in qualifying areas will be able to access low-interest loans through the SBA.

Earlier this month, Congress passed legislation that makes $1 billion available to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide low-interest loans to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and nonprofits that have suffered substantial economic losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Restaurants, bars, gyms shut down

As the Michigan Advance reported Monday morning, Whitmer is taking action to shut down businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under Executive Order 2020-9, the following places will close effective as of 3 p.m. Monday thru 11:59 p.m. March 30:

  • Cafes
  • Coffee houses
  • Bars, taverns, brewpubs and distilleries
  • Clubs
  • Movie theaters
  • Indoor and outdoor performance venues
  • Gyms, fitness centers, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities and exercise studios
  • Spas
  • Casinos

While the order doesn’t restrict restaurants from offering food or beverage deliveries, drive-through service, or walk-up service, it does limit how many people can be inside to pick up food. Restaurants can only allow five people inside at a time, and customers must stay 6 feet apart from each other.

“It is heartbreaking that an industry built on service to others must be shut down to help protect and keep safe the families they call their customers and friends,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, adding that it’s necessary during the health crisis.

During a press conference Monday, restaurateur Dean Bach, who owns Belle Iron Grille in Gaylord, said hungry customers could continue to show their support at local restaurants by placing takeout orders.

“We have a lot of new challenges to face…but I think we’ll get through it,” said Bach.

Michigan now has 53 coronavirus cases

What’s open amid temporary shutdowns

There are places that will still be open amid the temporary service industry shutdown. They include: 

  • Office buildings
  • Grocery stores
  • Markets
  • Food pantries
  • Pharmacies
  • Drug stores
  • Medical equipment and supply providers
  • Warehouse and distribution centers
  • Industrial and manufacturing facilities  

Health care facilities, residential care facilities, congregate care facilities, and juvenile justice facilities are also excluded from the restrictions due to an executive order imposing temporary visitor restrictions put in place by Whitmer late last week. 

As reported by the Advance, temporary visitor restrictions at those facilities began Saturday and will continue until 5 p.m. April 5.

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COVID-19 and public safety

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said that public safety, citizen arrest, jail intake and prison transfers are critical issues amid the appearance of COVID-19. 

During a news conference held at M-Brew in Ferndale on Monday, he says his office is working with Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter when it comes to enforcing restrictions at restaurants. 

Bouchard said he and deputies will be enforcing compliance with the restrictions that have been placed on the maximum occupancy at restaurants and bars due to COVID-19. Bouchard added that in the event of noncompliance, he or a deputy will write a report and forward it to the Oakland County Health Division.

“We’re not looking to arrest people in this situation; we’re looking to protect, inform and guide them and also be a part of the solution,” said Bouchard.

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In addition, the Advance contacted Whitmer’s office Monday asking if she was planning on deploying the National Guard in response to COVID-19.

Spokeswoman Tiffany Brown responded with this statement: “It’s not responsible to speculate, but I can tell you that we are exploring all of our options to keep people safe and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

It was also announced Monday that Canada is closing its borders to non-citizens because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the ban does not apply to U.S. citizens “for the moment.”