COVID-19 update: Who can work during the stay at home order?

New unemployment filing schedule launched, how to volunteer

Maiden House Ministries in Highland Park food distribution early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, March 19, 2020 | Ken Coleman

COVID-19 is now impacting how people vote, sign up for unemployment benefits and even spend their time outdoors. It’s also led to the launch of a new website where trained medical professionals can volunteer to work at hospitals to help fight against the disease, as well.

A statewide coronavirus hotline is 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.

New unemployment filing schedule

COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus, has led to widespread closures of public places such as schools, bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters, and has left hundreds of thousands of people in Michigan without a job.

As previously reported by the Advance, figures from the U.S. Department of Labor show more than 129,000 Michigan residents reported being out of work last week, an indicator of the continued COVID-19 shutdowns are having on the economy.

In order to help people who are unable to work or who may be caring for family members right now, the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) has announced a new schedule that will go into effect on Sunday to help people apply for benefits.

130K Michiganders filed for unemployment last week

The schedule will be based on alphabetical order, which means that people who have last names beginning with letters A through L are asked to file claims online on Mondays, Wednesday or Fridays. People with last names beginning with M through Z are asked to file claims online on Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays.

Saturdays are available for anyone to accommodate those who could not file online during their allotted window.

People can also continue to apply for benefits by calling 866-500-0017, but they will also have to call on specific days as well.

People with last names beginning with letters A through L are asked to call from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. People with last names beginning with letters M through Z are asked to call from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Fridays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. will be available for anyone to accommodate those who could not file during their allotted window.

The day or time of day in which a claim is filed won’t impact whether a worker receives benefits or their benefit amount. Additionally, claims will be back-dated to reflect the date in which a person was laid-off or let go from their job due to COVID-19. The eligibility window to apply has also been increased from 14 to 28 days from the date of their work stoppage.

AG clarifies who can work during stay at home order

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office is continuing to clarify which workers are deemed critical and which businesses should temporarily suspend projects or reduce their onsite operations due to the state’s COVID-19 outbreak.

This comes after Gov. Whitmer issued the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order in response to COVID-19.

The attorney general’s office has also deemed people who fall under the following categories in the workforce as critical infrastructure workers:

  • Health care/Public Health
  • Food and Agriculture
  • Water and Wastewater
  • Public Works
  • Other Community-Based Government Operations and Essential Functions
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Defense Industrial Base
  • Law Enforcement, Public Safety, First Responders
  • Energy
  • Transportation and Logistics
  • Communications and Information Technology
  • Critical Manufacturing
  • Financial Services
  • Chemical

The attorney general’s office has also added a new section on its website to provide Michigan residents with more information on the legal rights of employees and employers under the stay at home order. 

If an employee believes their employer is failing to take the proper precautions to protect employees from exposure to various threats, they can file a complaint online.  

Violations of the order can result in a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail for each violation. Violations should be reported to law enforcement that oversees the jurisdiction in which the alleged offense occurred. 

“We are all in this together. If you can work from home, please do so,” Nessel said. “If you are a business and the governor’s order requires you to reduce your onsite operations or temporarily suspend your onsite operations, please do that. For those who must work, please follow social distancing guidelines.”

Gov.’s order allows May 5 elections to continue

An executive order signed by Whitmer aims to encourage residents to vote absentee in the May 5 elections being held in some communities. The order allows the Department of State to assist local jurisdictions in mailing absentee ballot applications to every registered voter, and to provide absentee ballots directly to new registrants.

Under the order, local jurisdictions would also still need to keep at least one polling place open for those who want to vote in-person or are unable to vote by mail.

This comes after Whitmer issued a stay at home order which took effect at midnight Tuesday to slow the spread of COVID-19. Michigan has seen a huge jump in cases.

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“While we work to slow the spread of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to encourage Michiganders to stay home and stay safe,” said Whitmer. “The fewer people we have lining up at polling places the better, ensuring Michiganders safely practice social distancing while allowing them to safely exercise their right to vote in local elections.”

However, in a statement released Saturday, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) criticized Whitmer’s order, adding that the May 5 elections could have been delayed in order to protect people from COVID-19 and the integrity of the elections process.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, Jan. 14, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

“Instead, our Governor has authorized the Secretary of State to send absentee ballots to individuals who apply to register to vote without first ensuring proper verification.  This unilateral change to how we secure our elections has the potential to invite fraud and security concerns that may last well beyond the circumstances of today,” said Shirkey.

Additionally, Shirkey added, “Decisions made in haste rarely result in sound policy and we encourage the Governor to reconsider this misstep. It is in all our best interests to guard against fraud in our elections.”

However, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said canceling elections sets a dangerous precedent for democracy.

“[Canceling elections] signals that, in a time of great challenge and uncertainty, we would opt to give up on the fundamental building block of our republic — the ability to elect and hold our elected officials accountable,” Benson said. “My administration will ensure that all voters eligible to participate in a local election on May 5 receive applications to vote by mail, and we will work with our local clerks to recruit staff and set guidelines to help ensure their health, safety – and our elections – are secure.”

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announces details of Michigan’s new Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission on Oct. 24, 2019 | Claire Moore

Residents that want to register to vote in the May 5 election are encouraged to do so by April 20 and can do it online. They can register online or by mail using the form available here.

People who miss the deadline are still able to register to vote and can do so at their township or city clerk’s office, but should call ahead first.

New volunteer website launched to fight COVID-19

Whitmer and DHHS launched a new website where trained medical professionals can register to volunteer to assist hospitals in fighting COVID-19.

The state will also be working with hospitals and health systems that are short-staffed in order to fill gaps when necessary.

Other people can use the site to find out how they can help in their local communities, give blood, donate money or needed medical supplies, or assist public health officials in tracking infections.

State medical chief: ‘We are still in the upslope,’ COVID-19 cases expected to rise for weeks

People with a background in public health, health care fields or community organizing can assist with contact tracing. Contact tracing involves speaking with COVID-19-positive patients to determine the people they interacted with and locations they visited in the days prior to becoming infected.

The American Red Cross is also partnering with the state on the site. As the demand for blood remains high during the pandemic, Whitmer and the Red Cross encourage eligible, healthy Michigan donors to go online and schedule an appointment to give blood. The Red Cross has implemented COVID-19 mitigation measures at blood drives.

DNR closing amenities, bathrooms 

To help carry out Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is closing many amenities offered in state parks and recreation areas through April 13.

Amenities include concessions, playgrounds and play equipment, viewing platforms, fishing piers, volleyball and basketball courts, designated dog areas, disc golf courses, radio-controlled flying fields, pump tracks, and picnic tables and shelters.

The Big Sable Lighthouse on the Lake Michigan shore. Ludington State Park. Ludington, Michigan | Getty Images

Bathroom buildings and vault toilets will be closed in all state parks and recreation areas, including those at campgrounds, boating access sites and trailheads at state-designated trails. The DNR says that people are encouraged to plan accordingly to avoid needing a restroom during a visit. Hand washing stations will also not be provided.

There will also be minimal trash service available. Visitors are encouraged to bring trash bags or carry trash home.

State parks and recreation areas are still currently open, but it’s recommended that people follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for social distancing while outdoors. People must stay six feet away from one another to practice effective social distancing.

“We are doing everything possible to protect the health and safety of visitors and staff at state parks and recreation areas,” said DNR Director Dan Eichinger. “No matter how people are choosing to get outdoors, it is critical that everyone follows the social distancing guidelines. If they don’t, we will be forced to close public access to all state-managed lands.”