As COVID-19 spreads and Mich. death toll hits 1k, Whitmer signs stronger stay home order

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

“I’m in the business of saving lives,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said after announcing she is expanding Michigan’s stay-at-home order until April 30. 

As expected, Executive Order 2020-42 extends the prior “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, which was set to end Monday. What some conservative critics didn’t seem ready for was that she also imposed more stringent limitations on travel and stores to reduce foot traffic in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“This doesn’t mean everything will go back to normal on May 1,” Whitmer said. “But based on the data we have right now, this is the appropriate window for an extension. It will take time to safely and responsibly reopen the economy, which is why we will continue to provide critical unemployment support and assistance to our small businesses during this challenging time. We will get through this if we all continue to do our part.” 

Michigan COVID-19 deaths surpass 1K, cases top 21K

The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise in Michigan. Health officials believe due to test shortages, the actual number of cases is higher than what’s being reported. 

As of Thursday afternoon, the state is reporting 21,504 positive cases of COVID-19 and 1,076 deaths.* Although metro Detroit has borne the brunt, the virus has spread to 72 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

Michiganders have until Friday to travel between two residences, but after that date, all unnecessary travel is prohibited under the order until April 30. 

The new executive order also requires that large stores allow in no more than four customers for every 1,000 square feet of customer floor space at one time. Small stores must limit capacity to 25% of the total occupancy limits, including staff.

Stores that are larger than 50,000 square feet are also required to dedicate at least two hours per week for vulnerable populations to shop, including people older than 60, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions.

All store areas dedicated to carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries or paint must be closed until April 30 in an attempt to clamp down on people browsing for nonessential items. The new order also directs all stores to establish lines marked every 6 feet to ensure customers are social distancing.

Along with new guidelines for grocery stores, the order reinstates the ban on all public and private gatherings and continues to encourage social distancing when people do go out for grocery shopping or exercise. 

The governor’s latest order also continues to prohibit all businesses from requiring employees to work in-person, unless those workers are necessary to “sustain or protect life” or are only there to conduct minimum basic operations. 

“It’s clear that staying home is the most effective way we can slow the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan,” said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun. “This aggressive action will help us protect more people and ease the strain on our health care system.” 

This week, leaders from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) called for efforts to reopen certain businesses, something echoed by some Republican lawmakers, like state Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), who wants golf courses up and running. 

State Rep. Triston Cole (R-Macelona) said that many counties up north haven’t been impacted much and he’s concerned about the impact on outdoor recreation.

Triston Cole
Triston Cole

“Boat owners are not even allowed to pick up their boats from winter storage right now, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Cole said in a statement.

This week, both the House and Senate met to approve a 23-day extension to the state of emergency, which made Whitmer’s stay-home extension possible. But rather than include the geographic and industry-specific carveouts business groups and Republicans asked for, she made the order even stricter.

Some Republican leaders were not happy. 

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) was critical of the governor’s extension and said people living in the regions around the state with few or no known cases of COVID-19 should be allowed to return to work. 

“Michiganders have spent the past three weeks living under an order that severely restricts their ability to work outside their homes, earn a living, and participate in society,” he said in a statement Thursday. “The Senate Republicans believe a strategic application of ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ is appropriate going forward.”

But he added that “individuals living in regions of the state that are experiencing little to no growth in infection rates should be able to return to their jobs to support their families if proper safety protocols are put in place. Similarly, businesses that can implement strict health and safety measures should be permitted to remain open and operational regardless of whether they are deemed ‘essential.’”

Chatfield and Shirkey
Lee Chatfield (left) and Mike Shirkey (right)

State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) also blasted Whitmer for not narrowing the order. 

The governor’s extended Stay-at-Home order is the wrong call and is bad for Michigan families,” Chatfiled wrote on Twitter. “We had a chance today to protect public health and take a positive step towards recovery. Unfortunately, rather than focus on what’s safe, the governor decided again who is ‘essential.’”

Whitmer says she is not making any exceptions to the rules.

“Now is not the time to pull back at all,” Whitmer said. “It is the time to intensify.”

She also said that expanding exceptions to the order would make it easier for COVID-19 to spread.

“Every single exception to the stay home, stay safe order makes this more porous. It makes it less likely to work, it means more people are going to get sick or people are going to die and our economy is going to suffer for longer,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer to extend stay home order on Thursday

Her order won kudos from several organized labor groups.

We’re all looking forward to the worst of this to finally begin to recede so we can return to our routines and workplaces, but we must only do so when the scientific data clearly indicates it’s safe for working people. Workers’ lives and safety are not expendable,” said Ron Bieber, Michigan American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) president.

And Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said the order is “tough medicine, but it’s working and it’s imperative that we see this through.”

SNAP benefits expanded to serve students out of school

Whitmer also announced that Michigan will be the first state in the country to roll out a pandemic food assistance program for families who qualify for free or reduced priced lunches.

The governor announced last week that schools won’t be reopening for the school year, and a major concern with this decision was for the children who are dependent on school lunches for meals each day.  

Detroit schools revamp free meal program during COVID-19 crisis

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services approved the new Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program, which will provide food for approximately 895,000 Michigan students. 

Whitmer says $172 million per month will be going to families, which is approximately $193 per child each month. 

Students who qualify for free or reduced priced lunches will qualify for this program whether or not their family currently receives SNAP benefits.