Whitmer extends stay-home order, but allows some businesses to open

Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief deputy director for health with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, joins Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a press conference Friday to extend the stay-home order. Photo courtesy of governor's office
Updated, 6:39 a.m. 4/24/20

As the number of new COVID-19 cases per day in Michigan begins to fall, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer extended the state’s stay-home order to May 15. At the same time, she said certain businesses will be allowed to open and other restrictions will be lifted.

“As we’ve seen our numbers begin to plateau over the course of the last week, we know that it’s because Michiganders are doing their part and staying home and staying safe,” Whitmer said at a press conference Friday morning. “I want to reiterate how important it is that we continue to do that. It’s doing the right thing and it is paying off.”

She asked Michiganders to continue to social distance and avoid places with high concentrations of people.

Michigan recently dropped to No. 7 in the U.S. for highest number of COVID-19 cases per state, but remains in the top 5 for related deaths. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, has acknowledged the decline in cases, but cautioned last week that Michigan is “not out of the woods.”

Other medical experts agree with the extension to the stay-home order. Doctors on the Committee to Protect Medicare said staying at home longer will help reduce infections and protect the state.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken nearly 3,000 lives in Michigan and decisions must be made based on science and data, not on partisan politics or irresponsible public protests,” the Committee to Protect Medicare Executive Director Rob Davidson, an emergency physician in West Michigan, said in a press release. “I support what Gov. Whitmer is doing because she’s providing an evidence-based strategy to confront COVID-19. The mixed messages and science denial coming from those opposed to the extension are downright dangerous.”

The Michigan Nurses Association echoed the group’s support for the order in a press release, applauding the governor’s efforts to save lives.

“What we all lose in doing various activities, we gain in protecting ourselves, our neighbors and our loved ones,” Jamie Brown, a registered nurse and president of the association, said in the release. “When you stay home, you are also protecting nurses and other frontline workers. We are risking our lives right now and need everyone’s support. If everyone does their part, we will get through this difficult time more quickly and with far fewer tragedies.

Under the new order, activities Republican legislators have pushed for in recent weeks will be permitted, such as golfing and the use of motorized boats. Though state parks have remained open in Michigan throughout the stay-home order, outdoor activities such as hiking, running and cycling are included in the order, with an advisory to continue to stay 6 feet from others.

Gardening stores, landscaping operations and other outdoor businesses are able to operate under the order.

Earlier this month, Whitmer signed an executive order to ban travel between residences inside the state in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. This restriction, opposed by some Republicans in the Legislature, has been lifted, as well.

A large part of why the state can look at reopening businesses is the increased ability for residents to be tested for COVID-19. The state health department is working to track trends in the spread of COVID-19, and Khaldun said on Friday anyone in the state can access a test, after weeks of residents reporting not having access.

To protect customers and workers, Whitmer said individuals will be required after April 26 to wear masks in enclosed public spaces. She encouraged the use of homemade masks, so medical staff can use medical grade masks, and said most residents are wearing masks already.

Whitmer said grocery store workers have told her most customers abide by safe practices in stores. The workers also said individuals should continue to social distance while wearing a mask and should limit their number of trips to the store.

There isn’t a penalty for not wearing a mask and people who are not medically able to wear one are not required to, but businesses can refuse service to anyone not wearing a mask.

The stay-home order and dozens of other executive orders have been hard on the state, and Whitmer acknowledged the over 1 million Michiganders who’ve filed for unemployment.

“As hard as this moment is for us right now, as isolated as we feel, and as stressed as we are about getting back to work and reopening up businesses, we know that if we do it too fast, a second wave is likely, and would be even more devastating than the moment that we are in,” Whitmer said.

At the same time Whitmer was speaking about the details of the new executive order, the Legislature was meeting to consider stripping her executive power. Whitmer said she found it odd that despite medical experts advising to not meet in-person, the legislature chose to do so, though the mass majority of their constituents approve the stay-home order.

GOP calls rare Friday session to strike down Whitmer’s emergency powers — which she can veto

The result of the executive orders on public health might not ever be known, Whitmer said, but she thanked Michigan residents for keeping themselves, loved ones and fellow Michiganders safe by social distancing.

“The thing about public health is when you do it well, you never know how many lives you’ve saved, but we do know that it’s worked and we’ve pushed the curve down,” Whitmer said. “That’s because all of you.”