Michiganders are ordered to stay home for another three weeks, but manufacturers will be able to go back to work Monday.
“Manufacturing is an important part of our economy, there’s no question,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said. “And as we’ve done the risk assessment, we feel comfortable that with these safety protocols we can safely re-engage.”
Whitmer announced Executive Order 2020-77 to extend the stay-home order until May 28.
There are now 45,646 positive cases of COVID-19 in Michigan as of 3 p.m. Thursday and 4,343 people have died of the disease.
Whitmer first put in place a stay-home order on March 24, which was set to last until April 13. She extended it until April 30 and then until May 15. During the previous extension she made a few exceptions to allow for golf courses and plant nurseries to open up and allowed for motor boating.
Just over a week before that order was set to expire, she extended it once more.
This time, the big exception is that manufacturing workers are allowed to go back to work starting Monday, including employees at Michigan’s Big Three auto companies: General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles.
Manufacturing employers will be required to implement a number of safety measures, including daily entry screenings for everyone entering the facility, a questionnaire covering symptoms and exposure to people with possible COVID-19, temperature checks as soon as no-touch thermometers can be obtained and a suspension of all non-essential in-person visits, including tours.
All businesses in Michigan will require masks when workers can’t consistently maintain six feet of separation from others.
Whitmer said this is significant in reopening the state because the manufacturing sector makes up about 19% of Michigan’s economy.
“This is a sizable part of our economy, but it is an incremental step,” Whitmer said. “My team and I have been looking at the inherent risk in different sectors of our economy. This is work that was done with [Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC)] and the University of Michigan to help inform how we mitigate risk as we re-engage. My team and I determined that manufacturing has a lower risk score than some other industries.”
Whitmer also announced a six-step phasing system to help demonstrate what it will need to look like in order for the state to reopen completely.
Phase one is ‘uncontrolled growth’, where there is an increasing number of new cases every day, overwhelming our health systems.
“That’s where we were eight weeks ago,” Whitmer said.
She said that during this stage she closed schools, non-essential businesses and put the stay-home order in effect.
Phase two is ‘persistent spread,’ where there are continued high case levels with concern about health system capacity, but there isn’t exponential growth.
Phase three is ‘flattening’, where the epidemic is no longer increasing, the health-system’s capacity is sufficient for current needs and some low-risk sectors of the economy are able to open.
This is the phase that Whitmer says Michigan is in now.
“We know that even in this phase we are still safer at home,” she said. “And that’s why we’ll be extending the [stay-home] order to May 28, because we are still safer at home. While we can re-engage in more things, we got to be smart about it.”
Phase four is ‘improving’, where cases, hospitalizations and deaths are clearly declining. Whitmer said she hopes the state will move into phase four in “short order.”
Phase five is ‘containing’, where continued case and death rates improve, with outbreaks quickly contained. Phase six is ‘post-pandemic’, where community spread is not expected to return.
Whitmer said it’s going to “be a while” before Michigan reaches this phase because it is dependent on a vaccine or a cure for the disease.
Some good news, but ‘more work to do’
Although case numbers continue to rise in Michigan, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, says there is some good news in the data.
According to Khaldun, the seven day average number of cases is down 15% from the past week, and there is a decline in cases in Southeast Michigan, although it still remains a COVID-19 hotspot.
Another positive sign Khaldun mentioned is the percent of those testing positive for COVID-19 is declining significantly. About 10% of people who are tested are testing positive with the disease, which is a decrease from about 20% when the outbreak first started in early March.
The state also continues to ramp up testing statewide. More than 250,000 tests have been administered across the state, and the average number of people tested per week continues to increase.
“But there is still more work to do,” Khladun said. “And every region of the state at this time still needs more testing done.”
The state set a goal of 15,000 tests per day, which Khaldun says we are not there yet, but with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) the state should be able to hit that number by this month.
FEMA will be committing enough swabs and transport media for 15,000 tests per day during the month of May.
“When those supplies arrive, they will enable us to broadly test at-risk populations and support other testing efforts in the community,” Khaldun said.
However, Whitmer and Khaldun both agreed that despite the optimistic data, it is still important that people stay home, continue to follow social distancing and adhere to all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
“I want to remind everyone, as the governor said, that we have to be cautious. While the rate of spread of disease is slowing, we still have spread in many parts of the state,” Khaldun said. “Social distancing, not going out unless you absolutely must, wearing a mask in public places, not gathering in large groups and washing hands frequently are still incredibly important. And it still applies even as the weather gets warmer.”
Whitmer said that she will continue to watch the data, and if need be she will implement stricter measures to avoid a spike in cases or a second wave.
“We will remain nimble. We must,” Whitmer said. “We will monitor data so that we can pull back if we see a spike in cases that could overwhelm our hospitals, we will pull back if it’s necessary.”