U.P., parts of northern Mich. will be back in business before Memorial Day

Bond Falls, Upper Peninsula | Susan J. Demas

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday announced the partial reopening of the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan as the rate of new cases of COVID-19 continues to slow.

Whitmer’s plan allows retail businesses and offices to reopen, but bars and restaurants will be required to operate at 50% capacity in time for Memorial Day weekend, usually a busy time for travel in Michigan.

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

However, her latest order doesn’t allow barbers, salons, spas, movie theaters, casinos, gyms, overnight lodging, campgrounds or rental properties to reopen.

Her decision to reopen Region 6, which consists of 17 counties in Northern Michigan, and Region 8, which is the entire Upper Peninsula, is part of her six-part plan to reopen the state amid a decline in the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 and the state’s effort to ramp up testing, as previously reported by the Advance

When combined, those areas account for 7.5% of the Michigan Economic Recovery Council (MERC) reporting regions in Michigan. 

In addition, Whitmer is giving governing bodies in these regions a choice when it comes to fully re-engaging their economies.

“If they want to take a more cautious course, they’re free to limit the operation of restaurants or bars within their jurisdiction, including restricting such establishments to outdoor seating.”

Reopening regions | Gov. Gretchen Whitmer office

Her announcement came as Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said COVID-19 case and death trends across the state have continued to improve and more than 28,000 people have recovered from the disease.

Whitmer also advised Michiganders who don’t live in those areas to “think long and hard before visiting them,” adding positive cases of COVID-19 are being reported across the state.

The state reported seeing almost 52,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 4,900 deaths as of 3 p.m. Monday.

When will people be comfortable traveling? For Michigan, that’s a multi-billion-dollar question.

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) released a statement  Monday that said Senate Republicans are “cautiously optimistic that the governor may be coming around to what we have known for some time, that our citizens are ready and able to safely resume daily life.”

House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) tweeted that Whitmer’s announcement was a positive step that he and other Republican lawmakers have been requesting for more than a month, but the vast majority of Michigan is still “held captive in the nation’s worst lockdown.”