Michigan’s stay-home order is over, but not everyone is out and about

People gather on Clearwater Beach during spring break despite world health officials' warnings to avoid large groups, on March 18, 2020 in Clearwater, Florida. Many states issued stay-home orders shortly thereafter, with Michigan's going into effect on March 24. | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For months, businesses deemed non-essential were closed to the public. Maps tracking location data from cell phones showed that Michiganders weren’t traveling as much. Festivals and events were canceled. Schools were shuttered as students learned from home.

The world seemed to stop for a moment. 

Susan J. Demas

But as COVID-19 numbers started to significantly drop off in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rolled back a number of her executive actions that closed businesses and limited group sizes and finally lifted the stay-home order.

A pandemic that spread in Michigan during the blustery days of early March has started to show signs of slowing down just as hot Michigan summer days beckoned people outside. 

For some, the world seemed ready to reopen. For others, it’s still too soon. 

And while there’s been no shortage of coverage of those unhappy with the stay-home order, polls have shown most Michiganders favor the restrictions and continue to be concerned about the disease that’s sickened more than 61,000 and killed more than 5,800 in the state. 

The Advance talked with some Michiganders this week who followed the governor’s guidelines and are still hesitant to drop their guard.

Karen Dunnam

Before COVID-19 hit Michigan and slowed life down, Karen Dunnam, 63, of Grand Rapids kept her schedule full. From square-dancing to organizing protests, Dunnam, who lives alone, always made her social life a priority. 

Karen Dunnam and her mask making station on her porch

But then COVID-19 put a halt to that and many activities that she filled her time with were canceled. 

“I’m retired. What do I do? I live alone. It’s kind of aggravating because this is my social life, going out to movies, going places and visiting with friends. So, the first few days were pretty dire,” Dunnam said. 

But she knew that she couldn’t take the risk and continue her life as normal, so she adapted. When she heard about groups coming together to sew and donate masks, Dunnam did what she does best: she got involved. 

The group has now donated around 13,000 masks and scrub caps to nonprofit organizations and healthcare communities. 

Dunnam, who has been sewing for five decades, said this gave her a new sense of purpose during the pandemic. 

“It’s fun to do something that’s not just jigsaw puzzles. This is something that I can do to create an impact,” Dunnam said. 

The Kent County COVID-19 memorial in Grand Rapids created by Karen Dunnam

Dunnam also created a tribute to the Kent County lives lost from COVID-19. Underneath the Love Sculpture in downtown Grand Rapids, Dunnam placed American flags and the photos and obituaries of the people who died of the disease. 

“This is the side we need to focus on, because these are friends, neighbors and loved ones,” Dunnam said. “I don’t know these people, but I wish I did, because I read their obituaries and they seem like nice folks.”

Alyssa Tangney

Alyssa Tangney, 32, was one month away from having her fifth child when Whitmer put the stay-home order in place. 

As things quickly progressed, Tangney and her husband, Steve, decided early on to follow the guidelines of the stay-home order because they weren’t sure about the risks for pregnant women and children. Tangney said she was only leaving her Pinckney residence to go to her doctor appointments every week. 

“They decided to deliver me two weeks early, and then we had a newborn,” Tangney said. 

Alyssa and Steve Tangney with their five children at home.

She said she was nervous about what the environment would be like at the hospital during her delivery with the risk of COVID-19 still high.

“The hospital did an amazing, amazing job. I had so much anxiety about what it would feel like there, because this definitely wasn’t our first rodeo. But they did a great job of making it feel like it wasn’t the middle of a pandemic,” she said. 

Now with five children all under the age of 6, Tangney has a new set of concerns, but she doesn’t have the same desire to return to life as it was. 

As school leaders and districts start to make plans for next fall, Tangney has already decided that she is going to homeschool her children. Her 6-year-old daughter wrapped up her final months of kindergarten at home on the computer, something Tangney wasn’t very comfortable with. 

“It was a big adjustment, because we went from not really doing computer stuff with the kids and then all of her school stuff was on the computers,” Tangney said. 

As more Michigan parents consider homeschooling, school budgets could be decimated

Even though many schools plan to open up in-person by the fall, Tangney isn’t willing to risk her family’s health. 

“We have a family of seven with so many little ones. It makes us a little bit cautious to send them off to school in the fall. And I can’t do distance learning again,” she said. 

But luckily, Tangney and her husband are able to work remotely for the most part, and she will be able to fit homeschooling into her schedule. 

She owns an event planning business, called Motherhood Mixer, where she hosts events and speakers for moms in Michigan to form a community together. 

“It’s a terrible business to have during all of this,” Tangney said. “I just had to wipe my whole 2020 calendar off, because even as things get lifted I just don’t feel comfortable bringing, you know, 50 women together who are all mothers.”

Jennifer Walker

In the middle of March, Jennifer Walker was sick. By the time the 38-year-old from Grand Rapids started seeing symptoms, COVID-19 numbers were quickly rising in Michigan and she was nervous that she was one of the many to have contracted the disease. 

She got tested for coronavirus and waited 11 days to find out that she only had the flu. 

Jennifer Walker and her husband Nick Walker

Walker’s husband, Nick, has diabetes, so to be cautious he slept on an air mattress in the living room. The couple wore masks constantly, even in the house, until she got the test results back. 

“When I got the negative results, I never ripped off a piece of clothing faster in my life,” she said. 

Walker was able to work from home and her husband was laid off, which meant the couple, who usually was out and about with friends before the quarantine, now spends a lot of time in the house. 

She and her husband are members at a local Polish hall in Grand Rapids where they would meet with friends every Monday night for drinks before the city’s bars and restaurants closed due to COVID-19. The group called themselves the “coffee club.”

“We typically have a very, very vibrant social life, and now we have none pretty much,” Walker said. 

But as they adjust to social distancing, their nights out now happen on Zoom calls or from six feet apart around a bonfire. As Walker watches friends start to ease up and head out to bars or run into the grocery store without masks, she says “it’s probably too soon” for she and her husband to follow suit. 

“We’re still not really going anywhere for now,” she said. 

Allison Donahue
Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.