Gov. unveils school reopening plan, warns about rise in younger COVID-19 cases

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

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday outlined her schools reopening plan and stated her continued concern about COVID-19 spread, particularly at bars and restaurants, as Michigan heads into the Independence Day holiday weekend.  

Whitmer also reported that the state has experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases in younger adults. 

“As we look to September, we can not let our guard down,” she said, referring to schools opening. “The virus has not changed.”

The first-term Democrat also thanked high-profile Republicans who have publicly displayed their mask-wearing efforts: U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Vice President Mike Pence and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

“We’ve got to take the politics out of this,” Whitmer said. “Wearing a mask is a sign of respect.”

Michigan confirmed its first two COVID-19 cases on March 10, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The state’s first death was reported by state officials on March 18.

The state currently has almost 64,000 cases and 6,000 deaths.

Bars and restaurants

Risk levels in cities like Lansing and Grand Rapids have heightened in recent days. Harper’s Restaurant & Brew Pub in East Lansing has attracted huge crowds after reopening earlier this month. COVID-19 cases linked to the bar have increased to at least 107, according to Ingham County health officials. Through contact tracing, at least one report suggests that the spread has gone as far as the Grosse Pointe area. 

“We’ve gotta be smart,” Whitmer said. “We can’t let our guard down. We cannot play fast and loose.”

Michigan reports another COVID-19 uptick with 373 cases, 32 deaths

Whitmer’s executive order issued on June 1 that became active beginning on June 8, limited bar and restaurant capacity to 50% and requires employees to wear personal protective equipment.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan last week threatened to shut down any bar or restaurant that does not enforce capacity limits or fails to require employees to wear masks.

“We saw a few incidences last weekend that were far too concerning,” Duggan said during his Thursday briefing.  

Schools reopening plan

Whitmer on Tuesday released the “MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap.” She referred to it as a comprehensive document to help districts create local plans for in-person learning in the fall. It outlines a number of safety protocols for schools to implement. 

As part of the bipartisan budget deal reached with legislative leaders, Whitmer announced that $256 million will be allocated to schools to implement such measures.

Whitmer also signed Executive Order 2020-142, which provides a structure to support all schools in Michigan as they plan for a return of pre-K-12 education in the fall.

Whitmer: K-12 schools will return to in-person learning in fall

“Our students, parents, and educators have made incredible sacrifices during our battle with COVID-19,” she said. “Thanks to our aggressive action against this virus, the teachers who have found creative ways to reach their students, and the heroes on the front lines, I am optimistic that we will return to in-person learning in the fall.”

Executive Order 2020-142 requires school districts to adopt a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan laying out how they will protect students and educators across the various phases of the Michigan Safe Start Plan. The plan offers guidelines as to the types of safety protocols that will be required or recommended at each phase.

David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan, praised the plan for prioritizing in-person learning.

“Our teachers and support staff are eager and ready to implement safety measures in our schools to ensure everyone who steps foot in them is protected from the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

The new University of Michigan report finds about one-third of parents surveyed don’t plan to send their children back to class in the fall.

Almost 60% of parents need schools to reopen safely so they can return to work

The study found two-thirds of parents will be sending their children back to school. However, Black, Latino and Asian parents indicated that they were less likely to say they will send their children to school, compared to white parents. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color through Michigan.

Other orders

Whitmer also signed Executive Order 2020-140 and 2020-141. The measures extend policies lifting certain requirements of the application process for young residents to obtain a work permit and allowing local governments to use alternative means, other than mass mailings, to send out hearing notifications.

“It is important that young Michiganders — an essential part of our workforce — have an opportunity to find a summer job, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when many workers must stay home when experiencing symptoms or because they are part of a vulnerable population, and for local governments to continue serving their residents while also practicing social distancing to keep their employees safe,” Whitmer said.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.