Lawmakers present less restrictive COVID plan

The five-phase proposal would gradually open businesses when certain benchmarks are met.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey introduced a plan to open Michigan, safely, in response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s shelter-in-place order, which has been criticized for being too restrictive on essential businesses.

The Senate Republican-led proposal acknowledges the need for the vast majority of citizens to continue to stay at home, but differs from Whitmer’s current “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order by adopting several revisions.

“Michigan remains an outlier amongst states with strict stay-at-home orders,” said Shirkey. “Our governor did not adopt updated guidance from the federal government in her most recent stay-at-home order that would provide greater clarity for employers and employees and would permit more people to work.”

For example, Whitmer recently declared industries like housing construction were not essential, and therefore not allowed to operate under her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, despite homebuilders being able to operate in surrounding states.

Shirkey’s proposal includes five transitional phases. Each phase considers testing capabilities, health care systems’ capacity for COVID-19 patients and treatment, availability of personal protective equipment, available data and ultimately a vaccine or similar medical breakthrough to combat COVID-19.

Each phase also outlines conditions in the state, suggested safe business operations and guarded levels of citizen activity.

The Open Michigan Safely proposal also would allow low-risk businesses to operate during Phase 1. Low-risk businesses are defined as those with little to no physical contact between employers, employees and customers.

Workers who can perform their jobs without the need for physical contact with another individual would be allowed to resume work. Some examples of this are lawn-care or pest-control businesses.

Phase 2 would take place when COVID-19 cases and deaths fall for five out of seven days and the health care systems are below 75% capacity.

During this time lower-exposure risk businesses can operate if they are closed to the public or are open to the public with “extreme social distancing,” such as outdoor recreational activity.

Phase 3 would be implemented after cases and deaths fall for 17 out of 21 days and the health care systems are below 50% capacity. During this time, bars and restaurants would be limited to 50% capacity and gatherings of less than 100 individuals would be allowed.

Phase 4 will take effect when cases and deaths fall for 19 out of 21 days, health care systems are below 33% capacity and the state is not experiencing a shortage of tests.

Bars and restaurants will be allowed to operate at full seating capacity, and gatherings with less than 250 individuals will be permitted during this time.

All remaining restrictions on businesses, including entertainment businesses, would be removed during Phase 5 – if there is no active spread for 30 days or a vaccine has been available for the same time period.

Individuals with symptoms of or exposure to COVID-19 still would be requested to self-isolate for 14 days during Phase 5.

Shirkey said the proposal may be refined and improved over time with input from the medical community, health care systems and other experts.

“We welcome input from the medical community to improve this proposed framework,” Shirkey said. ”We also hope the Senate bipartisan ‘Safe Behaviors for Safe Workplaces’ work group will consider this proposal as they continue to gather information about getting Michiganders safely back to work.”

Prior to the introduction of the Open Michigan Safely plan, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce also published a list of recommendations for “Planning Michigan’s Economic Restart.”

Among numerous requests, the chamber requested for Whitmer’s office to better define the metrics for relaxing restrictions based on her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order.

“We recognize the first order of business is to mitigate the virus,’ said Andy Johnston, vice president of government and corporate affairs for the chamber. “There cannot be a choice between protecting life and returning to work. We need both, and a lot of businesses already have taken measures to protect workers.”

Additionally, the chamber asked Whitmer to adopt uniform — preferably federal — guidelines for working safely and to develop a matrix to allow for regions of the state where the curve has flattened to reopen based on data.

“One of the silver linings in all of this is how strong the West Michigan business community is as far as coming together and stepping up to tackle the challenge,” Johnston said.

The Grand Rapids Chamber also recently announced the creation of the Rapid Response Economic Relief Fund to provide short-term, emergency financial relief to small businesses impacted by widespread closures brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak. The fund has raised more than $1 million thus far and seeks to raise $3 million in total.

Johnston said the objective of the fund is to close the gaps in federal stimulus spending.

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