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State Sen. Zorn: Many businesses closed by stay at home order could be safely reopened

closed sign on a storefront door
Katie Raymond
Michigan Radio
Gov. Whitmer has extended the stay at home order through April 30. But some Republican state lawmakers say that the state could safely reopen parts of the economy safely before then.

Four weeks into Michigan’s stay at home order, communities all over the state have been in a holding pattern. Essential workers are making sure we stay fed and healthy, some businesses are allowing people to work from home, and others are at a crippling standstill.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week extended the stay at home order through April 30, citing Michigan's high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. But some Republican state leaders have suggested Michigan needs to plan on getting people back to work sooner rather than later. Among them are state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and state Senator Dale Zorn, who represents parts of Lenawee and Monroe Counties.

Executive Order 2020-42orders workers to stay home if their employers are “not necessary to sustain or protect life.” Zorn told Stateside host April Baer that has meant shutting down far too many businesses in the state. Industries that are able to handle sales online, he said, should be able to operate even if they don't fall into the "essential" categories laid out in the order. 

“There’s really quite a few businesses that could be open that don’t have personal contact with people. And I don’t see any reason why any of those businesses couldn't be operating,” Zorn said. 

Zorn pointed to things like automobiles, gardening supplies, and some home improvement goods as things  businesses could sell without coming into close contact with customers. Under the executive order, stores that have garden centers or plant nurseries, carpet and flooring departments, or paint, were told to shut down those areas of the store or remove items from shelf.

However, the extended stay at home order actually does allow car dealership employees to go into work if they "are necessary to facilitate remote and electronic sales or leases, or to deliver motor vehicles to customers." Auto showrooms must remain closed to the public. 

Zorn said the state government should be looking to slowly open up the state to keep unemployment down, increase tax revenue for state and local governments, and to assure citizens of an eventual return to normalcy. A geographic approach to opening up the state's businesses might also be prudent, according to Zorn. He pointed to the fact that West Michigan has far fewer COVID-19 cases than the east side of the state. 

“There comes a point where we can have a safe workplace as many businesses have done outside of the state. The idea of not having people able do anything is not sitting well with those that love those freedoms that we have in this country,” Zorn said. 

Gov. Whitmer defended her extension of stay at home order during a briefing on Monday. She said that a return to normal life was "on the horizon," but cautioned against moving too quickly to reopen businesses. The latest data, she said, shows that social distancing measures are working and slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the state. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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