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Whitmer relaxes stay-at-home orders, but extends time

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed a new executive order to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. The emergency has been extended now to May 15 and it requires people to stay at home as much as possible. 

Her new order also lifts some restrictions on businesses and activities.

But her action Friday is not enough for Republican critics. GOP leaders called the Legislature back to the Capitol as political tensions ratcheted up.

Governor Whitmer announced her plans from the state’s emergency operations center. She says she understands hardships came with her stay-at-home order. But she says, by and large, people are complying.

“It’s doing the right thing and it’s paying off.”

The new order also now requires people to wear face masks when they venture into public places such as grocery stores. That’s on top of social distancing. She says the number of confirmed new cases appears to be headed in the right direction, but Michigan still has a lot of cases and deaths have topped 3,000 people now.

“We know that if we do it too fast, a second wave is likely and would be even more devastating than the moment that we are in.”

University of Michigan public health professor David Hutton researches infectious diseases. He’s OK with re-opening some businesses, but says it needs to be done cautiously. He says it’s probably smart for the governor to retain her emergency powers for the duration of the crisis.

“The state really needs to have a lot of testing infrastructure and contact tracing infrastructure in place and I don’t think we’re there yet, and it’s not clear that we’ll be there by the end of the month," he said. "So, I think extending that seems reasonable.

If the ramp-up is not handled well, there could also be dire economic consequences, says Paul Isley. He’s an economist and business professor at Grand Valley State University. He says this is a good moment to start testing back-to-work plans – and it’s not too late for Michigan to emerge from the COVID-induced recession.

"Bringing some people back to work will take off some of the pressure on the state budget. It will take off some of the pressure on unemployment benefits. And we will start to experiment with how far we can actually re-open the economy and still avoid a resurgence of the virus in the state.”

But Isley says a new wave of infections would be a resurgent disaster for businesses that have have burned through their cash reserves. He says that could lead to a new round of layoffs and the cascading effects of that on Michigan’s economy.

The Michigan Constitution gives governors broad authority to act during a crisis to protect life and property. But, at some point, a governor has to go to the Legislature to renew or extend emergency orders.

Republicans in the Legislature say the governor’s actions have been too onerous on businesses and workers. House Speaker Lee Chatfield says business owners are suffering, and they’re feeling ignored as the governor continues to claim emergency authority.

“Our main focus right now is ensuring that we have a collaborative process moving forward with this administration and ensure that they’re handling this pandemic the right way so that we can be the voice for the people as the Legislature was intended to be.”

Republicans who lead the House and the Senate convened a rare Friday session in an effort to assert the Legislature’s authority. Republicans created a special committee with subpoena power to examine the governor’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Lawmakers also adopted bills to require the governor to return to the Legislature more often to seek an extension of emergency powers.

Whitmer says those bills are a distraction from addressing the crisis and will be vetoed once they reach her desk.

Michigan Radio listeners, readers, and reporters are rising to the challenge every day. If you can, please support essential journalism during this crisis.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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