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State officials discuss easing restrictions, concerns about West MI cases, and Tuesday's election

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium

After easing restrictions for industries like landscaping and construction over the past two weeks, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced today in a press briefing that the state will need to have a waiting period before making decisions about other industries going back to work.

Governor Whitmer announced last week construction could begin again on May 7. She says now thestate will study if cases of COVID-19 begin to increase again when some sectors of the economy return to work.

“It’s really important that between each of these moments where we reengage another sector that we have some time go by so we can assess. Is COVID-19 starting to rise in a particular area again, or not? Is it safe to turn the knob for the next step?”

Whitmer says the ideal time for watching a re-introduced industry, would be two weeks, the outer limit of the incubation time for COVID-19. But she says the time could be shorter for other industries in parts of the state with lower risk.

The state’s Economic Recovery Council will work with scientists from the University of Michigan to determine risk ratings for different industries.

State officials say overall, Michigan’s COVID-19 numbers are heading in the right direction.

But Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun is concerned about rising cases in West Michigan and in rural communities in Northern Michigan.

“We’re closely working with our local health departments in those areas to make sure we are monitoring any outbreaks and isolating and quarantining people as necessary,” she said.

Over the past eight weeks, more than 43,000 Michiganders have tested positive for the disease. More than one-third have officially recovered from the disease.

More than 4,000 people have died.

Additionally, Whitmer has created an office to oversee how money is being spent in the state’s battle with COVID-19.

Whitmer says the office will trace where money from the state treasury, philanthropic groups, and the federal government is being spent.

“Michiganders have the right to expect no less so in a time of crisis that state government will be responsible stewards of their resources,” she said.

The Department of Technology, Management and Budget will designate a Chief COVID-19 Accountability Officer to lead the Accountability Office.

jocelyn benson at podium
Credit michigan.gov

In the same press briefing, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says voter turnout for Tuesday’s election is almost twice what’s normal for a May election.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the state to make the May election primarily "mail-in," closing most polling places to in-person voting.

County clerks are required to have one location open on election day for same-day registration and filing of absentee ballots.

Benson says absentee ballots were sent to registered voters in communities holding votes on various school ballot measures.

“Voters should take assurance in this. With two statewide elections on the horizon, this August and November, we have shown that we can protect your health and your right to vote.”

Benson says a normal May election draws about 12% of eligible voters.

She says so far 20% of voters eligible for the May 5 election have returned ballots.

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

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
Abigail Censky is the Politics & Government reporter at WKAR. She started in December 2018.
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