Whitmer planning for phased-in reduction of coronavirus restrictions

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced she is working on plans to reduce restrictions on Michigan...
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced she is working on plans to reduce restrictions on Michigan businesses. (WJRT)
Published: Apr. 13, 2020 at 4:06 PM EDT
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(4/13/2020) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is beginning to plan for relaxing coronavirus restrictions as the number of new cases is falling.

She believes the smaller number of new coronavirus cases reported over Easter weekend and on Monday compared to last week shows the illness is reaching a plateau in Michigan and the curve is flattening.

Whitmer did not announce any dates or specific plans to begin removing restrictions, but she said her administration is actively planning and asking businesses to formulate plans, as well.

She said the measures would be reduced in phases.

"Every day we are writing the plan so we can re-engage safely at the appropriate time, because not one of us wants to go through this again -- not in a month, not in the fall," she said.

Whitmer is looking for at least four factors before reducing restrictions:

-- A sustained reduction in case counts.

-- Increased ability to test for and trace coronavirus cases.

-- Sufficient capability of hospitals to handle a surge.

-- Best practices for employers to prevent the spread at work.

"We have a few tough days ahead of us. But those days where we can resume some normalcy, they are on the horizon," she said. "We need to keep doing what we need to do to get past this moment."

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, who is Michigan's chief medical executive, said the state's coronavirus testing capacity has increased and will be expanded, so people with mild symptoms can now receive a test.

"This availability of new testing supplies and expanded capacity means we can now expand testing significantly, which will be critical to guiding our public health response," she said.

Whitmer thanked most residents for following her orders by staying home, limiting travel to essential purposes and practicing proper social distancing.

Whitmer said relaxing those measures too early could lead to a surge in new cases and deaths, which would overwhelm Michigan's health care system right now.

“We can’t afford a second wave, so it’s incredibly important we do this right,” Whitmer said.

Her remarks on Monday come after days of criticism following Thursday's extension of the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order, which imposed new restrictions on stores and limited residents from visiting their second homes.

Several Republicans have been critical of Whitmer's expanded restrictions and the negative effects small businesses, including lawn care and landscaping companies. She said she understands and sympathizes with the plight of residents.

“Every decision we’re making is based on the best science. I understand the frustration people have. I’m frustrated too," Whitmer said, adding that anger should be directed to her because she is making the decisions.

"I want you to have your freedom. I want mine too," Whitmer said. "We will get to a place where you can be with your friends and family again, where restaurants will open again, where we can go back to work safely again."

She also cautioned about misinformation circulating on social media, including alleged bans on buying car seats, bug spray and American flags. Whitmer said there are no bans on purchasing any of those.

She defended her order prohibiting downstate residents from visiting or moving to their second homes in Northern Michigan. The state's rural areas lack the health care infrastructure that urban areas have and could get overwhelmed quickly if an outbreak occurs.

"Just because you live in an area with a few cases doesn't mean it can't spread rapidly and impact your family and friends and neighbors," Whitmer said. "One person unknowingly carrying COVID-19 can infect another 40 people, who can then infect thousands more."

Regarding criticism about requiring retailers and greenhouses to stop selling plants and gardening supplies, Whitmer pointed out peak season for them is still a month away -- and could come later this year due to cold weather.

Greenhouses and plant wholesalers also qualify for small business assistance.