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Whitmer announces reopening of retail, restaurants, offices

In this Monday photo provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a news conference in Lansing. Restaurants, bars and other retail businesses can reopen in much of the northern Lower Peninsula and all of the Upper Peninsula starting Friday, Whitmer announced Monday — a key step for the tourism-dependent region before the Memorial Day weekend and summer season. (AP photo)

MARQUETTE — A partial reopening of the Upper Peninsula and Traverse City regions will take effect Friday as part of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan to re-engage the economy.

Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-92 on Monday, which allows reopening of retail businesses as well as restaurants and bars with limited seating, and the resumption of office work that cannot be done remotely in the two regions, a press release from the governor’s office states.

The two regions, regions six and eight, are detailed in Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan to re-engage the economy. Region six is identified as the Traverse City area while region eight is the U.P.

However, cities, villages and townships may choose to take a more cautious course if they wish, officials said in the press release.

The order does not abridge their authority to restrict the operations of restaurants or bars, including limiting such establishments to outdoor seating, the press release states.

“This is a big step, but we must all remember to continue doing our part to protect ourselves and our families from the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said in the release. “It’s crucial that all businesses do everything in their power to protect their workers, customers and their families. And as we approach Memorial Day weekend, I encourage everyone to be smart and be safe. My team and I will continue to work around the clock to protect the people of Michigan.”

All businesses that will reopen in regions six and eight must adopt the safety measures outlined in Executive Order 2020-91. Under the order, businesses that resume in-person work must develop a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan and make it available to employees and customers by June 1.

“The governor’s actions make sure that as we re-engage our economy, workplaces are safe for employees and customers,” Jeff Donofrio, director of the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, said in a press release. “The director of COVID-19 workplace safety will help to coordinate safety guidelines across workplaces and ensure workers and employers know the latest ways to keep us safe.”

That means businesses must, among other things, provide COVID-19 training to workers that covers, at a minimum, workplace infection-control practices, the proper use of personal protective equipment, steps workers must take to notify the business or operation of any symptoms of COVID-19 or a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, and how to report unsafe working conditions.

Restaurants and bars will also have to limit capacity to 50% of their normal seating, keep groups at least six feet from one another, require their servers to wear face coverings, and follow rigorous disinfection protocols.

“The data shows that these regions in Michigan are seeing consistent encouraging trends when it comes to the number of cases, deaths and the percent of tests that are positive for COVID-19,” said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun in the press release. “It’s important to note that these businesses must take special precautions to protect Michiganders. I also encourage everyone to continue to wear a mask in public, maintain a 6-foot distance from others, and to remain vigilant in washing their hands often. This will help prevent a second surge in cases in our state.”

Marquette County Health

Department weighs in

The Marquette County Health Department is proceeding with caution in light of Whitmer’s announcement that the state will allow bars, restaurants and retail establishments to open under certain guidelines.

Dr. Patrick Jacuzzo, director of environmental health at the county health department, said in an email Monday that local health departments “have not been receiving specific information in advance” of the governor’s announcements and executive orders during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Per our understanding, the current order which affects the phased opening within our region — region (eight) — doesn’t … take effect until 12:01 a.m. on Friday, 5-22-20. The governor intends to provide specific interpretative guidance to the associated executive order prior to that time,” Jacuzzo said. “As such, the Marquette County Health Department (MCHD) will need to meet to discuss its implications and then determine the health department’s role and response. It is also important that MCHD have the opportunity to address the state, through MDHHS (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services), with any questions, prior to a response from MCHD.”

At this time MCHD cannot provide accurate information regarding the specifics of the phased opening of businesses in the Upper Peninsula, officials said.

He added that at this time, it is the understanding of MCHD, based upon the statements of the governor, that this order allowing limited reopening doesn’t include campgrounds.

Leaders, officials weigh in

In comments included in a press release from the governor’s office, Marquette Mayor Jenna Smith said: “I support the shift to making decisions on a regional level when possible. As restrictions are slowly eased, it will be important for us to remain vigilant to stop the spread of the virus.”

In a press release addressing the limited reopening of the U.P., state Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, said she is grateful for Whitmer’s leadership in declaring strict Stay Home orders in March.

“By taking an aggressive approach at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our rural hospitals and health care system in the U.P. were protected,” Cambensy said in the release. “We would not see a partial reopening of our regional economy this early without the governor making that tough decision to do so, and having U.P. residents take the order seriously speaks volumes of our grit and determination to overcome any barriers as Yoopers.”

Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, said in a press release he was pleased to hear the governor’s announcement but fears the re-engagement has come too late for some.

“Sparing lives and protecting the health and well-being of people is a noble pursuit. One life lost to this virus is one too many, but the broader effects of this shutdown have been deep and wide,” McBroom said in a press release. “Livelihoods throughout the U.P. have been irrevocably lost. This could lead to the loss of homes and the inability of people to even feed their families. Perhaps worse, I have been in touch with families who’ve lost people to suicide and those who have considered it due to despair or untreated pain.”

Region six in the governor’s MI Safe Start Plan includes the following counties: Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Crawford, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Presque Isle and Emmet.

Region eight includes the following counties: Gogebic, Ontonagon, Houghton, Keweenaw, Iron, Baraga, Dickinson, Marquette, Menominee, Delta, Alger, Schoolcraft, Luce, Mackinac and Chippewa.

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