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Whitmer to extend stay-home order; state furloughs 6% of its workers

In a pool photo provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The governor made clear that she will extend her stay-at-home order beyond April 30 and that some form of it will be in effect for a "long time" in Michigan, hinting that people age 65 and older and those with chronic lung problems may face restrictions longer than others. (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP, Pool)

LANSING (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made clear Wednesday that she will extend her stay-at-home order beyond April 30 and that some form of it will be in effect for a “long time” in Michigan, hinting that people age 65

and older and those with chronic lung problems may face restrictions longer than others.

The governor said she hopes to say more on Friday about the loosening of business limits to restart parts of the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. People will have to stay home unless they are explicitly permitted to leave under what is expected to be a revised measure, she said.

“There will be a need for an extension of some sort,” Whitmer told reporters. “We know that even when we get to a stable moment, people who are compromised, who are vulnerable to COVID-19, are still going to need to stay home. Some version will be in effect for a while.”

THE LATEST

Michigan reported 113 additional deaths, bringing the total to more than 2,800. There were nearly 34,000 confirmed cases in the state, an increase of roughly 1,000 over Tuesday’s figure. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

In western Michigan, Kent County’s cases jumped 20% to more than 750, a spike that the county health department attributed to more testing.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the “overall trend looks good.” He noted that only 17 of the 1,000 beds at the TCF Center field hospital were being used.

Beaumont Health, with eight hospitals in southeastern Michigan, said it had 728 COVID-19 patients — down nearly 40% from two weeks ago.

“We see these signs and know that perhaps we can start to take some small steps forward,” said Whitmer, who cautioned the need to closely watch the virus’s spread in places outside metro Detroit such as Kent, Muskegon and Alpena counties. “Now is an appropriate time to reassess the breadth of the current stay-at-home order to assess the scope of what the next one might look like.”

LAYOFFS

Whitmer’s administration notified state employees of temporary layoffs that were necessitated by a drop in tax revenues due to the pandemic.

The state will furlough 2,900, or about 6%, of its roughly 48,000 workers for two weeks to save about $5 million. Officials will reassess whether further furlough days are necessary.

“I’ve made a lot of hard choices in the past six weeks. This was one of the hardest,” Whitmer said.

The affected employees will keep their health insurance and other benefits, and will be automatically enrolled for unemployment.

Earlier this month, the state began paying an extra $375 a week to roughly 14,000 employees such as prison guards, state troopers, child-welfare caseworkers and people who work in veterans homes.

Separately, Henry Ford Health System in the Detroit area announced the temporary layoff of 2,800 workers, a day after Beaumont announced cuts. They have lost revenue due to a suspension of non-virus medical services.

PRISON FALLOUT

A Corrections Department employee who usually hunts for fugitives was in critical condition with COVID-19 after agreeing to work at a prison that had a staffing shortage, an official said.

Deputy Director Russ Marlan identified the worker on Facebook as Tom Johnson, an “incredibly hard working, competent and honest man.”

Johnson’s fianceé also works for the department.

About 30 members of the department’s absconder unit were shifted to the Parnall and Lakeland prisons, where staff have been hit hard by the coronavirus, spokeswoman Holly Kramer said Wednesday.

At least 25 prisoners and two staff members at Michigan prisons have died of COVID-19 complications. Hundreds have tested positive for the coronavirus.