Whitmer: Construction to resume next; longer emergency eyed
By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday she will allow commercial and residential construction to restart in Michigan within a week or two and is taking a “hard look” at whether to let industrial sectors like manufacturing reopen in the next phase of loosening her stay-at-home restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democratic governor also said she will ask the Republican-led Legislature to lengthen her emergency declaration by 28 days before it expires late Thursday. A lawmaker-approved extension, she said, would keep in place liability protections for health care workers and first responders amid the outbreak. She noted she generally does not need legislative approval to continue exercising her emergency powers, however.
“It’s better for everyone if we work together to get this right,” Whitmer said.
Michigan reported 92 additional deaths from COVID-19 and 432 more confirmed cases. Deaths surpassed 3,400, while cases topped 38,000.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
“Those of you who have taken this seriously over the past seven weeks, you have saved countless lives,” Whitmer said. “In the coming weeks, we will continue reengaging sectors of our economy and putting more Michiganders back to work.”
Operations to be reopened next besides construction include “outdoor enterprises.” Whitmer did not elaborate at her news conference.
“We’re taking a hard look at industrial to see if we’ve got the protocols and what that precisely would look like,” said Whitmer, who was joined by two of roughly 30 business, health care and other leaders who are advising her on how to safely restart the economy in phases.
The advisers said they split Michigan into eight work regions. Low-, medium- and high-risk sectors will be allowed to reopen in each region based on the pandemic’s risk levels: urgent, stabilizing and recovery.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, cautioned that the rise in infections is increasing, not slowing, in several regions.
Whitmer’s Michigan Economic Recovery Council is working with occupational health experts at the University of Michigan who have assigned “risk scores” to each of nine types of work: office, industrial, health care, retail, restaurant and lodging, schools, construction, outdoor and others.
Gerry Anderson, executive chairman of DTE Energy and a co-chair of the group, said employers will have to check for symptoms, increase social distancing, and intensify sanitation and hygiene practices.
“Masks will be ubiquitous in almost every workplace in Michigan,” he said. “Gloves and face shields will be in widespread use as well. The ability to contact trace within the workplace and then to isolate any positive cases is going to be an essential skill for every employer.”
Michigan had about 180,000 construction workers in March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was not immediately clear how many have lost work due to the pandemic, though road projects were allowed to continue under Whitmer’s stay-home orders. Jeff Wiggins, director of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan, estimated that 70% to 80% of construction work has been halted, delayed or canceled.
Wiggins, who wants Whitmer to let workers return to construction no later than Friday, expressed disappointment that she did not act Monday. He said builders who are exempt from the order have taken safety measures such as eliminating the use of tools by multiple workers.
“Gov. Whitmer’s delay in allowing our industry’s hardworking men and women to return to work continues to devastate Michigan’s blue-collar families,” he said.
The governor on Friday extended and loosened what she said was among the country’s strictest stay-home measures. The order is in effect through May 15.
Starting Monday, people had to wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces such as grocery stores. All businesses and operations with in-person workers were required to give them a non-medical grade mask.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel urged police to be lenient on employers that take “good-faith efforts” to secure masks but have trouble because of limited supplies.
Also Monday, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the city will test thousands of people at assisted living centers, adult foster homes and other congregate settings, thanks to $400,000 from Altimetrik, a suburban Detroit high-tech company, and its founder, Raj Vattikuti.
“We know that during this difficult time, our minority and low-income communities are struggling disproportionately with the impact of COVID-19,” Vattikuti said.
The city last week completed testing at 26 nursing homes, where 200 residents have died, Duggan said.