MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Monday that specific lower-risk regions of Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula, could resume limited retail, restaurants and office work operations beginning Friday, May 22, with additional safeguards for workers and patrons.
The announcement follows a continued statewide decline in reported COVID-19 cases and deaths, largely due to social distancing measures in place over the last several weeks.
“I’m grateful for Governor Whitmer’s leadership in declaring a strict Stay Home order in March," said State Representative Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette). "By taking an aggressive approach at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our rural hospitals and healthcare system in the U.P. were protected. 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.”
“Like many residents in the Upper Peninsula, I was pleased to hear the governor announce today that she has decided to allow some restaurants, bars, retail and office locations to go back to work on Friday. While this is a welcome development and something that I have been calling for, it does not go far enough, and I worry it may be too late for some," said State Senator Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Township). “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. 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."
“I have been pushing the governor’s office to take a regional approach that allows the Upper Peninsula – where we have seen very few cases of COVID-19 – to reopen more quickly,” State Representative Greg Markkanen (R-Hancock) said. “There have been less than 10 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the 110th House District since these business closures have started. There is simply no justification for our communities to continue living under the same harsh restrictions as people in Detroit, where there have been more than 10,000 confirmed cases.”
Rep. Markkanen noted that restaurants and bars will be allowed to serve customers while abiding by safety protocols that include providing personal protective equipment to workers, placing tables at least six feet apart and operating at no more than 50 percent of their normal seating capacity.
Local municipalities will have the authority to place additional limitations on businesses in their jurisdictions, if they so choose.
“I’m glad the governor is starting to listen to the concerns I have brought her on behalf of U.P. families and workers,” Rep. Markkanen said. “We’re finally beginning to move in the right direction with these changes, and I’m hopeful we can take even more steps to return to normal life if we continue to see low numbers of cases in the coming weeks.”
One area that U.P. residents have still expressed concern over are the influx of tourists that traditionally frequent the U.P. in the summer months. Many small businesses rely on tourism as their lifeblood and wouldn’t be able to survive without a partial reopening soon.
Rep. Cambensy hopes the efforts of both public and private partners to prepare for reopening will help reassure community members that are still worried for their safety.
“In the last few weeks, legislators and economic development leaders have been working with our U.P. hospitals on creating more transparency of COVID-19 cases at their facilities, what their occupancy rates are, how many ventilators are available, and what their plan is to effectively deal with any uptick in cases should they occur," Rep. Cambensy said. "We also have our U.P. public universities at the table to be large-scale testing facilities in order to serve our community members but also reassure them that they have developed campus-wide testing protocols for staff and students. And our small businesses and restaurants have created reopening plans similar to our grocery stores with required social distancing, masks, and greater sanitary cleaning plans in place.”
Sen. McBroom feels even more needs to open up.
“This isn’t working. No more picking and choosing who can and can’t be open or who is and isn’t essential. Can doctor’s offices even be open? Salons or barbers? The governor’s announcement today wasn’t clear, and that repetitive lack of clarity is both insulting and unnecessary," Sen. McBroom said. "So beyond needing clarity about what she says, we also need her to be open with us about how and why she is arriving at her decisions. If she had even bothered to call just one U.P. legislator about these or past decisions, we could have helped make sure many more things were clear and not left to be cleaned up or fixed later.
Expanded testing, even in the Upper Peninsula, is also still taking place.
Rep. Markkanen and Sen. McBroom worked with the governor’s office to establish a drive-through testing site, as well as a test processing lab at Michigan Technological University. Drive-through testing services are available at the Gates Tennis Center on campus. The site is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“Rather than sending tests out to be processed down state, we’re able to process them right here in the U.P. – offering quick results for anyone who might be infected,” Markkanen said.
Rep. Cambensy says making sure residents stay safe was the top priority in planning for a reopening of the U.P. economy.
“Wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, and following social distancing recommendations in public are ways we can respectfully protect other people in our communities as we reopen our economy. I think it’s fair to ask residents and visitors in the U.P. to do these small things in order to keep our families, friends, neighbors and communities healthy and safe going forward. It’s our U.P. spirit to naturally want to work together to support each other.”
Sen. McBroom agrees and said Yoopers need to keep moving forward.
“Every life is essential, and we have to move forward because, while this virus likely isn’t going anywhere soon, our economy and people’s livelihoods are by the day. We have to be able to trust one another to be smart, be safe and get back to living.”