House GOP floats regional plan to serve as 'framework' for state's reopening

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

House Republicans are proposing a regional reopening plan for the state that would allow certain sections of Michigan to reopen sooner than others based on risk.

The plan also would create a “transition task force” to decide which counties are eligible for limited reopening based on data such as rate of spread, positive tests, hospital admission rates, reported deaths, immunity rates based on antibody tests and the ability of businesses to implement safe workplace practices. 

Counties would fall within Tiers 1, 2 and 3 based on risk and certain restrictions would be lifted at each level. Counties would step down from higher risk tiers in phases and upon recommendation from the task force. 

Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering.

The plan is meant to serve as a “framework” for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and a road map for residents moving forward, said House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering.

“We need to ensure that the areas hit hardest have additional funding and additional resources while also making sure we’re not being overly regulatory in places that are not hit as hard,” Chatfield said. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, introduced a separate proposal last week that would reopen the state in phases based on case and hospital data. 

Whitmer said Friday she hoped to start lifting some restrictions May 1 and planned to introduce her own plan this week for the gradual reopening of the state. She told The News Friday that she was in agreement with some aspects of the plans proposed by the Michigan Senate and President Donald Trump. 

“There are pieces that are commensurate with the work that we’re doing,” Whitmer said. “I think the most important aspect is making sure that the best minds in medicine in our state are informing every decision that we make.”

On Monday, Whitmer's office said the governor would have more details to share in the "near future."

"Gov. Whitmer led the way by announcing a bipartisan partnership of seven Midwest states to coordinate the reopening of our region's economy," said Tiffany Brown, a spokeswoman for the governor. "Michigan will have a responsible plan that prioritizes the health and safety of our citizens."

The Democratic governor and Republican Legislative leaders are likely to negotiate a way forward since the GOP-controlled Legislature could vote as soon as next week on whether to extend Whitmer’s emergency powers past April 30. 

Under the House GOP plan, the highest risk counties — such as Wayne, Oakland and Macomb – would fall within Tier 1 and continue operating under all of the current stay-home restrictions, with the exception of changes in line with updated and loosened federal guidance on work considered essential. 

As of Sunday, Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties made up 88% of the state’s 2,391 deaths and 77% of the state’s 31,424 confirmed coronavirus cases.  

"Michigan won’t fully be out of the dark until southeast Michigan and the big three are back to work because they drive the economy in Michigan," Chatfield said. "But no one in the state of Michigan should have to choose between their health and their family’s economic future.”

For counties with heightened risk, Tier 2, the cap on necessary gatherings, such as funerals, would be lifted slightly; travel restrictions would be loosened to allow people to travel between residences; and the ban on elective, outpatient care would be loosened.

Counties in Tier 3 would be deemed to have standard risk and the stay-home order would be lifted for non-vulnerable individuals. The ban on elective procedures would be lifted so long as hospitals had necessary equipment and only industries deemed unsafe by the task force would need to continue to comply with remote and curbside sale limitations. 

Some have criticized similar plans because of the possibility that lifting restrictions outstate would push Metro Detroit residents to travel to second homes in Northern Michigan, bringing the virus to those areas and increasing patient loads at smaller, rural hospitals. 

Some travel restrictions could remain in place to address wider spread, Chatfield said, but he pushed back against prohibitions on residents using second homes. 

"If we believe that people staying home keeps them safe, I’m uncertain why people can't stay home at any residence they own," he said. 

The transition task force would reassess a county’s tier weekly.

Members of the task forces would include the state’s chief medical officer, a labor representative, a hospitals system representative, an economist, the state's occupational safety and health director, an epidemiologist, a manufacturer, a small business owner and someone who’d lost a job because of the state shutdown.  

The allocation of counties to the various tiers and the actions accompanying each tier would go into effect as soon as the plan is adopted. Those actions would constitute Step 1 of the plan.

Step 2 of the process, when enacted, would reassign Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties to Tier 2 and reassign all other counties to standard risk. 

Step 2 also would trigger the reopening of restaurants, gyms and movie theaters that are able to operate safely. The second phase would eliminate the ban on some parts of the travel and tourism industry.

Step 3 of the process would continue some crowd control measures. But largely the state would transition from governing by emergency declaration to provisions instilled through legislation that would ensure the continuation of certain aspects of executive orders, including unemployment provisions, education policies and liability protections. 

The Senate GOP plan, by comparison, outlines five phases for the gradual reopening of businesses, with the current-stay home order constituting phase one. Each phase is triggered by public health conditions such as sustained case and death declines and patient loads at hospitals.

The Senate plan also included regional considerations. 

"Areas such as southeast Michigan that are experiencing high case volume and high death rates should be restricted to early phases, while the Upper Peninsula may be able to safely operate under a later phase designation that appropriately reflects risk in that region," the proposal said.