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Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed executive orders Friday that extend restrictions on who can visit nursing homes and create a task force to prepare the facilities for a future wave of COVID-19.

The Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force will have to create a plan by Aug. 31, according to a press release.

"These actions will help our state protect more nursing home residents and staff in the case of a second wave," Whitmer said. "Moving forward, I will work closely with the task force and with everyone who wants to help us protect our most vulnerable communities, the heroes on the front lines and our families from this virus."

Under one of the two new orders, required limitations and safety measures for nonessential visits to nursing homes, health care facilities and juvenile justices facilities are continued through July 24. The restrictions have been in place since March.

The new order allows Robert Gordon, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, to specify exceptions to the limits.

As of June 15, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services had tracked 1,947 COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents and 20 deaths among staff. The tally amounted to 34% of the state's death toll linked to the virus at that point.

Michigan has more than 440 nursing facilities with about 33,000 residents.

The Whitmer administration's handling of the coronavirus in nursing homes has drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers who contend that residents with the virus should have been cared for in separate facilities from residents without it.

The administration has established regional hubs for helping handle nursing home residents with COVID-19 and required those with it to be cared for in isolated areas of existing facilities.

The new preparedness task force will feature representatives of Whitmer's administration, four lawmakers and 13 "other members appointed by the governor, including individuals with a personal or professional interest in the health, safety and welfare of nursing home residents and workers."

The task force will have to analyze data on COVID-19 in nursing homes, issue reports and recommend how "to prepare nursing homes for any future wave of COVID-19 cases."

"The impact of COVID-19 on nursing home residents has been especially tragic," said Paula D. Cunningham, state director of AARP Michigan. "I am optimistic this bipartisan task force will identify best practices to ensure that nursing home residents and staff are better served and protected going forward."

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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