Gov. Whitmer: State must 'let a little time go by' before opening more businesses

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says her administration must let "a little time go by" in order to monitor what's happening with COVID-19 in the state before allowing more businesses to reopen, like movie theaters.

The Democratic governor made the comments during a Thursday virtual briefing with the Small Business Association of Michigan. Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, a Republican who is president of the association, asked questions of Whitmer during the event.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.

Calley pressed the governor on how long it would be until she lifts the state of emergency declaration that Michigan has been under since March 10, when the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed here. The declaration gives Whitmer the ability to take unilateral actions to combat the virus, like closing businesses or requiring masks to be worn.

Whitmer said it's "probably a matter of months" before the declaration is lifted. She added that the availability of a vaccine, a better understanding of immunity and therapeutics and the trend of new cases would factor into the decision.

“If our number gets low and we just drop everything, we will see a resurgence of this virus and we will see exponential community spread," Whitmer cautioned.

Every state remains under an emergency declaration, she said.

Calley followed up, asking for a more specific answer on how many months until the emergency will be lifted.

The governor responded by noting that Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said he expects a vaccine to be more widely available by the second quarter of 2021.

"I think there are so many unknowns that it wouldn’t be responsible for me to put a finer point on that," Whitmer said of Calley's question.

The Michigan House and Senate have taken Whitmer to court over her ability to declare emergencies and keep the declarations in place without input from lawmakers. The matter is before the Michigan Supreme Court, which could rule in the coming weeks. Lower courts have upheld the governor's use of a 1945 state law that allows her to declare an emergency.

Calley also asked what would have to happen for the governor to allow additional businesses to reopen their doors. On Sept. 3, Whitmer announced she would allow gyms to reopen at limited capacity and for organized sports to resume. However, movie theaters, arcades and banquet facilities in much of Michigan have remained closed since March.

The state has reopened many sections of its economy and is on the cusp of flu season, Whitmer said.

"We’ve re-engaged so much we’ve got to let a little time go by so we can see what it means in terms of our numbers," she added.

As of Thursday, Michigan reported 6,632 deaths linked to COVID-19 and 114,692 confirmed cases of the virus. The state considers 85,513 residents "recovered" from it.