Michigan Senate GOP releases phased-in COVID-19 reopening plan

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Senate Republicans released a plan Thursday that would reopen Michigan's economy in phases based on public health conditions such as sustained case and death declines and patient loads at hospitals. 

Under the Open Michigan Safely plan, businesses deemed safe enough to open at each new phase would need to implement safety protocols, such as the use of masks and social distancing. 

The plan is based on best practices from businesses in the United States and elsewhere, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said. But the details will be refined by the Senate’s bipartisan work group and other medical experts in the coming days, he said.  

Sen. Mike Shirkey.

“We believe that businesses across the state, nation and world have proven that a workplace can be as safe as home,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. 

It’s not yet clear how the plan will correspond with the directives President Donald Trump shared with governors Thursday. Trump told governors to “call your own shots” and ease some restrictions before May 1 if needed, according to a New York Times report

Trump also advocated for a phased approach for locations with decreasing cases and robust testing, according to the Associated Press.

More: Trump unveils phased approach to reopening economy

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, criticized the plan as "reckless" and "haphazard."

“On the day that Michigan reached 2,000 dead, Senate Republicans issued a haphazard ‘plan’ that has no input from the front-line responders who are saving lives every day," Ananich said in a statement. "I said from the beginning that we’re going to get though this together. One man’s idea is not a plan.”   

The research and expertise informing the Senate GOP plan is questionable considering the quick turnaround, said Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, a member of the bipartisan task force Shirkey created. 

Shirkey had boasted about the bipartisan work the task force would accomplish, only to introduce his own "shadow" plan without the same comprehensive input, Moss said. 

"I don’t think that we need to exchange partisan jabs on whose report can come out first when our bipartisan plan was being drafted with input from experts," he said. "I don’t know what the value of (the GOP plan) is other than to own a news cycle.”

The Senate Republican plan did not include input from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Shirkey said, but he expressed hope the Democratic governor would help to improve and implement it. He said the plan is not meant to be “insensitive” to people still suffering from the virus. 

In all, the plan outlines five phases for the gradual reopening of businesses, with the current-stay home order constituting phase one. 

Phase one somewhat aligns with Whitmer’s order except that it breaks away by allowing businesses to operate that would usually be allowed under updated federal guidelines — occupations such as landscapers and housing construction workers. 

Once cases and deaths fall for five out of seven day and hospital systems are below 75% capacity, officials would launch phase two allowing lower exposure risk businesses to open with safety protocols such as mask usage and social distancing, according to the Senate GOP plan.

The plan notes the state should have a "resurgence plan" to deal with the possibility of a recurrence of cases and that some regions may lag behind others in recovery and phases. 

"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.

The idea, at least early on, is to reopen only in as much as it would allow people to report to work while limitations continue on most social activities, Shirkey said. 

“When you finish work, you go home,” he said about the early phases of the plan. “It’s going to be a while before we’re free to do what we used to do before that virus hit our shores.”

Shirkey urged the importance in being able to easily explain a reopening plan to the public, noting Wednesday’s 3,000-4,000 person protest in Lansing was in part a pushback against the “blunt force instrument” of government.

“I frankly think that was the only option early on,” Shirkey said. “It’s time now for us to get smarter about doing these things.”

While phases one and two keep many of the same restrictions in place on resident activity, there are exceptions for local mobility for essential needs if people wear masks.

Phase three would allow for bars and restaurants to reopen at 50% capacity with groups seated six feet apart and for gatherings of fewer than 100 people if cases and deaths fall 17 out of 21 days or hospital capacity falls below 50%.

During phase three, people would be encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 antibodies, wear masks and comply with some restrictions on local travel. 

Phase four would allow bars and restaurants to open with full seating capacity and for gatherings of fewer than 250 people after cases and deaths fall for 19 of 21 days and hospitals are below 33% capacity. At that time, masks and social distancing limitations would be lifted. 

Phase five would allow for a restart of festivals, sporting events and concerts after active spread had stopped for 30 days or a vaccine were available.