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Opinion: Let's stay safe and get back to work

Paul Mitchell and Rich Studley

Lives and livelihoods are being lost as the federal and state governments battle COVID-19. One of our toughest enemies in this outbreak is fear, and the damage fear is doing to Michigan’s economic health and society: fear of the unknown, fear of the virus itself, and fear of what it could mean for our jobs.

That fear is understandable and arises from the initial lack of understanding about this virus. As we continue to learn more about COVID-19, we need to use that knowledge to enable Michigan residents to safely return to work and once again enjoy their daily lives.

We agree, government must take action to save lives. On the health front, we now know this virus is transmitted as a respiratory illness. With that knowledge, we can greatly limit its spread.

We know the virus severely impacts older people, especially those with underlying health challenges. Understanding that, individuals and government must take meaningful actions to prevent exposure for people at greater risk.

We’ve learned the coronavirus was being transmitted among many people with few if any symptoms well before we began seeing hospitals impacted by those experiencing severe symptoms.

However, the impact on our economy and society is also now more clear, and that impact has been incredibly destructive. Hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents are unemployed — and millions more across the nation — due to prolonged shutdowns of businesses and severe limitations upon individual activities imposed by government order.

The federal government has committed just short of $3 trillion to support businesses, families, medical systems and state and local governments during this crisis. That amount will not be sufficient to avoid the long-term economic damage our current state policies are leading us toward, damage that will result in permanent business closings and job and income loses.

Only when business and individual activity is freed from excessive government limits can we begin to restore government revenue and economic stability. That is why action must be taken as soon as possible to safely reopen Michigan.

While complying with the federal guidelines, and without compromising health risks further, we need to get as many people safely back to work as quickly as possible.

As we continue to learn more about defeating COVID-19, both the state and federal governments must take further action to conquer the widening economic crisis.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature should make some changes to the stay-at-home order, Rep. Paul Mitchell and Michigan Chamber of Commerce President Rich Studley write.

At a minimum, we strongly urge the governor and Legislature to make three positive changes now to Michigan’s statewide stay-at-home order:

► Adopt  federal CISA guidance so critical infrastructure workers in manufacturing and construction can safely return to work.

► Recognize substantial regional differences in the level of health risk by county.

► Protect employers who make a good-faith effort to comply with vague and constantly changing COVID-19 orders from the upcoming flood of frivolous and/or meritless lawsuits.

At the federal level, the Coronavirus Task Force and the Centers For Disease Control released new “Opening Up America Again” guidelines. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, with the support of other state and federal leaders, must issue a public health order that follows these guidelines and applies to all business activity and personal behavior. Her announcement last week was a small step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. It is time to move beyond the fear. We need more common sense applied and more overly restrictive state mandates lifted.  

Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, is a U.S. representative serving Michigan’s 10th Congressional District. Rich Studley is president & CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.