Editorial: Craft a plan for safe reopening

The Detroit News

Michigan may not be ready to reopen for business by the Easter Sunday target date set by President Donald Trump. The president added that “hard data and facts” should drive the decision, and he’s right. If the COVID-19 virus is still surging in the state, a too-early broad repeal of the lockdown could overwhelm hospitals that are already showing stress from the large number of serious cases.

But commerce and social interaction will have to resume in the near future, and it shouldn’t happen helter-skelter. The state needs a carefully crafted plan to responsibly restore normalcy while mitigating health risks.

As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, a public health strategy must be matched by a getting back to work strategy.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Washington.

Working with health and business leaders, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer must commit to frequent assessments of both the virus’ spread and the consequences of loosening the restrictions on public activity.

As the virus recedes, benchmarks should be set for when operations can resume, and whether certain businesses can open earlier if they prove they can put in place measures to mitigate the risk to employees and customers.

The experiences of other states that were hit earlier should also be studied. The outbreak in Washington state, for example, came about three weeks ahead of Michigan's. Washington was slower in enacting a total lockdown, but it is beginning to see the spread of the virus slow.

As Michigan improves its testing rate, it will have a better understanding of when restrictions can be eased, as well as when and where they may need to continue.  

Detroit’s automakers hope to start producing vehicles again in early April. The Detroit Three during the shutdown have been sanitizing plants and studying how to reduce person-to-person contact within them. If the plants can start up again without high risk, they could serve as a model for their suppliers and other industries.

Those businesses that have remained open during the shutdown have been following protocols that could inform other businesses who hope to restart soon. Many grocery stores, for example, have taken steps to guarantee personal space for customers and employees, sanitize their facilities and take the  temperatures of their workers, particularly those who face the public.

It is still wise to ask those in high-risk groups, such as the elderly and people with health conditions that are exacerbated by the virus, to be extra cautious and continue to practice social distancing. 

Michigan residents have responded admirably to the order to shelter in place. But as this wears on, they will need to begin collecting paychecks again and resuming commercial transactions. The hardships many will face if their jobs go away, along with their health insurance and ability to take care of their families, could potentially be greater than the risk of contracting the virus. 

Those who are waiting at home to see what happens next need confidence that this lockdown is not open-ended, but rather is being constantly reevaluated with the goal of lifting it as soon as it’s reasonably safe to do so.