Editorial: Avoid replacing one threat with another

The Detroit News

Kudos to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, for launching an effort designed to safely get the state back on its feet. The coronavirus pandemic has brought Michigan’s economy to a halt, and while tough measures were necessary to slow the spread, the state has to start thinking about how to reopen businesses and get citizens back to work.

Otherwise, we will be replacing the threat of the virus with the threat of joblessness and a severely damaged economy.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should join Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s bid to get the economy back on track.

Shirkey announced Tuesday he has formed a bi-partisan workgroup of senators who will tackle ways to ensure safe environments at work, where it’s possible. The group is expected to offer Gov. Gretchen Whitmer its recommendations by April 17.

“To be truly successful in recovering from this virus it will also require us to look ahead,” Shirkey said during his announcement. “We must start planning today on how we can best position Michigan for a healthy recovery.”

He stressed that safety would be paramount as the workgroup consults with companies, citizens and the medical community. 

Whitmer issued her shelter-in-place order March 23, which effectively shuttered the majority of businesses, and it expires April 13. Now that lawmakers have extended her emergency declaration through the end of April, Whitmer is expected to continue the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, too. 

More:Whitmer set to announce extended stay-home order Thursday

More:Jacques: Senate leader forms workgroup to pave way for reopening businesses

Michigan’s business groups are pushing the governor to more narrowly tailor the next order so that it allows for more flexibility as companies look to revive their operations — and offer employees their jobs back. 

Business leaders are also seeking more clarity from the governor as to which workers are deemed “essential,” especially since federal guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security has expanded its list since Whitmer’s initial stay-at-home order. 

In addition, many companies have been frustrated with differing rules around the state as counties and local governments also put their own stay-at-home regulations in place. 

Shirkey says if more workplaces come back online, this doesn’t mean that other aspects of Whitmer’s order would go away. Citizens should still abide by travel restrictions and social distancing measures. 

But he doesn’t see why workplaces should necessarily be less safe than home, as long as precautions are taken. 

Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, is pleased Shirkey is taking on this task. 

Studley works with more than 5,000 employers and companies of all sizes from all over Michigan. He says he has fielded thousands of texts, calls and emails from members who are trying to figure out the governor’s order.

Studley points to states like Ohio as having done a better job crafting more clear orders about what businesses can and can’t do under shelter-in-place mandates. 

He’s asking Whitmer for fewer restrictions on businesses in her next order as he says there are “hundreds of businesses” already in serious financial trouble. If similar restrictive policies are kept in place for another month or more, Studley predicts thousands of businesses will move from a “liquidity crisis to a liquidation crisis.”

That could inflict permanent damage on the state’s economy. Our state's leaders must listen to these concerns as they continue to fight COVID-19.