Editorial: Easing welcome, but state still a shutdown outlier

The Detroit News

The baby steps Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is taking to restart Michigan’s economy are welcome, and hopefully will be followed quickly by even more responsive measures.

The mission as stated when the governor issued her stay-at-home orders two months ago has been largely accomplished, and there's now no justification for continuing them.

Whitmer, in issuing the orders, said that the shutdown was intended to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 epidemic in Michigan, and that it was necessary to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed by patients.

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But now the curve is flattening. Sunday, the city of Detroit, which accounted for the largest share of virus victims, reported no deaths, and only 11 were reported statewide. Hospital bed occupancy across the state is so low that many facilities are laying off nurses and other staff.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, left, speaks at a press conference on the state's COVID-19 response on Monday, May 11, 2020.

Michigan is more at risk of seeing its health care system collapse for want of patients than from a tsunami of critically ill virus victims.

Yet Whitmer is moving more slowly than governors in many other states, including neighboring Ohio and Indiana, which had looser restrictions and fewer cases, to ease her grip on Michigan.

Monday, with citizen resistance to her orders mounting, she finally accepted long-standing recommendations that she take a regional approach to the shutdown. She lifted some of the more onerous measures in northern lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, which have been lightly touched by COVID-19.

Restaurants and bars in those regions will be allowed to open at 50% capacity, with other restrictions. Whether such establishments can survive without half of their customers remains in doubt, but at least now they have a chance. Northern stores, too, can reopen with limited capacity.

The governor said she is considering a further loosening that may be announced ahead of this weekend's Memorial Day holiday.

Again, a move to ease among the most restrictive measures in the country is encouraging, particularly when coupled with the restart Monday of automakers and suppliers. But with other states opening at a far faster pace, Michigan is now at risk of placing itself at a competitive disadvantage if it remains a shutdown outlier.