LANSING (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hinted recently that she will soon reopen more regions of Michigan, expressing optimism as long as the rate of new coronavirus cases continues downward and testing increases.
She did not specify when she may act, alluding to an announcement on additional areas in "coming days." Her administration will discuss the issue internally Saturday.
The governor's stay-at-home order — which first took effect more than nine weeks ago and has been gradually loosened — remains in place at least two more weeks, as does a measure keeping closed theaters, gyms, hair salons and other places of public accommodation.
Six of eight regions are in phase three, "flattening." Two in less populated northern Michigan are in phase four, "improving," where restaurants can serve dine-in customers if capacity is cut in half, people can go to retail shops without an appointment and office work is allowed if it cannot be done remotely. As of Wednesday, those two regions had seen an average of just 1.3 to 2.8 new cases a day per million people in the previous week.
"If it continues this way, I'm optimistic that in the coming days we'll be in a position to take another step forward," Whitmer said. Asked specifically about private campgrounds as the weather warms — state park and forest campgrounds are closed — she said opening private campgrounds is not safe "although I suspect in the coming days that that may change."
The state reported 34 additional COVID-19 deaths and 607 more cases. The totals are 5,406 deaths and about 56,600 cases.
Of the six downstate regions that have not yet advanced to the next phase, average daily case rates per million ranged between 9.9 and 15.2 in the Jackson, Saginaw, Lansing, Kalamazoo and Detroit areas. Just one, the Grand Rapids region, stood higher, at 32.6 per million.
County leaders in part of that region this week urged the Democratic governor to end her stay-home order on June 12, however, saying a recent extension was "deflating" and "demoralizing" after much planning.
Ottawa County is a growing county along Lake Michigan and a magnet for summer tourists. Commissioners — including the lone Democrat on the Republican-dominated board — unanimously voted to send a letter to the governor, a rare step so far among the state's local governments.
"There is a growing loss of credibility and belief in the 'Stay Home and Stay Safe' executive order," board chairman Roger Bergman said in the letter, noting that some businesses can reopen while others are closed despite a pledge from owners to make them safe for employees and customers.
"Candidly, most people here in West Michigan figured that end date was May 28th, and the extension was a deflating and, frankly, demoralizing impairment of careful planning," Bergman said.
Whitmer announced she will testify in Congress next week about the state's response to the virus. She said her aggressive actions are working.
"Orders don't fix the problem. It's the response to them that do," she said. "Every Michigander should be proud of what we've accomplished. Let's not drop our guard now."
Late Friday, the Justice Department weighed in on the side of seven businesses challenging the constitutionality of the governor's orders in federal court. They include a real estate brokerage, lawn and property maintenance company, automotive glass exporter, engine oil and auto parts distributor, jewelry store, dental office and group of car washes.
Many, if not all, of the businesses have been allowed to open since filing the lawsuit a month ago but incurred revenue losses and still may face some restrictions.
"As important as it is that we stay safe during these challenging times, it is also important to remember that we do not abandon our freedoms and our dedication to the rule of law in times of emergency," Matthew Schneider, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said in a statement.
Whitmer said she has "absolute confidence in the legal authority I have exercised to protect the people of Michigan. It is crystal clear that this challenge is coming directly from the White House, which is ignoring the risk of a second wave of the virus and pushing too quickly to roll back public health guidelines."