Whitmer Extends Emergency, Keeps Bars, Casinos, Restaurants Closed Through May 28

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun masked up for Friday's coronavirus briefing. (Courtesy State of Michigan)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had a busy day with her pen Thursday, signing executive orders to extend the state’s state of emergency through May 28, and another setting guidelines for remote learning for the rest of the school year.

She also extended a previous order temporarily closing places such as theaters, bars and casinos through May 28. In order to maintain social distancing, that order also limits restaurants to carry-out and delivery orders.

“Although we are beginning to see the curve flatten, we are not out of the woods yet. We must all continue to be diligent, observe social distancing and limit in-person interactions and services to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Michigan now has more than 40,000 cases of COVID-19. The virus has killed more Michiganders than we lost during the Vietnam war. Extending this order is vital to the health and safety of every Michigander. If we work together and do our part, we can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.” 

This order does not restrict a place of business from offering food and beverage using delivery service, window service, walk-up service, drive-through service, or drive-up service. Places of public accommodation are encouraged to offer food and beverage service in one or more of those ways and use precautions to mitigate potential transmission of COVID-19, including social distancing and wearing as face covering.

Restaurants may allow five people inside at a time to pick up orders, so long as they stay six feet apart from each other. According to the governor’s office, the restrictions do not apply to office buildings, grocery stores, markets, food pantries, pharmacies, drug stores, and providers of medical equipment and supplies, health care facilities, residential care facilities, congregate care facilities, and juvenile justice facilities, warehouse and distribution centers, and industrial and manufacturing facilities.

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Under the re-issued order regarding schools, districts that run Great Start Readiness Programs must also detail a plan on how the GSRP teaching team will engage with enrolled children and families as well as provide children and their families plans for the transition from GSRP to kindergarten. This outreach must include a virtual conference with the family. Schools must begin implementation of GSRP plans by May 7, 2020. 

The order also suspends certain requirements for teacher evaluations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally the order clarifies that some teachers with individualized development plans will need to be provided an annual year-end performance evaluation, but that administrators must only use data available prior to the school closures, in recognition of some limitations posed by COVID-19.

The order also temporarily suspends certain requirements that districts will not be able to fulfill due to the closure of school buildings for instructional purposes, like mandatory fire, lockdown, and tornado drills. It also waives compulsory attendance requirements and truancy enforcement measures for the remainder of 2019-2020 school year.

“A few weeks ago I made the difficult choice to close our school facilities for the remainder of the school year. I understand the tremendous impact this has placed on families, teachers, staff and students. It was not a decision I took lightly,” Whitmer said. “I am so thankful for the tireless work of our frontline school employees who are working every day to ensure the continued education of Michigan’s kids. Already, I have seen amazing stories of teachers doing their part and working hard to make sure their students have the resources they need.”  

Those decisions came on the same day the state Legislature refused to grant an extension of the state of emergency, passed bills designed to curtail the power of the governor’s office and alter decisions Whitmer has made to fight the coronavirus and agreed to sue the governor over these issues.

The bills, passed by the Republican-controlled state House, would take the place of orders issued by Whitmer in response to the pandemic. Moving forward, the state’s response would be controlled by state laws passed through “the normal democratic process,” according to House Speaker Lee Chatfield.

According to Flint’s ABC network affiliate ABC-12, Chatfield said Republicans support “decisive action” to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The current status quo relies on one-size-fits-all edicts that unfairly punish millions of people across the state without giving them any recourse or voice in the process,” Chatfield said, according to the station. “The people deserve a better solution, and we can provide it.”

Republicans have frequently voiced their angst over Whitmer’s orders, calling them “restrictive” and encouraging her to loosen them.

Whitmer has vowed to veto any bills that curtail the emergency authority of the governor’s office.

“COVID-19 is an enemy that has taken the lives of more Michiganders than we lost during the Vietnam War,” Whitmer said. “While some members of the legislature might believe this crisis is over, common sense and all of the scientific data tells us we’re not out of the woods yet. By refusing to extend the emergency and disaster declaration, Republican lawmakers are putting their heads in the sand and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk. I’m not going to let that happen. 

“We’re all in this together,” she added. “Defeating COVID-19 is an all-hands-on-deck moment for our state, and I remain hopeful that Republicans in the legislature will stop the partisan games and start working with me to re-engage our economy safely and responsibly.”