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Politics & Government

Republicans in the state House and Senate release plans to open Michigan back up

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The State House and Senate released plans for addressing the state’s response to COVID-19.

The Senate plan creates five phases of coronavirus response based on region, while the House plan has three tiers for classifying danger in individual counties - but both plans would relax responses in areas with fewer COVID-19 cases.

The State House plan would break the state’s 83 counties into three tiers: those at highest, heightened, or standard risk for the spread of the virus.

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield said Michigan has so far taken a one size fits all approach, and that isn’t working.

“I’m from Northern Michigan and Northern Michigan hasn’t been impacted the same as Southeast Michigan. Our strategies need to recognize that.”

Chatfield’s plan also creates a task force that would make recommendations about which counties should be in which tier of danger based on coronavirus deaths, hospital preparedness, and trajectory of cases among other factors.

Chatfield said the state’s coronavirus response has already seen de facto regionalization.

“We’re giving the additional resources to Southeast Michigan, we’re giving the additional funding and testing, because that’s the right thing to do and that region has been impacted the hardest. But we should also be regional in the policies we’re enacting.”

Ed Unger is the Region 8 Healthcare Coordinator for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Region 8 covers the Upper Peninsula.

Unger said the stay at home orders have been working and he would be careful about relaxing them too quickly.

“I would like to see the numbers personally - and this is just personally - go down a bit more before we open things up. Because when we start seeing people travel and move around I think we’re going to see the numbers increase again.”

Unger said the health care system in Region 8 “isn’t at 100%” preparedness. 100% for Unger means long term preparedness to handle the virus.

“For example you could go 30-60 days with a major outbreak and have plenty of supplies. Enough gowns, masks, goggles, N-95s. That would be ideal.”

Unger said he’s not sure how close Region 8 is to 100%  preparedness right now but he said the region is not where he’d like it to be.

Chatfield said his plan would respond to the latest coronavirus information. He said if numbers were to increase, restrictions could be tightened again.

The plan does not lay out an exact timeline for opening back up.

A spokesperson for Governor Gretchen Whitmer said the governor has already released a plan to coordinate with six other Midwest states on reopening the region's economy.

“Michigan will have a responsible plan that prioritizes the health and safety of our citizens,” the spokesperson said.

Health care experts are warning that even as stay-at-home restrictions lift, the state will need to adopt a new normal.

Epidemiologist Emily Martin said there are three key things the state should consider as it calculates when to open back up.

“One is the epidemic can’t be as high as it has been lately, and the health care system capacity has to be up.”

Martin said that means testing and staffing should be high enough at hospitals to deal with any flare ups of the virus that may occur.

“The other thing that this time buys us during the stay home order is preparation around the fact that reopening safely doesn’t look like our pre-February opening.”

According to Martin, that means more people should be wearing masks, companies should be doing temperature checks before workers come in, and people should still maintain distance between one another whenever possible.

“There is still going to be a virus around,” Martin said. “We can’t wait until the virus is gone to start to come back so we have to figure out how to do that safely.”

Martin said it could be a long time before high-risk activities come back. Despite being a season ticket holder for University of Michigan football, she said this fall may not be far enough out for people to attend safely.

“I think that is a conversation that is still happening around the country,” she said. “I don’t know to what degree I’ll feel comfortable being around 100,000 of my friends in the fall until things are more under control.”

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