COVID-19 has changed life in Michigan. The disease is spreading quickly, and the news is changing right along with it.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer's "Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives" order remains in effect til April 13. But what does that mean? There are a lot of questions surrounding COVID-19 and what we're supposed to do to stay safe.
On the government’s response
Is the state extending its tax deadline?
On March 27, 2020, Gov. Whitmer issued an executive order extending the state income tax deadline to July 15, 2020, matching the federal tax deadline.
Will the state continue to pay unemployment benefits?
Yes. Nearly 130,000 Michiganders filed claims for unemployment insurance from March 15 to March 21, and that number is expected to rise now that the stay at home order is in effect.
Despite the ongoing surge in claims, Michigan does have the financial resources to pay anyone who qualifies for unemployment insurance, and the state doesn’t expect any delays in delivering payments to residents in the coming weeks.
In addition, those who file for unemployment will qualify for extended benefits under the federal coronavirus relief package that was passed by the Senate Wednesday. That bill also expands who can get unemployment. Learn more about the bill here.
The state is encouraging people applying for unemployment to do so online, and to opt into direct deposit.
“That isn’t necessarily recommended for everyone,” says Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency Director Steve Gray. “But if you can file online and at other times during the day while we’re continuing to add capacity, it’ll take some pressure off the system.”
On the stay at home order
Am I allowed to leave my house under the stay at home orders?
Yes! “Stay at home” doesn’t mean “stay inside.”
You can go outside if you maintain stay at least six feet away from anyone you come across. You can also leave the house to go grocery shopping, care for someone else, or to seek medical attention.
Although you should try to make grocery trips as infrequently as possible, we’ll all need to go at some point. When you do leave the house, there are important steps you can take to minimize your risk.
Stay at least six feet away from others — in the checkout line at the grocery store, for example. Use the sanitary cloths provided by many grocers to wipe down carts, or carry hand sanitizer to use directly after touching a gas pump. Wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you get home.
Unless you’re sick, you don’t need a mask when you go out (more on that below).
What is an essential business?
The stay at home order was put in place to limit “in-person work that is not necessary to sustain or protect life.” But what does it mean to sustain or protect life?
Some things are obvious: healthcare operations and law enforcement are still up and running. So are businesses that “sustain” life: grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, banks, mechanics, and restaurants that operate takeout or delivery options will keep going. (Also necessary to sustain life? Liquor and marijuana shops.)
Other businesses are still uncertain about whether they will be forced to shut. Certain stores, such as Ace Hardware and JoAnn Fabrics, are arguing that since they sell items that “sustain or protect life,” they can stay open.
Still, there is a lot of gray area around who can and can’t be open.
My employer is insisting our company is essential, even though it’s not. Who do I complain to?
The state is advising workers who feel their employer is violating the order to contact their local law enforcement by calling a non-emergency line.
The Whitmer administration is encouraging employers and employees to submit any questions about the order via email to LEO-Coronavirus@michigan.gov.
Is it safe for me to order food from restaurants?
There is no evidence to show that COVID-19 is transmitted through food, so yes, ordering food from restaurants is safe.
The CDC adds, “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
It’s still important to wash your hands for 20 seconds before eating or preparing food of any kind (but you should already be doing that, because it’s just good hygiene).
My driver's license expires during the stay home/stay safe period. I need to renew in person. Will the Secretary of State extend the deadlines for those of us in this situation?
Secretary of State offices have been deemed non-essential, and are closed until further notice. Certain transactions can still be done online (plate and driver’s license renewals, for example), but processing may be slower than normal. And late fees have been waived going back to March 13, and through the remainder of the closure.
But some people need to renew driver’s licenses and plates in-person. The SoS has said they are exploring “the option for extending expiration dates,” but nothing has been finalized yet.
The department has asked the Michigan State Police to notify local police that the closure may impact drivers’ ability to update licenses or registration.
Is there anything I can do to help?
As communities begin to cope with this new, temporary reality, help is needed on many levels.
The stay home order will greatly impact the homeless or otherwise disadvantaged people. There is an exemption in the stay home order for those who are volunteering for secular or religious organizations that “provide food, shelter, and other necessities of life.” There are a number of mutual aid groups working to provide some of that help. You can see a map of those groups here.
As for small businesses that have been forced to close, many are offering online purchase options, or you can buy a gift card to use when the crisis is over. Local restaurants are still offering takeout and delivery, so you can also order from them (and tipping well doesn’t hurt).
There is also a growing blood shortage. Giving blood in the midst of a pandemic may seem risky, but donating blood is safe and much needed.
How is the virus spread?
Because COVID-19 is a new disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there’s still much they’re learning about it, including how it is spread from person to person.
That being said, the CDC says COVID-19 is primarily spread between people within close proximity to one another, namely within six feet. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they produce respiratory droplets that can make their way to a healthy person, who may then inhale them. This is why social distancing is so important to limiting the spread of the virus.
People are believed to be most contagious when they are symptomatic (sick). There have been some reports of people still being able to spread the virus while they're not showing symptoms, however, the CDC does not believe this is the main way the virus is spread.
While person-to-person contact is the main way the virus spreads, contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, and then touching one's face (eyes, nose, mouth) can also aid in the spread of the virus. The CDC recommends washing one's handles and also sanitizing heavily trafficked surfaces, like counters, doorknobs, phones, and light switches.
According to WHO, the virus is unable to live for long periods of time on packages and letters.
What should I do if I’m having symptoms similar to COVID-19?
According to the CDC, the current known symptoms for the majority of COVID-19 cases are:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms vary from person to person.
If you are experiencing any of the above, contact your healthcare provider, local hospital, or state health department and ask them for next steps. Do not go directly to the emergency room.
If your symptoms worsen to the point of a medical emergency (trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, bluish lips or face), contact 911 and notify the provider that you may have COVID-19.
What’s the difference between quarantine, self-quarantine, and isolation?
You've likely heard these terms used pretty regularly over the last few weeks, so here's a brief explainer of what they mean and the difference between them:
NPR describes social distancing as "not shaking hands, avoiding crowds, standing several feet from other people and, most important, staying home if you feel sick."
Essentially, with social distancing, you should do your best to stay six feet away from non-members of your household if you must go out. If you have to go to work, make sure you're washing your hands frequently, coughing into your elbow, and avoiding contact with others in your place of work. Limiting people's interaction with one another decreases the chance of spreading the virus to others.
With the state's new stay at home order, you should be limiting time outside of your home to only essential business. For an understanding of what that means, check out this post.
Have you been in contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19? If so, you should quarantine yourself, meaning staying at "home and away from other people as much as possible for a 14-day period," according to NPR.
If you live with others, to limit risk or exposure, try to keep yourself contained to one room away from others in your household. If possible, this means using a separate bathroom and also depositing dirty dishes directly into the dishwasher rather than the sink.
During this time, you should be monitoring yourself for potential COVID-19 symptoms.
If you have a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, you will isolate. The severity of your case depends on where you do your isolation. If your case is mild, you will likely isolate at home. If your case is more severe, you'll isolate at the hospital.
If you're in isolation, there are more precautions that need to be taken. For example, if you have to travel to a medical facility, you should wear a mask to prevent the spread of droplets that could potentially infect others. Medical staff would also wear more protective equipment around you.
The best example of quarantining is the travelers on cruise ships with confirmed cases of COVID-19 on board. Those who weren't sick were asked to remain in a secure location for 14 days to ensure they did not develop symptoms and potentially infect others.
Michigan currently does not have anyone in quarantine, but it does have the power to essentially put certain groups of people on "lockdown."
Do face masks help?
Facemasks are not recommended for healthy people. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says facemasks should be reserved for healthcare works and those caring for COVID-19 patients. If you are sick with respiratory illness, you may be asked to wear a surgical mask if you visit a medical facility.
Homemade facemasks will not protect healthcare workers from COVID-19, unless they are wearing a face shield that covers the entire face. While the CDC has said homemade masks can be used in hospitals, they should be used as an absolute last resort. You can find more information here.
Can my pets get infected?
So far, the CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick from COVID-19 in the United States.
There are types of coronavirus that can make pets sick, but they cannot infect humans and are not connected to the current COVID-19 pandemic. That being said, if you have a pet, you should still practice good hygiene and wash your hands frequently.