LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that auto and other manufacturing workers can return to the job next week, further easing her stay-at-home order while extending it through May 28 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Manufacturers — which account for 19% of the state’s economy — can resume operations on Monday, which is key for auto parts makers a week ahead of automakers’ planned phased-in May 18 restart. Factories must adopt measures to protect their workers, including daily entry screening and, once they are available, the use of no-touch thermometers.
“As we’ve done the risk assessment, we feel comfortable that with these safety protocols, we can safely reengage,” Whitmer told reporters. “This is truly good news for our state.”
Manufacturing will be the third major industry to fully reopen in the span of five days. Construction and real estate restarted on Thursday.
The Democratic governor, whose emergency powers are being challenged in court by the Republican-led Legislature, lengthened the shelter-in-place order to last nearly two more weeks in a state where more than 4,300 people have died from COVID-19 complications and where 1.3 million workers have filed for unemployment over seven weeks. The restrictions had been scheduled to expire May 15.
The state reported 93 additional deaths Thursday and 592 more confirmed cases, bringing the case total to about 45,600. The field hospital in a downtown Detroit convention center no longer has patients and has officially closed, Mayor Mike Duggan said.
While the rate of spread of disease is slowing, we still have spread in many parts of the state,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, who continued to urge people to not go out unless it is necessary.
“We are still safer at home,” said Whitmer, who outlined six stages in which the economy will be reopend. The state, she said, is in the third, “flattening” stage. If hospitalizations continue to drop and cases and deaths rise less rapidly, small gatherings and some office and retail work could be allowed in the next stage.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, of Clarklake, said Whitmer “released a Powerpoint that brings us no closer to understanding her decision-making.”
The order continues to limit travel, except for certain reasons like caring for a family member. Asked what she would say to people who want to visit their moms over Mother’s Day weekend, the governor said to send a card, do a Zoom video call and “go big” later when gatherings are OK again.
Michigan, home to the Detroit Three carmakers, has about 630,000 manufacturing workers who make up 13% of the state’s workforce. John Walsh, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, estimated that more than half were laid off because of the pandemic and the moves taken to slow the virus’s spread.
He credited Whitmer for bringing together business and labor leaders “to ensure our workers can return to the job safely. The safety of our workers is our top priority, and I am confident that Michigan manufacturers are prepared to deliver on the worker protections included in today’s order,” he said.
The measure requires businesses to train their employees on using personal protective equipment, including wearing masks when they cannot consistently stay 6 feet from others. Face shields should be considered for those who are closer than 3 feet apart.
General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler will reopen plants starting May 18. The Monday restart will “allow us to get an even further head start on resuming production,” said Carl Beckwith, senior vice president of global operations for Dana Inc., a Toledo, Ohio, auto parts maker with three Michigan factories.
At least 25 employees at auto facilities represented by the United Auto Workers have died as a result of COVID-19, although it is not known if they were infected at work. The union said it wants as much testing as possible and a commitment to the full testing of workers as soon as it is available.