Michigan Gov. Whitmer announces new COVID-19 restrictions, warns against Thanksgiving

The new restrictions will take effect on Wednesday

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced new restrictions on Sunday aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

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"The situation has never been more dire," Whitmer said Sunday. "We are at the precipice, and we need to take some action."

Starting Wednesday, in-person classes at high schools and colleges statewide and eat-in dining at restaurants and bars will be suspended until Dec. 8.

According to Whitmer, all organized sports and group excercise classes will be canceled. However, gyms will remain open for individual excercise with strict safety measures and professional and college athletics will be allowed to continue as well as outdoor dining and take out. In addition, casinos, movie theaters, bowling alleys, ice skating rinks, bingo halls, arcades and indoor water parks will have to temporarily shut down, and all businesses are asked to allow employees to work from home if possible.

Gatherings inside homes will also be limited to two households at a time under the new order. Health officials strongly urge familes to pick a single other household to interact with over the next three weeks. Whitmer

“Indoor gatherings are the greatest source of spread, and sharply limiting them is our focus,” said Robert Gordon, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services. “The order is targeted and temporary, but a terrible loss of life will be forever unless we act. By coming together today, we can save thousands of lives.”

Whitmer asked people to "make the difficult but right choice" and avoid large gatherings during the holiday.

“If you are considering spending Thanksgiving with people outside of your household, I urge you to reconsider,” Whitmer said.

"As hard as it is not seeing [family members] this Thanksgiving, imagine how much harder it would be if you weren’t able to see them for a future holiday ever again,” she added.

Meanwhile, middle schools and elementary schools are allowed to continue face-to-face instruction under the new pubic health order as long as they continue to require mask-wearing and follow other health guidelines. Child care also will remain open.

Manufacturing work can also continue, along with construction and health care. Outdoor gatherings and individualized activities with face masks and social distancing are also still allowed, including retail shopping, public transit, and personal care services, such as haircuts, by appointment.

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The announcement comes as the state says it has seen exponential growth in cases that is nearly four times higher than it was during the peak of the virus surge in early April, and as hospitals warn they are filling up with COVID-19 patients.

New cases peaked over 9,000 twice in the last seven days, with trends indicating that is more likely to be the norm in the coming days. As of Saturday, the Michigan Health Department reported 7,072 new cases and 65 additional deaths, bringing the state's total to more than 251,000 coronavirus cases and more than 7,900 related deaths since the pandemic began.

The new order comes after roughly six weeks after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945, which was used by Whitmer to issue her coronavirus lockdown orders, were deemed unconstituional. Michigan's lockdowns drew national attention for also boasting the largest protests against Whitmer’s authority. Authorities recently stopped a plot to kidnap Whitmer, showing the extreme displeasure her policies have elicited among her state’s citizens.

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Whitmer recently updated Michigan’s coronavirus policies in anticipation of the current surge, mostly related to increasing the use of contact tracing along with a civil fine of $1,000 and interference of law enforcement upon disobedience.

The state maintains restrictions on businesses even as other measures were eased. In September, the state cited 19 examples of business violations that totaled $51,400 in penalties.

“The MIOSHA investigations determined that these employers were not taking precautions to protect employees and their communities from the spread of COVID-19,” Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration Director Bart Pickelman said.

“Failure to follow guidelines puts everyone at risk and these citations are meant to reiterate the employer’s responsibility to protect their employees.”

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Further closures of essential businesses – should Whitmer announce such measures – will likely stir similarly strong and disapproving reactions as did her measures in the spring.

Residents continually appealed to state lawmakers that their businesses struggled over the summer as many were not allowed to re-open, with an August meeting seeing open appeals at a three-hour legislative hearing, Detroit Free Press reported.

"I know this year and this pandemic is unlike any other. All businesses have made sacrifices," said AJ Glowacki, who runs the Garden Ice Arena in St. Joseph. "I believe we can open safely, and I’m all for some middle ground."

Residents currently worry that further restrictions may see businesses permanently close after months of limited customer bases or no business at all.

“Medicaid and programs to help pull people out of homelessness are two services that are important to me – and they’re both likely to suffer without a safe, complete reopening of Michigan’s economy,” State Rep. Tommy Brann of Byron Township and the city of Wyoming wrote in Bridge Michigan op-ed.

“I own a restaurant that has been at the same location in Wyoming, Michigan for 49 years,” Brann wrote. “I treat my small business like a baby, and right now my baby is hurting. So are a lot of my business friends.”

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