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LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had no announcements Tuesday on when gyms, theaters, bowling alleys and other Michigan businesses that have been closed about six months because of the coronavirus will be allowed to reopen, and said she is “not going to be bullied” into announcing such changes before it is safe to do so.
“We know that there is a lot of pressure … on our business owners, as well as our decision makers,” Whitmer said at a news conference.
“We’re going to continue to make decisions based on facts and data.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a press conference Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Lansing. (Photo: Michigan State Police)
Michigan, because it took an aggressive approach toward the virus, is now faring much better than many other states, Whitmer said. Citing recent analytics from CNN, she said economic activity in Michigan is now at 87% of its pre-pandemic level, compared with 78% nationally.
“All of this success is precarious,” she said.
She and state officials are carefully assessing whether businesses that have not yet been allowed to open have protocols to do so safely, but “I’m not going to be bullied into making that decision,” she said.
Owners of gyms and theaters have been stepping up the pressure on Whitmer to allow them to reopen in central and southern Michigan, as they have been able to do in northern Michigan since June 10. Gym owners in some cases have defied Whitmer’s orders and reopened without authorization.
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Last Thursday, the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Grand Rapids Chamber wrote a joint letter to Whitmer, urging her to allow to reopen those businesses that remain closed under her emergency orders.
“We believe that if industries like restaurants, public swimming pools, casinos and others can find a way to safely open in some capacity, we can also find a way to safely open gyms, theaters, bowling alleys and other industries,” the letter said.
Michigan is one of only a handful of states that have not allowed those sectors to open in any capacity, and they should be given “a fighting chance — and soon,” the letter said.
But Whitmer and her officials have cited concerns with case numbers, which on a seven-day rolling average are now at about 800 per day, after peaking at about 1,600 per day in early April before bottoming out at about 200 per day in June.
“Because of the governor’s aggressive action against the virus, COVID-19 cases have begun to plateau and our economy is getting back on track,” Whitmer’s office said Tuesday.
Asked Tuesday whether she was aware of any coronavirus outbreaks in northern Michigan linked to gyms, movie theaters or bowling alleys that have opened lawfully, Whitmer said she was not aware of any. But she said is she aware of outbreaks tied to gyms in lower Michigan that opened without authorization.
Whitmer’s comment about being bullied drew pushback.
Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, said “small business owners are the ones being bullied,” and they are facing the prospect of going out of business because they have not been permitted to reopen safely, as they are capable of doing.
Whitmer talks about relying on science and data, but her decisions appear “random,” including initially shutting down construction when other neighboring states did not, and for a time banning the use of motorized watercraft, Nesbitt said.
“What science and data is she basing her decisions on?” Nesbitt asked. “She won’t make it public.”
Tori Sachs, a Republican activist, asked on Twitter who Whitmer thinks is bullying her.
“Small and family-run businesses don’t have high powered lobbyists who can call Whitmer so they can open like the Detroit casinos,” Sachs said.
Asked to clarify the governor’s remarks related to bullying, Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said: “In general, her point is that decisions will continue to be made based on facts, data and input from experts.”
Brown did not respond to a follow-up question asking whether Whitmer believes any individuals or groups have been attempting to bully her on the reopening issue, and who those individuals or groups are.
State officials have cited gyms as a concern because of heavy breathing during exercise and people touching a range of equipment. Theaters have remained a concern because even with social distancing, they would generally exceed current limits on indoor gatherings.
Whitmer lifted Michigan’s stay-at-home order June 1, but Michigan remains in a state of emergency at least through Sept. 4.
Whitmer had hoped to allow central and southern Michigan to join northern Michigan in Phase 5 of her six-phase reopening plan — allowing gyms, theaters and bowling alleys to reopen — before the July 4 holiday.
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But those plans were shelved amid rising numbers, and in early July Whitmer halted indoor bar service in lower Michigan at nightclubs and other establishments that earned more than 70% of their gross receipts from alcohol sales, while allowing indoor service to continue at restaurants that serve alcohol.
Then, at the end of July, Whitmer extended the ban on indoor bar service to northern Michigan and reduced the size of groups that could gather indoors Up North to 10, down from 50, to match lower Michigan, while also announcing that Detroit’s three casinos could reopen, at 15% capacity, effective Aug. 5.
Michigan’s barbershops, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors and other personal service shops reopened June 15 in southern and central Michigan, after reopening June 10 in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula.
Also open Up North, as of June 10: movie theaters, gyms, bowling alleys and outdoor sporting venues.
For economic reopening purposes, Up North is the Upper Peninsula, plus Antrim, Alpena, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Crawford, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee, Montmorency, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon and Wexford counties in the northern Lower Peninsula.
On June 1, Whitmer said all Michigan bars and restaurants could reopen at 50% capacity June 8. She had earlier loosened restrictions on bars and restaurants in northern Michigan.
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4. Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter.
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