Michigan halts classes, indoor dining as coronavirus cases surge


Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Sunday ordered high schools and colleges to stop in-person classes, closed restaurants to indoor dining and suspended organized sports — including the football playoffs — in a bid to curb the state’s spiking coronavirus cases.

The restrictions will begin Wednesday and last three weeks. They are not as sweeping as when the Democratic governor issued a stay-at-home order last spring but are extensive. They were announced as Michigan faces surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide and rising deaths.

“The situation has never been more dire. We are at the precipice, and we need to take some action,” Whitmer said at a news conference. 

An order written by the state health department prohibits high schools, colleges and universities from offering in-person instruction. K-8 schools can continue with on-site classes due to lower transmission rates, though — as before — it is not required. Restaurants, now operating at 50 per cent capacity, must halt dine-in service inside.

Indoor residential gatherings, which were capped at 10 people, can include no more than two households. Outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of 25 people.

Entertainment facilities such as theatres, bowling alleys and indoor water parks must close again. Gyms and pools can stay open but not offer group classes. Professional sports and some college sports are still allowed, with enhanced testing but no spectators.

Registered nurse Erica Fairfield, right, works at the Hackley Community Care COVID-19 curbside testing site in Muskegon Heights, Mich., on Friday. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press/The Associated Press)

Residents urged to wear masks, keep distance

Whitmer urged the public to “double down” with precautions such as wearing a mask and keeping distance to avoid a second stay-at-home order.

Robert Gordon, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the order “focuses on indoor gatherings and the settings where groups gather and where the virus can thrive.”

Michigan’s seven-day average of daily new cases has more than doubled from 3,113 to 6,684 over two weeks. It is up nearly fivefold from 30 days ago. Daily deaths also have surged from 25 to 62, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The number of patients currently hospitalized, about 3,000, has risen sixfold in under two months.

Hospitals, universities, colleges, community colleges and K-12 school boards backed the move. The Michigan Education Association (MEA), the state’s largest school employee union, said in-person learning should be paused for all grades.

“These are frightening and stressful times for everyone in public education — from employees to parents to students,” said MEA president Paula Herbart.

‘No easy decisions’

Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association president and CEO Justin Winslow said “there are no easy decisions right now” but criticized closing restaurants for a second time this year — “this time with no safety net of federal stimulus dollars to soften the blow to already ailing operators and employees.”

He said just 4.4 per cent of identified outbreaks have been tracked to restaurants.

Whitmer, who renewed a request for President Donald Trump and Congress to enact a coronavirus relief package, said COVID-19 has spread so much that it is inherently risky to have people from multiple households dining in a restaurant.

A passenger in a vehicle holds a sign during a protest at the state capitol in Lansing, Mich., on April 15. (Paul Sancya/The Associated Press)

The Michigan High School Athletic Association suspended fall tournaments that have not concluded for football, volleyball, and swimming and diving, along with winter sports practices and competitions scheduled in coming weeks.

“We understand the need for action, and we will explore all options to complete our fall tournaments when restrictions are lifted,” executive director Mark Uyl said.

Republicans who control the legislature previously successfully sued to stop the governor’s use of an emergency powers law to unilaterally manage the crisis. Her administration reinstated restrictions under a different law. Republican legislators again accused her of acting on her own Sunday. They have opposed her call to put the administration’s mask-wearing order in law.

“The Senate Republicans will continue working with our doctors and the medical community on ways we can combat this virus and are ready to work with the governor when she decides to work as a team to fight this virus,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.

Lawmakers are dealing with infections within their own ranks — the House cancelled its session on Thursday — and are on a hunting and Thanksgiving break until December.

Whitmer said she asked Republican legislative leaders for their plan in recent days and “there wasn’t one other than doing some public service announcements.… We’ve got to act swiftly. I’m going to continue to use every tool at my disposal to save lines in Michigan.”



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