Michigan Governor Whitmer aims to begin reopening state economy on May 1

Michigan Governor Whitmer aims to begin reopening state economy on May 1

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Michigan Governor Whitmer visits the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan

DETROIT (Reuters) – Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said on Friday she is hopeful the state can begin to reengage parts of its economy beginning on May 1, days after facing a barrage of criticism for her strict measures to combat the new coronavirus.

As of Thursday, Michigan had more than 29,000 COVID-19 cases and almost 2,100 deaths, though Whitmer said the number of new cases was showing signs of leveling off.

“I am hopeful that come May 1 we will make some steps forward, and as we proceed, if that goes well and we continue to see progress, that we then go into a second phase,” Whitmer said, referring to continued decrease in hospitalizations from the virus.

Whitmer told a webcast town hall with a Detroit business chamber that she recognized people were “desperate to get back to work,” and that no solution would be zero risk.

Michigan would have to be strategic and “methodically” reengage sectors of the economy, she said.

Sweeping stay-at-home orders in 42 U.S. states to combat the new coronavirus have shuttered businesses, disrupted lives and decimated the economy, and some protesters have begun taking to the streets to urge governors to rethink the restrictions.

Whitmer, floated as a potential running mate for presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, has imposed some of the country’s toughest limits on travel and business, which drew thousands of protesters to the state’s capital Lansing on Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has pressed in recent weeks for getting Americans back to work soon. He had said he had unilateral authority to end the lockdowns that have strangled the American economy, before backing down following objections to that assertion from Democrats and Republicans, who cited the U.S. Constitution.

The head of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce on Thursday urged Whitmer to revise her stay-at-home order that he called too restrictive. Rich Studley said she should recognize some parts of the state and some businesses were not as hard hit and could reopen sooner.

The governors for Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky have formed a partnership to work together on restarting the economies in their states, which collectively account for about 16% of total U.S. economic output.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, on Thursday said his state would also start to reopen on May 1.

The United States has by far the highest coronavirus death toll of any country in the pandemic, and public health officials have warned that a premature easing of social distancing orders could exacerbate it.

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