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Opinion

Despite Governor’s Criteria, Economy Remains Closed

Michigan has objectively met all of the Governor’s criteria for opening the economy, and yet, we remain closed.

By: Andrew Beeler

Now four weeks into our ‘Stay Home. Stay Safe’ lifestyle, Michiganders are all asking ourselves the question, “When will this end, and when can we go back to work?”.  Governor Whitmer has provided the guidelines by which we will assess our readiness to return to work or some semblance of normal. Most recently, in her April 13th press briefing, she insisted that four criteria should be met before considering opening the economy: a consistent decline in new cases, increased testing capacity, adequate medical care facilities available, and best-practices available for businesses to follow.  All of these measures, we are told, are meant to prevent or limit the effects of a presumed second wave of COVID-19 this fall. Unfortunately, we have met these requirements, and we remain locked down. Let’s break down exactly how we have met each of the Governor’s requirements.

First, most of us could agree that a sustained decline in cases is a good prerequisite for reopening the economy.  Opening businesses and easing social distancing requirements before we are past our peak of new-day cases would presumably elongate the suffering and keep things closed for longer.  Even the most health-conscious among us would agree that this requirement places no more danger on the public than is necessary; however, as predicted by the CDC model and confirmed by actual case data, Michigan is well past the peak of the crisis.  New confirmed cases saw their peak in early April, and we have not seen indications of a resurgence yet.  We are well into the predicted decline of new confirmed cases thus meeting the Governor’s first requirement.

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Second, and perhaps most importantly, is an increased ability to test new COVID cases.  This requirement is universally proclaimed as one of the most important metrics for reopening so that we can stem a second wave.  As we relax social distancing and inevitably the disease is passed from person to person, hospitals need to have the capacity to test rapidly and subsequently quarantine those who test positive for a virus whose vaccine will not be available for up to a year or more.  Without increasing our testing capacity, non-symptomatic carriers will spread the disease unknowingly and push us back into required social distancing and economic shut down; however, as reported by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the Governor’s spokesperson for Michigan’s response to the crisis, Michigan has rapidly expanded our testing capacity by adding thirteen new sites which can administer the test.  In addition, a private sector lab out of Grand Rapids has contributed to increasing our testing capacity by up to 40% through testing of over 3,000 patients per day.  With those increases in mind, it is difficult to see how much additional testing must be available before the Governor sees fit to also consider this box checked.

The third requirement for reopening has obvious logic—increased and adequate hospital capacity across the state to cope with increased COVID cases and the ability to meet ventilators demand.  It strains credulity that the state’s hospitals are at or beyond capacity when just this week, local hospitals reported they would be furloughing employees due to low census. With elective surgeries and procedures on hold, until the crisis abates, McLaren Port Huron and other area hospitals have announced significant staffing cuts.  Even if these facilities were at capacity, new alternate care facilities are going up across the state including Detroit’s TCF Center which opened on April 10th and can provide care for 1,000 new patients.  Other facilities like this one are in progress across the most affected areas of the state.  Further, New York recently loaned our state 100 ventilators to help meet demand indicating that cross-state collaboration is possible and likely in the event of supply shortages.  With multiple states throughout the US reporting both hospital bed and ventilator surpluses, it seems clear that we have the capacity within our hospital system to meet any demand of a potential second wave.

The Governor’s final requirement was that best practices be in place for businesses to reopen.  Certainly, this outbreak will change the way business is done—additional sanitation requirements and decreased stigmatization of taking sick days to name a few.  Fortunately, both the Center for Disease Control and basic common sense have already provided us ‘best practices’ for preventing the spread of disease in businesses. We have already seen these implemented in businesses that are permitted to remain open.  It is in the best interest of businesses to protect their suppliers, employees, and customers in order to remain open. In other words, they will implement best practices on their own. Absent creative solutions from business owners, the CDC has available on its website several practical measures to promote sanitary work environments.

I believe that it is important we all make as objective an argument as possible when critiquing the government’s response to this crisis.  In this way, we allow them to be held accountable based on the standards they set for themselves.  By her own statements and metrics, we could open some or all of the economy throughout our state and put hundreds of thousands of Michiganders back to work.

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