Commentary

Michigan vs. the Midwest: Reopening Plan Vague Compared To Neighbor States'

Ohio, Indiana, Illinois residents know where they’re going and when

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan to reopen Michigan society is significantly less detailed than plans created by governors in nearby states. While mapping out public policy needs in the face of a pandemic is difficult, Michiganders can rightly wonder why they’ve been left mostly in the dark compared to residents in nearby states.

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is using a five-phase plan to reopen society, similar to Gov. Whitmer’s six-phase approach. But unlike Michiganders, Illinoisans know the benchmarks and targets that will be used to determine when the state moves from one phase to the next.

For instance, to go from the “flattening” phase to the “recovery” phase, Gov. Pritzker’s plan says new COVID-19 cases must be “at or under 20% positivity rate and increasing no more than 10 percentage points over 14 days.” Gov. Whitmer’s plan describes the same progression as occurring “when the number of new cases and deaths has fallen for a period of time, but overall case levels are still high.”

Similarly, under Gov. Pritzker’s plan, Illinois will be in the recovery phase when there is “no overall increase in hospital admissions for 28 days” and “at least 14% of ICU beds, surgical beds and ventilators [are available] to handle surge.” Gov. Whitmer’s plan defines that same phase as a time when “health system capacity can typically handle these new outbreaks.”

Compared to Illinois, Gov. Whitmer’s MI Safe Start plan leaves out all the important details. As a result, Michigan residents do not have the information needed to plan for when restrictions will be lifted and are left guessing when the next phase might begin.

In Indiana, Hoosiers have a detailed road map for what to expect for the next couple of months. The Back on Track plan defines five stages and even lists when they will start: Stage two lasts from May 4 to May 23, stage three runs from May 24 to June 13, and so on. While continuing social distancing, Indiana plans to be fully open by July 4, no doubt to be celebrated with patriotic flare.

Gov. Whitmer’s plan makes no mention of potential dates or timelines for moving from one phase to the next.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s plan for Indiana also defines when certain activities and businesses will be allowed to reopen. For instance, beginning May 24, groups of up to 100 can gather again, retail stores and restaurants can reopen at limited capacity, and gyms, fitness centers, barbers, cosmetologists and other personal care services can open to full capacity, if proper protocol is practiced.

In Ohio, the Responsible RestartOhio plan provides operating requirements businesses must meet before reopening. These are specific to different sectors: manufacturing, restaurants and bars, offices, etc. While it does not appear Gov. Mike DeWine is using a stage-based approach, Buckeyes can still plan ahead. The governor announced this week that, if they follow state safety rules, campgrounds will open May 21, and gyms, fitness centers, public pools and sports leagues can resume activities on May 26. Even horse race facilities got a heads-up: They can start May 22, though without spectators.

Meanwhile, Gov. Whitmer gives mixed messages to Michiganders. Her plan says that small gatherings and retail shops are allowed to open in the next phase labeled “improving.” But Gov. Whitmer told MLive.com last week, “Retail will probably be in the next phase” (emphasis added). She also said that “at the end of this month we can maybe permit gatherings of 10 or less,” adding it was a “very real possibility.” And although her plan does not mention pet groomers, she said “this is one where maybe there is an opportunity to move forward” and it was “something that we’re taking a look at for a possibility in the next phase.” So, Michigan’s “improving” phase may or not include retailers, may or may not include pet groomers, may or may not allow gatherings up to 10 and may or may not start at the end of this month.

While retail shop owners in Indiana are preparing to open safely on May 24; while gym owners in Ohio are readying their facilities for stricter safety protocols; while Illinoisans eagerly track their state’s progress toward defined benchmarks, Michiganders are left to simply wonder what their governor will announce next.