Near Total Shutdown of State Commences to Combat COVID-19

Near Total Shutdown Of State Commences To Combat COVID-19
The new coronavirus has brought Michigan and most of the United States to a standstill.

In a day unlike any in Michigan’s 183-year history, the state’s 49th governor, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, issued a sweeping executive order Monday morning closing not just bars and restaurants other than for delivery, drive-through and carryout, but also shuttering cafes, coffee houses, clubs, movie theaters, indoor and outdoor performance venues, gyms, fitness/exercise studios, spas and casinos.

The executive order (EO 2020-9) applies to any “place of public amusement” – libraries, distilleries, cigar bars, brewpubs, nightclubs – basically any place where anyone could glean some measure of fun or personal enjoyment. It took effect at 3 p.m. Monday and lasts through 11:59 p.m. March 30.

At the end of the day, Ms. Whitmer issued another order (EO 2020-11) prohibiting all events or assemblages in shared indoor spaces with more than 50 people. The latest order goes into effect Tuesday at 9 a.m. and will last until April 5 at 5 p.m. Additionally, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommended individuals do not congregate in groups of 10 or more.

The Legislature, mass transit, grocery stores, agriculture and construction work, health care facilities and workplaces not open to the public are exempt from Ms. Whitmer’s order.

Combined with the closure of the state’s K-12 schools, shuttering of in-person instruction at the state’s universities and colleges and push for anyone able to work remotely to do so, life as everyone knows it has come to a virtual halt.

All of these moves are designed to achieve social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“This disease is a challenge unlike any we’ve experienced in our lifetimes,” Ms. Whitmer said in a statement. “Fighting it will cause significant but temporary changes to our daily lives. By practicing social distancing and taking aggressive action now, the state is working to mitigate the spread of coronavirus so we reduce the risk that our health care system becomes overwhelmed. This is about saving lives. Michiganders are tough and we are going to get through this, but it will require everyone doing their part. That means making smart choices and not putting yourself or others at risk by going out in public unless it is absolutely necessary.”

To help alleviate the economic shock, Ms. Whitmer issued a separate executive order (EO 2020-10) with a broad, temporary expansion of unemployment benefits.

Restaurants can still offer food and beverage through delivery, drive-through, walk-up and window service. Restaurants may allow only five people inside at a time to pick up orders and they must stay six feet apart.

These restrictions do not apply to the following locations: office buildings, grocery stores, markets, food pantries, pharmacies, drug stores and providers of medical equipment and supplies, health care facilities, residential care facilities, congregate care facilities, juvenile justice facilities, warehouse and distribution centers and industrial and manufacturing facilities.

As the state tries to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent the overwhelming of the health care system, it is becoming apparent that the virus will inflict a brutal economic shockwave. Businesses hit by the shutdown order face the real possibility of financial ruin and never reopening. But there is widespread agreement such drastic measures must be taken given the potential for a health care system collapse and loss of life if the coronavirus becomes out of control.

“We’ve all got to stick together in this,” said Scott Ellis, head of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association.

That said, the reality of the situation is devastating.

“A lot of consoling,” he said of his conversations with his members Monday. “A lot of fear right now.”

What did not help was the way Ms. Whitmer announced the decision, Mr. Ellis said. The association represents bars, taverns and restaurants, and was bracing for Ms. Whitmer to announce a shutdown Sunday night, but then she didn’t. The first they learned of the closure was from comments Ms. Whitmer made to WWTV-TV and WWUP-TV, CBS affiliates in northern Michigan.

A reporter from the stations tweeted the comments, which Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist then retweeted to his followers.

The actual executive order did not become public until hours later.

“The way it went out today wasn’t the most ideal,” Mr. Ellis said. “That made it a lot of panic right off the bat.”

That said, Mr. Ellis said he understands the difficulty for the governor of managing the situation and didn’t want to be overly critical because the decision still had to happen.

The number one fear of his members, Mr. Ellis said, is what will happen to their employees.

One option for bars, brewpubs, distilleries, restaurants and others with an SDM license to sell beer and wine on a retail basis is to offer carryout of beer and wine or even deliver it, Mr. Ellis said. He said Harry’s Place, a beloved institution just west of downtown Lansing, plans to try this option.

“It’s about survival,” he said.

Mr. Ellis also is an owner in the industry as the owner of Michigrain Distillery.

He said he plans to run limited hours and sell bottles during that time.

There is no way to avoid the damage that is coming to many in the industry, however, he said. Many will permanently close.

Justin Winslow, head of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said there will be mass layoffs. Hotels, which have occupancy rates in the single digits, already had started layoffs, he said.

Mr. Winslow said fine dining, urban restaurants and upscale places will get hit the hardest.

“There’s just no traffic anymore. They seem to be feeling it most acutely,” he said of the situation before the shutdown.

Mr. Winslow said his association is asking the Michigan Department of Treasury to waive upcoming deadlines for restaurants and hotels to file quarterly and annual income taxes.

“Under even the best-case scenario there will be places that do not reopen and I don’t think we’re likely to get to the best-case scenario,” he said. “There will be permanent closures.”

Mr. Winslow said the industry stands with Ms. Whitmer on her actions, saying it is up to all Michigan residents to unite to prevent a catastrophic overrun of the health care system.

To help alleviate the economic shock, Ms. Whitmer issued an order temporarily and dramatically expanding unemployment benefits. The order extends benefits to:

· Workers who have an unanticipated family care responsibility, like child care due to school closures or caring for a loved one who becomes ill;

· Workers who are sick, quarantined or immunocompromised and do not have access to paid leave time or are laid off; and

· First responders in the public health community who become ill or are quarantined.

Ms. Whitmer also announced benefits would be extended from 20 to 26 weeks, the application eligibility period would be increased from 14 to 28 days and the normal in-person registration and work search requirements will be suspended.

Further, the order says an employer or employing unit will not be charged for unemployment benefits if their employees become unemployed because of an executive order requiring them to close or limit operations.

The provisions are effective through April 14.

“While we work together to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, we must do everything we can to help working families,” Ms. Whitmer said in a statement. “This executive order will provide immediate relief to those who can’t go to work, and who rely on their paycheck to put food on the table for themselves and their families. I urge everyone to make smart choices at this time, and to do everything in their power to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”

Ms. Whitmer has asked the U.S. Small Business Administration for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Declaration for the state that would free up low-interest loans for small businesses.

Ms. Whitmer cited her powers under the Emergency Management Act.

Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, praised the governor’s actions.

“At a time of unprecedented global crisis, Governor Whitmer has been providing real leadership,” Mr. Bieber said in a statement. “Working people and their families need support from their state now more than ever, so it’s great to see concrete, decisive action from our governor that will make a big difference for folks and provide tremendous help while they’re struggling through this crisis.”

Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming), who has owned his restaurant for 49 years, said he has never seen anything like this happen. While he is not upset with Governor Gretchen Whitmer directly, the situation is frustrating, he said.

“We are human beings and we really care about our employees and customers,” Mr. Brann said of business owners. He described how upset one of his employees was when she heard the news and he saw her tears hit the hard wood floors of his restaurant. “The restaurant business is one of the toughest in the world.”

While he said it is good the state is going to hold businesses ordered to close harmless for unemployment benefits its employees may receive, he still has to pay property taxes, other taxes and utility bills.

“I depend on weekly cash flow and customers coming through the door,” he said.

Mr. Brann said some sort of tax relief would be beneficial. But he is also worried about his employees. While being interviewed, Mr. Brann said he had just returned from the dollar store with cleaning supplies for a few of his employees to clean the restaurant.

“I am not going to let them down,” he said. Still, Mr. Brann said, it is going to be tough. He will try to do take out, but it is not what his restaurant normally does.

“I am not Culvers,” he said.

Alicia Farris, with Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, said tipped workers especially are going to be at a disadvantage during this time.

“The biggest concerns are always when people are in layoff mode or simply don’t make enough to make ends meet,” she said.

Ms. Farris said these workers will need community support to ensure they keep their housing, are meeting sanitation needs and have food. She praised Ms. Whitmer for expanding unemployment access and ensuring quick access. She also praised the state for acting against potential price gouging of needed supplies.

She said while restaurant workers are among the most harmed by the COVID-19 outbreak, they are still concerned citizens in their community. She spoke of one sous chef who found out he was laid off and started to volunteer to pass out food boxes.

“Although they are impacted, they still want to be of help to people who find themselves in even more dire straits than they are in,” she said.

Later Monday, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission told its 19,000 licensees to strictly adhere to the order or face a possible suspension or loss of their liquor license.

“Any licensee who disregards the governor’s executive order will be jeopardizing their liquor license, and the ramifications could go beyond a misdemeanor charge,” a notice from LCC said. “These measures are in place first and foremost to protect the health and safety of our fellow citizens. The governor’s order will be enforced by state and local law enforcement agencies now through March 30, 2020.”