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Whitmer administration coming under fire over how Michigan COVID restrictions are determined

Posted at 5:25 PM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 19:28:08-05

(WXYZ)  — Starting Friday, 750 people can now attend games and events at Comerica Park, Little Caesars Arena, Ford Field. Restaurants and bars can operate at 50% capacity, not more than 100 people and have to close at 11pm. Private residential gatherings can now be 15 people. That was not allowed for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, the Super Bowl. How do they decide these numbers?

7 Action News asked for an interview with a state official. We were told no one was available. State Health Director Elizabeth Hertel was before a State Senate Committee and asked by Senator Ed McBroom about how the numbers have moved around for the last year with no clear explanation asking Hertel, “And I think my citizens on top of that want to know if there’s another spike if the numbers go bad again, how do we know what things will come around the next time and what won’t?”

Hertel replied, “That’s a perfectly reasonable question to say what will come and what won’t.” But there was not talk about math, science or how they set COVID restrictions. Hertel gave only a vague answer that they talk about it, “It’s important to me that we continue to have those conversations so that we can continue to create policies that make sense.”

For the last year, Hertel has been Deputy Director of DHHS and she was asked by Senator McBroom if she was involved in the decisions. She replied, “Yeah, I was focused on in my role the operational functions of the department. I was not involved in general policy discussions.”

On Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released the following statement on how restrictions are determined:

Decisions on safely easing COVID-19 gathering limits is based on analyzing COVID-19 case rates, deaths, positivity rates, hospitalizations and vaccination rates. We follow the proven science, which includes guidance from the CDC and numerous studies. We are pleased that we have seen promising improvements in these metrics that allow incremental loosening of restrictions. However, it is important for Michiganders to remain vigilant by wearing masks, socially distancing and washing their hands frequently.

Earlier today, the Reopen Michigan Safely Coalition of business leaders called on the Whitmer administration to lift a ban on people working in offices. It is set to expire on April 14. Rich Studley of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said during a Zoom news conference, “It’s time to pivot to job creation and economic growth and reopening our economy safely.”

Veronica Horn of the Saginaw Chamber of Commerce added, “Under the current rules, businesses are stagnating or going bankrupt causing jobs to disappear some forever. Our downtowns and local governments are being crushed economically.”

Scott Ryan is Vice President of Gentex, an electronics supplier to the auto industry and others with 6,000 employees in Zeeland, Michigan. He said during the Zoom that the semiconductor shortage that is slowing some auto production is because of COVID shutdowns and will prevent their rebound because of office work restrictions saying, “What is especially frustrating is that the semiconductor shortage was in part caused by widespread stay at home orders that shutdown auto plants worldwide. It’s now Michigan’s continued work at home order that is making this issue increasing difficult to rectify.”

Late this afternoon we got a statement from a spokesman with the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Development that says in part:

It is very likely that the Emergency Rules will be extended, while MIOSHA seeks to promulgate permanent rules.
We welcome the feedback from the business community and will continue to partner with employers on educational resources to help keep their employees, customers and workplaces safe.

LEO is in the process of establishing a work group made up of public and private sector subject matter experts who will advise the administration on a phased return to in-person office work, taking into account the trajectory of the pandemic, vaccines, and mitigation measures focusing on challenges and opportunities.

MIOSHA’s emergency rules do not prohibit in-person work. Rather, they require employers to determine whether remote work for employees is feasible to help ensure that COVID-19 transmission is mitigated to the maximum extent possible. Remote work is a strategy to minimize in-person contacts and is included in guidance from CDC and Federal OSHA to protect employees in the workplace.