(Adds details on Midwest states forming partnership, background, updates number of COVID-19 cases and deaths)
By Ben Klayman
DETROIT, April 16 (Reuters) – Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer needs to revise the recent extension to her stay-at-home order or risk doing serious harm to the state’s economy, including potentially driving hundreds of companies out of business, the head of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said on Thursday.
Whitmer extended the state’s stay-at-home order last week through the end of April and added some restrictions for businesses in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. She has faced attacks from Republicans in Michigan who say her more restrictive order was unnecessarily straining the state’s economy.
Corporate officials are voicing frustration as well.
“The current stay-at-home order is one of the most vague, one of the most difficult to understand and one of the most overly restrictive orders in the country,” state chamber Chief Executive Rich Studley said in a telephone interview. His organization represents about 5,000 companies with more than 1 million employees in the state.
“We recognize the need for the governor’s first stay-at-home order … but other states are doing a better job protecting both lives and livelihoods,” he added.
Michigan, a crucial swing state that U.S. President Donald Trump narrowly won in 2016, has faced one of the fastest growing infection rates for the new coronavirus, but a growing group of residents wants to reopen the state’s economy. On Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators in cars with horns honking snarled the state Capitol to protest Whitmer’s order.
Trump has said he wants Americans back to work soon.
Whitmer said this week she does not take lightly her move to extend the order, but added that data and science are driving her decisions as she seeks to protect the lives of state residents. On Thursday, she and six other Midwest governors announced a partnership to coordinate the reopening of their states’ economies.
Studley said the new order’s “one size fits all approach” is not working and should be revised to recognize that parts of the state are not as hard hit by the virus and could operate on some level and the same is true for some industries. “At some point, it doesn’t make sense to have the entire state on lockdown.”
He said that in her latest order, Whitmer missed an opportunity to revise and update the list of jobs and employers who would qualify as critical infrastructure to match federal standards, something 20 of the 26 states with stay-at-home orders have done.
Critics also have cited the ban on use of motor boats, golfing and sales of carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden supplies or paint, as well as barring people from moving between homes in the state.
If Whitmer further extends the order without amending it, she will risk driving “hundreds and hundreds” of chamber members out of business, Studley said.
Some Michigan residents have filed lawsuits challenging Whitmer’s order, accusing the governor of violating their constitutional rights.
Whitmer, who has been the subject of media speculation as a possible running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, had previously garnered national attention by trading jabs with Trump over the spread of COVID-19 in the state. She also is a co-chair of Biden’s presidential campaign.
As of Thursday, Michigan had more than 29,000 COVID-19 cases and almost 2,100 deaths. (Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit Editing by Matthew Lewis)
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