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Governor announces partial reopening

LANSING — The Upper Peninsula will partially reopen effective Friday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced at a press conference Monday.  

The loosening of restrictions was announced for the U.P. and 16 counties in northern Michigan. 

Reopening will be allowed for retail businesses, office work that cannot be done remotely, and restaurants and bars with limited seating. Social gatherings of up to 10 people are also allowed. 

Restaurants and bars will be restricted to 50% capacity, and must keep groups at least six feet apart, require their servers to wear face coverings, and follow rigorous disinfection protocols.

Local governments can also impose greater restrictions, such as only allowing outdoor seating, Whitmer said. 

If people in the Upper Peninsula or Northern Michigan want to go out to eat, they should use precautions, Whitmer said: wearing masks until they’re about to eat, washing their hands and maintaining social distancing. 

People who do not live in those regions should “think long and hard” before coming up, Whitmer said. If they are coming up to a second home in the area, they should bring groceries with them. 

“Let’s take this step,” she said. “The whole state’s watching to be sure we get this right. “If we get this right, we will be able to take the next step.”

Earlier this month, Whitmer unveiled the MI Safe Start Plan, which listed six phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, and broke the state into eight geographic sectors. 

Monday’s announcement pushes the U.P. and northern Traverse City region from Phase 3 (flattening) to Phase 4 (improving). She said announcements could be coming on other parts of the state soon. 

The decision to reopen the northern part of the state was driven by a few factors, Whitmer said: declining numbers of cases per day, declining deaths and drops in the percentage of positive tests.

As of Monday, the Upper Peninsula, which had 3.15% of the state’s population as of 2010, has accounted for just under 0.2% of the state’s coronavirus cases. 

An important part of moving the state forward is removing barriers to testing, Whitmer said. The past seven days have seen over 16,500 tests per day, a “dramatic improvement” over even the past week. In that time, Michigan was seventh in daily tests per million, up from 15th the previous week. Local testing sites are available at michigan.gov/coronavirus.

“The more people that get tested, the more confidence we can have that we know where there is COVID-19 in Michigan,” she said. 

State Rep. Greg Markkanen, R-Hancock, said he is “very happy” with the governor’s move. 

“I think it’s good to give local health departments some authority to make adjustments if we need to,” he said. “I think this has been a long time coming. We’ve had very low numbers and people have been following the executive orders.”

Markkanen said he would also like to see the state reopen campgrounds on a limited basis, as well as non-essential manufacturing, which he said would be an important boost to the area’s economy. He expressed confidence that that would happen soon. 

“I think we have to wait and see,” he said. “I think people have to listen to the governor and they have to show the community that they can be safe.”

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