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Whitmer: More UP businesses can reopen Wednesday

HOUGHTON — Hair salons, gyms and movie theaters are some of the businesses that will be able to reopen Wednesday in the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday. 

The U.P. and northern Michigan were moved to Phase 5 of the state’s six-phase recovery plan. Whitmer hinted other parts of the state would join them within a few weeks.  Already, salons are slated to reopen in the rest of the state June 15. 

The same two regions were the first in the state to move to Phase 4 over Memorial Day weekend. COVID-19 infection rates have stayed below 5 positive cases per million per day in those regions, enabling them to move forward, said state Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun. Across the state, the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests has stayed around 5% for the past two weeks. 

“Please do not drop your guard now,” Whitmer said at a press conference Friday. “Because of the hard work and sacrifice that we’ve made, we’re now able to make this reengagement happen. So get ready, but stay vigilant.”

Whitmer said personal care businesses, such as salons and tattoo parlors, would have to adopt precautionary measures, such as marking waiting rooms to enable social distancing, adding special hours for the highly vulnerable, and requiring employees and clients to wear masks. 

“Now is the time, if our business owners in these parts of our economy are not familiar with the protocols, to get up to speed on them and just so that you can be ready when June 10 comes around,” she said. 

Other restrictions were also loosened in the U.P. and northern Michigan. As long as social distancing guidelines are in place, indoor gatherings can now have up to 50 people; outdoor gatherings, 250. 

Indoor venues, such as convention centers, movie theaters and performance venues, must also enable groups to be six feet apart if they did not come together. Their capacity will be restricted to 25% or 250 people, whichever is smaller. 

Michigan Technological University is looking at the order to see how it will impact its schedule  said Ian Repp, assistant vice president for university marketing and communication. The university began the first phase of its three-phase return to campus operations on May 28. 

The University is aware of the Governor’s Executive Order,” he said in a statement. “We are currently looking at it to see how it will inform us with our plans for moving Michigan Tech forward. We hope to have more information next week.”

The Calumet Theatre will reopen on July 3 with a concert by Erik Koskinen, which was postponed from March, said Executive Director Marlin Lee. Ticket sales will be capped at 175. Since there had already been 130 tickets sold, the theater will close online sales and sell them through its box office at 337-2610 Wednesday through Friday. 

“We’re excited just to be reopen in any form,” he said. 

The full list of businesses that may open is available at michigan.gov/coronavirus. 

Outdoor performance and sporting venues will also be able to open, with a capacity of 500. 

“Some of the graduation ceremonies we’ll have to think about in a new way, if it was supposed to be over 500,” Whitmer said. “But we can start to think about it and start to plan for that.”

Filling a stadium probably won’t happen until there is a vaccine, Whitmer said. 

Many local districts have already had alternative celebrations for their graduates, including parades or smaller ceremonies. Had the executive order come a week earlier, Lake Linden-Hubbell High School might have scrapped its plans and held a more conventional ceremony, said Superintendent Brad Codere. As it is, the high school will continue with its plans for Saturday night, with a parade starting at 6 p.m. 

“It’s just too late in the process … we don’t want to delay this for our kids any longer,” he said. “They’ve done the work, and we want to recognize them.”

The parade will go through town, turn up Ninth Street and lead to the football field, where graduates and their families will be able to drive up to the track. It is the first outside graduation ceremony in the district’s 136-year history, Codere said. 

One vehicle will be allowed per family. Graduates will be able to walk up to a small stage on the field to get their diplomas and a rose. Families will be allowed to get out of the vehicle for a group picture with their graduate. 

Khaldun also announced an expanded Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) website, which will include information on probable COVID-19 cases as well as confirmed, as well as total antibody tests and diagnostic tests by county. That will also be available at michigan.gov/coronavirus.

Khaldun said while COVID-19 numbers have diminished, people must still remember to wear masks in public and practice social distancing. 

Increased testing will also help the state reopen, Khaldun said. State guidelines for who can get tested have expanded to allow people with even mild symptoms. Ultimately, the state would like to see 30,000 diagnostic tests per day — twice the current level, Khaldun said. 

People can go to michigan.gov/coronavirus or call 1-888-535-6136 to find a test site. 

Asked about continuing the moratorium on evictions, which is set to expire next week, Whitmer said she had not many any decisions yet. 

“I would anticipate over the next few days we will be determining what it looks like and how we continue to provide some relief about also start to reengaged on all fronts,” she said. 

Asked about concern for protests spreading COVID-19, Khaldun and Whitmer affirmed their belief in the importance of recent protests against police brutality, but said people should wear masks and observe social distancing where possible. Masks are particularly important because of the known role forceful vocalizing can play in spreading COVID-19, Whitmer said. 

Khaldun also suggested protesting with groups of people you’ve already been around, and using non-vocal tools like noisemakers. 

“I don’t know of any cases that are associated with that, but we will continue to monitor it,” Khaldun said of the protests.

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