By Sen. Curt VanderWall
35th Senate District
As the number of COVID-19 coronavirus cases in Michigan has risen, residents across the state have responded by taking seriously the calls to practice good hygiene — washing our hands often with warm, soapy water and avoiding touching our face — and to follow social distancing guidelines — staying home as much as possible, staying six feet apart when going out and wearing masks in public.
Michiganders understand the seriousness of COVID-19. Many are able to work from home and have been doing so for weeks.
Others fall under what Gov. Gretchen Whitmer deems “essential work.” I have talked with several businesses and manufacturing operations still operating as essential businesses, and I have been impressed with the health and safety standards being adopted.
For those who are deemed essential workers who must work outside the home, safeguards have been put in place on the job. Surfaces are kept clean. Masks are worn. Hands are washed. A safe distance is kept.
The actions we are taking as a state — including those taken by businesses still operating — have been working. We have proven that some businesses can and should continue to operate safely, especially those in which people can operate alone or can safely practice social distancing.
The governor agrees. Her Executive Order 2020-42, issued on April 9, updates her stay-at-home order and extends it through April 30. The order outlines the many businesses that can stay open that she has deemed essential. (The governor has created a list of frequently asked questions regarding her latest stay-at-home order, including what is considered essential.)
Unfortunately, EO 2020-42 prohibits the sale of some necessary items. For instance, the order has closed garden centers and nurseries, which means people are unable to buy plants or seeds. Many people rely on home gardens to sustain them; this was a dangerous decision by the governor.
In addition, both the governor’s earlier stay-at-home order and the new April 9 order cite guidance on critical infrastructure workers issued by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency on March 19. The problem is that the federal agency issued an updated order on March 28 in which more workers were added to the critical list. These include landscapers providing necessary services and others performing construction.
It makes sense to follow these new federal guidelines and allow these fields to open for business. The governors of bordering Ohio and Indiana have done just that, as have 18 of the other 26 states relying on these guidelines.
This is a commonsense and safe approach that the governor has decided not to follow.
Her decisions are not only having negative repercussions for businesses and the Michigan economy. They are beginning to affect safety as well.
Every spring, the organization Friends of the White Pine Trail sweep the 60-mile trail after the long winter. During normal times, the group does this under contract with the Department of Natural Resources and receives some compensation for the maintenance. The DNR is not contracting at this time, so the group said they would volunteer to sweep the trail after the five months of winter buildup and make sure it was safe for users.
After initially agreeing to this proposal, the DNR deemed the group’s desire to sweep the trail as “nonessential” and denied them the right to do so.
This is an example of the arbitrary nature of the Whitmer administration’s approach to this crisis. Not only that, but it is also in contradiction to Executive Order 2020-42 itself, which clearly states maintenance of a park is essential work and can be done.
Section 6b of the order states that necessary activities include, among other things, “the maintenance of safe and sanitary public parks so as to allow for outdoor activity permitted under this order.”
If this trail is not swept, it is not safe. The governor has urged people to get outdoors and use the trails at this time, yet she will not allow the Friends of the White Pine Trail to ensure the safety of the trail, even at their own cost.
The governor has employed a rigid, ham-fisted approach to this crisis that overlooks necessary safety concerns, doesn’t consider the way the virus is affecting different areas of the state in different ways, and doesn’t understand that many businesses can operate safely at this time.
She needs to replace her current approach with a commonsense strategy that ensures safety and less disruption to normal life. Job providers, businesses and families across the state are depending on it.
Senator Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, serves the residents of the 35th Senate District, representing the counties of Benzie, Crawford, Kalkaska, Lake, Leelanau, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Ogemaw, Osceola, Roscommon and Wexford. He can be reached at 517-373-1725 or [email protected].