After Protests, Controversy, Michigan Governor Sends Manufacturing Employees Back to Work

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is easing the state's coronavirus lockdown restrictions, announcing Thursday that manufacturing workers can return to their jobs on Monday, when factories will reopen. Whitmer also extended the state's stay-at-home order to May 28.

"This is good news for our state, our businesses and our working families," Whitmer said at a press conference. "We're not out of the woods yet, but this is an important step forward on our MI Safe Start plan to re-engage our economy safely and responsibly."

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief deputy director for health at the state's Department of Health and Human Services, said current data supports the governor's decision to lift certain restrictions.

"The steps the governor is taking today will help ensure protections for workers and their families from COVID-19 while allowing for work in lower-risk fields to resume," Khaldun said.

The decision to resume construction and other outdoor work comes after hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters gathered April 30 at the state Capitol in Lansing. On CNN's State of the Union, Whitmer criticized demonstrators who were seen carrying Nazi symbols and Confederate flags. "The behavior that you've seen in all of the clips is not representative of who we are in Michigan," she said.

Michigan protest american patriot rally
Demonstrators protest Michigan's lockdown at the state Capitol in Lansing on April 30. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP

The move to reopen factories a week before automakers' planned May 18 restart is crucial to the state's auto industry. The Big Three auto companies—Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler—are all headquartered in Michigan.

Whitmer noted that manufacturing makes up 19 percent of the state's economy.

Manufacturing companies will have to follow the executive order's safety guidelines, which include daily entry screenings for anyone entering the facility, a questionnaire on symptoms and exposure, and temperature screenings once no-touch thermometers can be obtained.

There must also be dedicated entry points at every facility, and all nonessential in-person visits, including tours, will be suspended.

Workers will be provided face masks by the manufacturing facilities, as well as training on how the virus is transmitted, the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and the necessary steps to notify businesses about possible infections.

"The vast majority of people in this state are doing the right things. We've seen the curve get pushed down," Whitmer said.

Even with certain sectors reopening on Monday, Whitmer stressed that "we must all continue to stay home and stay safe as much as possible. If we all keep doing our part, we can reduce the risk of a second wave and re-engage our economy safely and responsibly."

Other businesses, such as restaurants, will remain closed, and the stay-at-home order will be continue to be enforced.

Michigan has reported 45,048 reported cases of the virus and 4,250 deaths.