LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republicans who control the Michigan Senate urged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday to lift her five-week-old ban on nonessential medical and dental procedures, saying the decision to resume should be left to hospitals and health providers.
The resolution, while symbolic, is the latest move by GOP lawmakers who are pushing the Democratic governor to ease restrictions she adopted to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The voice vote came as Whitmer asks the Legislature to this week extend an emergency declaration — the underpinning of her stay-at-home and other orders — by 28 days so health workers are immune from civil lawsuits.
The state reported 160 additional deaths, including 40 that occurred days or weeks earlier but were added to the official count after death certificates were matched to confirmed COVID-19 cases. More than 3,500 people have died.
About 1,000 new cases were reported, for total of more than 39,000. With testing on the rise, the percentage of people found to be infected is dropping. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said Monday that is a “good sign.”
But in some rural counties — Arenac, Branch, Lapeer and Mecosta — intensive care units were at full capacity as of Monday, a state health department spokeswoman said Tuesday.
At TCF Center, a Detroit convention hall, only 16 beds were in use. “It won’t be very long before the field hospital gets shut down,” Mayor Mike Duggan said.
Hospitals in the Detroit area have had to permanently or temporarily lay off employees to focus almost entirely on COVID-19 patients. Hospitals elsewhere in Michigan have made cuts, too, due to the cancellation of nonessential surgeries and other services. Many doctors have doing telemedicine appointments.
“The word elective might imply unnecessary. But in reality, there are thousands living with serious knee or hip pain, with cataracts or dental problems. I even have a friend who can’t get her melanoma treated,” said Sen. Lana Theis, a Brighton Republican who accused Whitmer of having a “lack of faith” in medical professionals to safely do their work.
The Michigan State Medical Society, which represents more than 15,000 physicians, also wants the governor to reverse the ban. Spokesman Kevin McFatridge said many doctors have delayed annual checkups; routine gynecological exams; ear, nose and throat procedures; and non-emergency surgeries.
Whitmer has said postponing nonessential procedures reduces the strain on the health care system and protects people from infection.
“Every executive order is driven by what is best for public health right now. This second guessing of the intentions of the governor is misplaced at best and callous at worst,” said Sen. Jeremy Moss, a Southfield Democrat.
He said hospitals already are exploring the ability to restart elective procedures. The Senate, he said, should instead consider policies to ensure workers displaced by the economic crisis get health coverage and those who are working have paid sick leave and access to child care.
GOP senators also approved a resolution urging Whitmer to bring Michigan in line with federal guidance on which “critical” workers are exempt from stay-home restrictions. The governor said Monday she will soon allow commercial and residential construction — a major industry included on the federal advisory list — to restart, but Republicans have contended that other business activities can safely resume, too.
Greenhouses and garden centers across Michigan either have or soon will reopen their doors to customers during one of the most important times of the year for their industry.
“Most greenhouses in Michigan, April, May and June is where you’d generate probably between 70 and 90 percent of your revenue. To say it’s critical is an understatement. Without this time of year, it’s not sustainable,” said Chris Schwartz, manager of Schwartz’s Greenhouse in Wayne County’s Huron Township.
Whitmer on Friday allowed plant nurseries and a few other kinds of businesses to resume operating, subject to social-distancing rules.
Schwartz’s plans to reopen this coming Friday. Customers will find a few changes when they visit the Detroit-area store.
There only will be one entrance and one exit into and out of the business, and hand sanitizer will be available at both. Arrows will signify one-way aisles. Plexiglass partitions have been installed at cashier’s stations. And all who enter the store will be required to wear masks.
“We want to do things safely. That’s priority one. So, if that takes hiring more people to do that, we’re willing to do that, absolutely,” Schwartz said.
Ray Wiegand’s Nursery in Macomb County’s Macomb Township has introduced similar measures. It reopened over the weekend.
“We were excited to reopen. We were excited but also cautious. We wanted to just do it safely,” said Jim Moylan, greenhouse manager at Ray Wiegand’s Nursery.
Householder reported from Huron Township in Wayne County. Associated Press writer Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.
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