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Michigan business groups to Whitmer: Time to ease office-work restrictions

With COVID-19 cases in decline and vaccination rates on the rise, a coalition of Michigan business groups is calling on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration to let white-collar workers return to the office.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Manufacturers Association, Small Business Association of Michigan and the regional chambers of commerce in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing sent the governor a letter Feb. 19 making their case for easing restrictions on office work.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 public health order restricts gatherings to a maximum of 10 people from no more than two households inside “non-residential venues.”

That’s been broadly interpreted as banning work inside office buildings, though there are exceptions for work that can’t be performed remotely such as maintaining information technology systems. The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration also has restricted office work in its COVID-19 workplace regulations.

The presidents and CEOs of the “Big Six” business organizations told the Democratic governor that a continued prohibition on office work has become detrimental to employers and cities alike.

“From Grand Rapids to Lansing and Detroit, empty office buildings have a damaging impact not only on productivity, innovation, collaboration and mental health, but also has put an incredible strain on our communities,” the letter to Whitmer says.

The executives argued that “offices are some of the most controlled, low-risk environments in our state.”

“Masks can be worn whenever employees are not in a private space,” the letter said. “Cleaning methods, social distancing and daily health checks can be implemented in an employer-monitored setting and our employers are prepared.”

Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy said Tuesday that the governor welcomes “feedback from stakeholders” and that MIOSHA “will continue to review the data and update its guidance as we fight this virus together.”

“While we always welcome feedback from stakeholders, the health and safety of Michigan residents is our top priority,” Leddy said in a statement. “Countless Michiganders are already masking up and safely going to their place of work at restaurants, hair salons, gas stations, car dealerships, and more every single day.

“Some jobs do not require in-person work, and at present MIOSHA rules require employers in those sectors to allow their employees to work from home to maximize safety, unless it is not feasible to complete work remotely.”

For state employees who can work from home, the Whitmer administration has set a target date of May 1 for returning to state office buildings, including Cadillac Place in Detroit’s New Center and a mostly vacant downtown Lansing.

The letter was signed by Michigan Manufacturers Association President John Walsh, SBAM President Brian Calley, Michigan Chamber CEO Rich Studley, Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Tim Daman and Grand Rapids Chamber CEO Rick Baker.

The new lobbying effort to loosen restrictions on office work comes two weeks after limited dine-in service resumed at restaurants and bars across Michigan following a 10-week shutdown because of the fall surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

On Tuesday, the rolling seven-day average number of new cases of COVID-19 was 922 after falling to a four-month low of 814 on Saturday, state data show. The figure peaked at more than 7,000 per day in mid-November.

Michigan hospitals reported Tuesday having 727 people hospitalized for positive cases of COVID-19. On Monday, the total hospitalizations was 714, the lowest number of COVID-positive patients in Michigan hospitals since 712 on Oct. 12.

MDHHS reported Tuesday that more than 680,000 residents have received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to protect against contracting COVID-19. That comes out to about 8.5 percent of the roughly 8 million residents over age 16 in Michigan.

Whitmer has set a goal of getting 70 percent — 5.6 million — of Michigan residents over age 16 vaccinated.  Approximately 1.94 million or 75 percent of the 2.6 million vaccine doses shipped to providers had been administered as of Tuesday, according to MDHHS data.


Posted By: Crain’s Detroit Business on February 23, 2021.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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