(CN) — Seven Midwestern governors announced a plan Thursday to work together on reopening their states for business after similar pacts were made in the Northeast and on the West Coast, as the White House gave states the green light to relax measures aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19.
Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky joined 10 other states that have agreed to take a fact-based, data-driven approach to reopen their economies aided by the guidance of health experts, all covered by the umbrella of three regional pacts the states opted into. The 17 total states under the pacts are home to roughly half of the U.S. population.
Thursday’s announcement originated in a news release from Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who spoke for the bipartisan group of Midwest governors in saying “we are doing everything we can to protect the people of our states and the slow the spread of Covid-19, and we are eager to work together to mitigate the economic crisis this virus has caused in our region.”
She said the states “will work together in close coordination to reopen our economies in a way that prioritizes our workers’ health.”
“Our number one priority when analyzing when best to reopen our economy is the health and safety of our citizens,” Whitmer said. “We will make decisions based on facts, science, and recommendations from experts in health care, business, labor, and education.”
Whitmer made clear that the pact among the seven governors does not mean every state will reopen in the same manner or at the same rate, and that rejuvenating the Midwest region will take careful phasing targeted at different sectors.
The multistate plan puts particular focus on controlling the rate of new infections and hospitalizations, enhancing states’ abilities to test and trace Covid-19 cases, ensuring sufficient capacity for health care facilities to handle a resurgence of the coronavirus and implementing best practices for social distancing in the workplace.
The Midwest region’s plan arrived Thursday amid protests in some of those states and across the nation by groups resistant to further restrictions on citizens’ public mobility and further damages to the states’ economies for the sake of containing the spread of the global pandemic convulsing civic life around the world.
These demonstrations, the largest of which drew thousands of angry protesters to Michigan’s statehouse in Lansing, were reported to hue toward far-right Tea Party aesthetics and sympathies, including familiar “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Make America Great Again” flags. The groups are framing the argument as one of America’s oldest: the tension between the mandates of government regulation and the sanctity of personal liberty.
Despite the restless protests, the seven Midwestern governors, both Republican and Democratic, echoed a collective resolve Thursday to give their states’ economies a desperately needed shot in the arm while supporting health care personnel and other frontline workers and keeping as many people as healthy as possible.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Governor Tony Evers implemented an extension to the state’s safer-at-home order from April 24 until May 26, but at the same time folded into that extension certain changes to allow more businesses and activities to open back up and others to help make businesses safer for employees and customers.
“A few weeks ago, we had a pretty grim outlook for what Covid-19 could mean for our state, but because of the efforts of all of you, safer at home is working,” Evers said Thursday, while adding that “we aren’t out of the woods just yet.”
The Badger State’s safer-at-home extension allows public libraries to provide curbside pickups for books and other library materials, reopens golf courses with some restrictions and allows arts and crafts stores to expand curbside pickup of materials to make face masks and other personal protective equipment, among other measures.
Evers’ order also affords nonessential businesses the latitude to do more things as minimum basic operations — including deliveries, mailings and curbside pickups — as well as officially closing Wisconsin’s schools for the rest of the academic year.
However, leaders in the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature immediately condemned the terms and lack of details in Evers’ order Thursday, saying that “while everyone shares the goal of protecting public health, the governor’s order goes too far.”
A statement Thursday from Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, warned that “legislative Republicans are planning to act with legal and legislative options to deal with the extension of the order and get answers to the questions our constituents are demanding.”
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, established May 1 as the date the Buckeye State will start to open back up, stressing the importance of finding the safest way to open up shop without needlessly gambling with the potential for another spike in Covid-19 infections.
DeWine made clear that large public gatherings like concerts, sports events and fairs will be the last things revived from the shutdown, cautioning that “the sad truth is that we’ve won the battle, as it appears we’ve flattened the curve, but the monster is still out there.”
Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, shouted out the integral role of face masks in combatting Covid-19 and advised Ohioans to prepare for face masks to be a key part of the future of public life.
“Do not underestimate the power of donning your face mask,” Acton said.