U.S. Midwest governors to coordinate reopening economies battered by coronavirus

DETROIT (Reuters) - Governors of seven U.S. mostly Midwestern states on Thursday said they will work in close coordination to reopen their economies battered by efforts to contain the coronavirus, echoing similar moves made by 10 governors in states on the East and West coasts this week.

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The governors for Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky have formed a partnership to work together on restarting the economies in their states, they said in a statement. The states collectively account for about 16% of total U.S. economic output.

“We are eager to work together to mitigate the economic crisis this virus has caused in our region,” the governors said in a joint statement. “We recognize that our economies are all reliant on each other, and we must work together to safely reopen them.”

“Phasing in sectors of our economy will be most effective when we work together as a region,” they added. “This doesn’t mean our economy will reopen all at once, or that every state will take the same steps at the same time. But close coordination will ensure we get this right.”

On Monday, 10 U.S. governors said they would band together in two regional pacts to coordinate economic reopening. One group included New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, while the other included California, Oregon and Washington state.

U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has pressed in recent weeks for getting Americans back to work soon. He had said he had unilateral authority to end the lockdowns that have strangled the American economy, before backing down following objections to that assertion from Democrats and Republicans, who cited the U.S. Constitution.

More than 90% of the country has been under stay-at-home orders with businesses, schools, restaurants and entertainment venues shuttered. U.S. coronavirus deaths rose above 32,000 on Thursday, by far the highest in the world.

The mostly Midwestern governors in the partnership are Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, Ohio’s Mike DeWine, Wisconsin’s Tony Evers, Minnesota’s Tim Waltz, Illinois’ J.B. Pritzker, Indiana’s Eric Holcomb and Kentucky’s Andy Beshear. DeWine and Holcomb are Republicans and the rest are Democrats.

Illinois officials said on Wednesday that talks for a partnership were underway. Governors of Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota declined to join the partnership, said a person familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified.

The seven governors said they will take a “fact-based, data-driven approach to reopening our economy in a way that protects families from the spread of COVID-19,” the potentially lethal respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Factors they will weigh heavily include controlling the rate of new infections and hospitalizations, enhanced ability to test and trace for the virus, sufficient healthcare capacity to handle a potential resurgence and best practices for social distancing at work, the governors said.

“I am an optimist and am confident that Ohioans will also live up to the challenge of doing things differently as we open back up beginning on May 1st,” DeWine tweeted on Thursday.

Several governors, including Whitmer, have been criticized for their shutdown orders and the resulting negative economic impact. Many Republicans and business leaders in Michigan have said Whitmer’s latest order was too restrictive and needed to be revised.

On Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators in cars with horns honking thronged around Michigan’s state Capitol to protest Whitmer’s order.

Reporting by Ben Klayman; additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washingon and Ann Saphir in San Francisco; Editing by Chris Reese, Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis