April 27, 2020 / 6:59 PM / a month ago

Ohio, Michigan governors diverge on plans to reopen during pandemic

DETROIT (Reuters) - Ohio Governor Mike DeWine outlined “first steps” toward reopening the state’s economy on Monday, diverging from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer who said she would not be held to “artificial timelines” while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ohio would start by allowing non-essential surgeries this week and then move to open the manufacturing and retail sectors after that, DeWine told a webcast news briefing. That differs from Michigan, where Whitmer has yet to give details on restarting the state’s crucial manufacturing sector.

The varying plans could complicate matters for automakers and others with interdependent operations across the Midwest.

Ohio and Michigan are part of a coalition of states, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Kentucky, that agreed to coordinate their economic reopening.

They are also crucial states for November’s general election that President Donald Trump, a Republican, won in the 2016.

Republican politicians and individuals affiliated with Trump’s re-election campaign have organized or promoted protests in electoral battleground states where some people are eager to get back to work amid sweeping stay-at-home orders.

“These are first steps,” DeWine, a Republican, said. “We’ve got to get moving. We’ve got to get people back to work. We’ve got to open things up.”

Ohio’s reopening will begin on Friday as it allows non-essential surgeries that do not require an overnight hospital stay, DeWine said. Dentists and veterinarians also will be allowed to open.

Three days later, the manufacturing, distribution and construction sectors will reopen. General offices also can reopen then, although DeWine encouraged companies to keep employees telecommuting if possible. On May 12, consumer retail and services will reopen, he said.

Ohio will require all companies to have employees practice social distancing and where that is not possible barriers will need to be installed. Employees must perform daily health assessments, and companies will stagger or limit arrivals of employees as well as implement shift changes, DeWine said.

“The coronavirus is still here. It’s just as dangerous as it’s ever been,” the governor said.

He added that the opening of restaurants, hair salons and gyms would come later, and that mass gatherings, like concerts and sporting events, will likely be last to return.

DeWine said he decided that reopening the state by regions would have been harder to do and would have caused confusion.

Whitmer, by contrast, said she would divide Michigan into eight regions, separating the hard hit southeastern Detroit metro area from the rest of the state, using the divisions as one of many factors in determining risk for restarting certain sectors.

The Democratic governor told a news briefing outdoor enterprises and residential and commercial construction would likely be one of first sectors to restart, but she did not give a timeline.

FILE PHOTO: Ohio Governor Mike DeWine speaks at a vigil at the scene after a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston/File Photo

“As we move through the process and gradually re-engage our economy, I will be guided by the data, not artificial timelines,” said Whitmer, who has been floated as a potential running mate for presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

She called DeWine a friend, but said the two states faced very different situations pertaining to the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

As of Monday, Ohio had 16,325 COVID-19 cases and 753 deaths, while Michigan had reported 38,210 cases and 3,407 deaths. Officials from both states have said data on new infections were moving in the right direction.

Reporting by Ben Klayman and Michael Martina; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown

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