05/11/2020

Factories in Michigan can resume production on Monday, enabling North American automakers to bring thousands of idled employees in the state back to work more than six weeks after locking down to help control the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor reopened Michigan, a major Midwest industrial powerhouse hard hit by both the pandemic and its economic fallout, as nearly all 50 states have begun loosening restrictions on daily business and social life.

In Ohio, another highly industrial state, the vast majority of retail shops can start serving customers on Tuesday. Even New York, the epicenter of the U.S. crisis, was set to relax social distancing measures by week’s end in some parts of the state outside Greater New York City.

In the face of record unemployment, states have been under pressure to relax restrictions. But the push to reopen has many health experts concerned about a potential spike in cases, and polling shows a majority of Americans also concerned.

Isaac Weisfuse, a former deputy commissioner at New York City’s health department, said he was concerned that regions still grappling with rising daily cases could see an increase in seriously ill patients.

“This in turn results in increased mortality and strain on the healthcare system, which means we are falling behind in battling the virus,” Weisfuse told Reuters. “No amount of economic activity can replace lives lost.”

In announcing plans last week to reopen manufacturing in Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended a stay-at-home order requiring residents to remain mostly indoors, except for outings like grocery shopping, doctor visits and limited recreation. 

Whitmer was an early target of protests around the country organized by supporters of Republican President Donald Trump demanding an end to lockdowns.

 

6% OF ECONOMIC OUTPUT

The auto sector accounts for 6% of U.S. economic output and employs more than 835,000 Americans. The government of Mexico, another important link in North America’s automobile production chain, is expected to make an announcement this week regarding its plans for the industry.

Michigan has counted more than 4,500 deaths related to COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, ranking fourth among the 50 U.S. states. Overall, nearly 80,000 Americans have died in the pandemic out of more than 1.34 million known U.S. infections tallied since Jan. 20, according to a Reuters tally.

Several weeks of widespread business shutdowns as part of unprecedented social-distancing measures have dealt a catastrophic blow to the U.S. economy, casting Americans out of work in numbers unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

While New York state has reported a steady decline in hospitalizations and other key measures of the outbreak in recent weeks, many states - especially in the Midwest - are experiencing a rise in cases as they ease restrictions.

Public health experts have warned that moving too quickly to reopen, without vastly expanded diagnostic testing and other precautions firmly in place, risks fueling a resurgence of the virus.

Trump and officials from his administration scheduled a 4 p.m. (2000 GMT) news briefing on Monday to discuss testing.

More than two-thirds of respondents to a Pew Research Center survey released on Thursday said that they were more worried their state would reopen too quickly than that they would move too slowly - a percentage roughly unchanged over the past month.

Leaders of the five largest cities and counties in northern Virginia urged Governor Ralph Northam to hold off implementing his reopening plan until certain metrics such as falling hospitalizations and increased testing have been met.

In South Dakota, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe was refusing to take down checkpoints in defiance of an order from Governor Kristi Noem to do so, concerned that relaxing the shutdown measure could strain its limited hospital capacity.

Reuters (Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, Doina Chiacu in Washington and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Howard Goller)