Mindi Priskey trains hockey players and figure skaters, working with them for hours as they prepare for their next competition. But since March, the rink where she works at Mt. Clemens has remained closed due to the coronavirus and corresponding decrees from Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
She was one of many small business owners and employees who spoke to Michigan lawmakers at a legislative committee meeting on Wednesday about the impact of the pandemic shutdown on their lives.
The nearly three-hour legislative hearing focused little on infection rates, opinions from health experts or outbreak clusters appearing as schools and colleges reopen in Michigan. Instead, business owners described their own desperate efforts to make a living while trying to keep customers safe.
“I know this year and this pandemic is unlike any other. All businesses have made sacrifices,” said AJ Glowacki, who runs the Garden Ice Arena in St. Joseph.
“I believe it is safe for us to open, and I am all for middle ground.”
In mid-March, Whitmer ordered the closure of many businesses and state facilities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19 disease. Since then, bars, restaurants, casinos and other entities have been allowed to gradually reopen in some areas of the state as long as they follow specific guidelines.
But gyms, theaters, bowling alleys, and the like are still not supposed to operate in much of Michigan. On Tuesday, Whitmer said she had no update on when a change would occur, adding that she “was not going to be bullied” into allowing those businesses to reopen until experts health officials agreed it was safe to do so.
The governor acknowledged that there was significant financial pressure on these companies, but the state would only make a change “on the basis of facts and data.”
Nearly 100,000 Michigan residents have contracted the coronavirus and more than 6,400 have died since the start of the pandemic, according to state health officials.
While the seven-day average number of cases is down in Michigan from its peak in the spring, case averages are rising in parts of the state. State medical director Dr Joneigh Khaldun said this week that case rates were down in Detroit, Grand Rapids and other areas, but up in the Saginaw and Traverse City areas.
Small business owners have yet to be allowed to open other operations in Michigan and other states, despite lingering coronavirus concerns, Michigan’s Grand Rapids Chamber executives told lawmakers. Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Association of Michigan.
There should be a possibility for at least some of these businesses to try to reopen on a limited basis, executives said, echoing statements in a letter they sent to Whitmer last week.
âWe’re not saying it’s safe to reopen all businesses without some sort of security protocol in place and just say they should be able to go,â said Wendy Block, vice president of corporate advocacy for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
“But we say that with proper social distancing protocols and other safety protocols in place, gyms and cinemas and bowling alleys and entertainment facilities and hockey arenas and anyone in between. the twoâ¦ they shouldn’t all have to stay closed, either. “
Several speakers noted that schools are allowed to reopen, arguing their businesses don’t have about the same level of close personal interaction as a college or classroom.
As the governor ruled schools essential and begged districts and colleges to demand masks, problems arose. Isabella County had to declare a health emergency due to a spike in coronavirus cases after Central Michigan University welcomed students to campus.
Some experts anticipate a peak in the coronavirus because schools across the country and in Michigan offer face-to-face classes. Still, parents of high school athletes are planning a rally outside the Michigan State Capitol on Friday, where they plan to call on Whitmer to allow all fall sports to compete.
Until recently, no company faced fines from state health and safety inspectors for violating the decrees. But last week, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited six entities for alleged violations of coronavirus requirements for businesses.
One of those businesses was a gymnasium in Saginaw, which operated despite not being allowed there.
Michelle Cooper owns Coop’s Iron Works, along with her husband, Rob. In a recent interview with Free Press, she admitted receiving the citation and that the fitness center violates state order by being open.
âWe’re not supposed to run our business, but we never would have survived if we had been closed for this long,â Cooper said.
The gym website, and an automated message released when a reporter called the gym’s phone number on Wednesday, said the facility is still open. State officials said last week that local health officials and law enforcement were working on the potential closure of the business.
Rep. Matt Hall, a Republican from Battle Creek who chaired the committee meeting, said in a post-hearing statement Wednesday that the governor must work with still-closed businesses to find a way to safely accommodate customers .
“It’s disheartening to hear more stories of hardship and miscommunication from Governor Whitmer’s administration,” Hall said in the statement.
âSmall businesses are the backbone of our communities and our local economies. They have worked hard to reopen in a way that can ensure the safety of their customers and staff. It would be nice to see this reciprocal hard work from Governor Whitmer’s office. “
Other legislative Republicans criticized the executive order and called for changes from the administration. But Senator Curtis Hertel, D-Lansing, argued that consumer confidence is higher in Michigan than in many other states directly because the governor has kept communities safe with his executive orders.
“We certainly want all of this (businesses to reopen) and we want to do it in a safe way. But we also have to make sure, at the same time, that we don’t become a place where the politics of the situation actually influence what happens. really goes to the public health side, and then we lose all confidence in our economy, âHertel said.
Some of the business owners said they were unconvinced that they will still have a store to open if the rules don’t change soon.
The owner of an entertainment and indoor karting center in Meridian Township told lawmakers he spent tens of thousands of dollars to modernize his facility to reduce the chances of catching or spreading COVID there -19. But he was told he couldn’t open due to decrees he found confusing and ever-changing.
An Owosso gym owner said she offers outdoor classes, even in the rain, but the wintry weather will likely mean virtual classes and losing clients.
The owner of a wedding venue outside of Traverse City swallowed back tears when he spoke about the impact of the economic shutdown on his family’s business. Although his business received federal aid, the business suffered 43 cancellations or postponements at a cost of $ 750,000 or more this year.
Susan Byrd, owner of the Living Arts Dance Studio in Mason and Williamston, also cried as she spoke to lawmakers about her efforts to teach students safely.
The bills are piling up. The owners have agreed that they are doing what they can to stay afloat, but they are running out of options.
âI am confused and worried. I need help,â Byrd said.