Let coronavirus plan get wide public input
We will be watching with interest in coming weeks to see how state lawmakers proceed on a state House Republican proposal to respond and hopefully manage the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan. House GOP members unveiled what is being called Michigan's Comeback Roadmap on October 20, claiming that the package of bills will be a “more precise” and “data driven” response than the series of executive orders issued since early this spring by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to contain the spread of the coronavirus in Michigan. Whitmer initially issued her executive orders under a state law that allowed the elected executive in times of crisis to make basic decisions but then Republican legislators demanded to be part of the decision process outlined in the act under which the governor was operating. Whitmer then shifted her executive orders to an earlier state law that basically granted her the same powers, although the state Supreme Court eventually ruled that her tactics didn't pass constitutional review. Hence, state lawmakers are now developing their own response program to the pandemic that has engulfed state residents since March of this year. Here's how Whitmer has been operating for the past seven months. The state was divided into specific zones which were then monitored for COVID-19 infection rates and hospital capacity numbers, etc. All of Michigan originally was in place in a state of lockdown, with schools and businesses closed, eventually to be incrementally reopened over time as the situation improved on a zone-specific basis. Social distancing, crowd limitations and mandatory mask requirements were the basic defense against the virus. Once the court ruled that the governor lacked the authority to continue with her executive orders, individual county health authorities, including Oakland, issued orders basically replacing the identical state orders the courts had negated. Within days state health officials took over and issued statewide orders to accomplish the same. No doubt Whitmer should be credited with bringing the virus infection rate under control in Michigan, but there was legitimate concern that whatever data state officials were using to make decisions was known only to the inner circle of the governor's administration. At no point was anyone able to truly know what the exact data goals the state was trying to achieve. So state House Republicans have stepped forward with their own proposal which will allow each county (83 of them) to set their own rules relative to the coronavirus, guided by a list of benchmarks that must be achieved before anyone can loosen up the regulations. In short, the benchmarks, adherence to which will be issued to the public on a daily basis, include less than 55 confirmed cases per one million residents in a 14-day period; a test positivity rating of less than five percent over a 14-day period; a two-week supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) at local hospitals; ability to test at least 15 people per 10,000 residents everyday, with test results available within three days; and hospital capacity to manage a 20 percent surge in patient admissions. Failure to meet these benchmarks would then allow the state to take control. On the face of it, the proposal sounds like it checks all the boxes when it comes to keeping the pandemic under control, but we have our concerns. For starters, we want to hear more from the medical and scientific community about the soundness of approaching the pandemic response on a county-by-county basis, particularly when you get to the more populous areas of the state, like southeast Michigan, where daily travel habits more than likely involve possibly infected residents moving across broad areas and into adjacent counties where coronavirus regulations may differ. In short, what works in the less populated hinterlands of northern or western Michigan may not work in this area. We also think that the five percent positivity testing rate is not stringent enough. We didn't think it was tough enough on the school reopening plan, by the way. Many in the medical and scientific community months ago suggested that three percent or less should be the goal. Even virus hotspots like New York City were able to drive down its sky-high positive test results to 1.5-2 percent before business and social activity were allowed to resume. Lastly, we would like to hear what the wider medical community says about the hospital PPE and surge admission capabilities outlined in this proposal. We have already witnessed overwhelmed hospitals without sufficient PPE and don't want to see that again. While we like the fact that Michigan would finally have some publicly posted goals and daily performance transparency, the House proposal may need some fine tuning which can only come from public discussion and hearings on the proposal. With the second wave of COVID-19 already upon us, we cannot afford a less than perfect approach in the months ahead.