Stages of a pandemic: Breaking down Gov. Whitmer’s 6-phase response to re-open Michigan’s economy
Published 5:21 p.m. ET May 7, 2020 | Updated 10:50 a.m. ET May 11, 202000:06AD
LANSING – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday announced a six-step plan for re-opening Michigan’s economy. Her announcement of the “MI Safe Start Plan” came as she extended her stay home order through May 28 and gave manufacturing workers the green light to return to work on Monday.
The governor worked with leaders in health care, business, labor, and education to develop the plan, which has six phases to address the stages of the pandemic:
Uncontrolled growth: The increasing number of new cases every day, overwhelming our health systems persistent spread: We continue to see high case levels with concern about health system capacity flattening: The epidemic is no longer increasing and the health-system’s capacity is sufficient for current needs improving: Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are clearly declining containing: Continued case and death rate improvements, with outbreaks quickly contained
Post-pandemic: Community spread not expected to return.
Here’s a breakdown of Whitmer’s plan, including what we’ve already made it past and where we’re headed:
What stages have we already gone through?
Whitmer announced Thursday that the state is in stage three of the pandemic.
That means we’ve already moved through two stages:
Uncontrolled growth: The number of new daily cases grows at a constant rate. Work and social activities are highly limited.
Persistent spread: The pandemic is still spreading, but at a slower rate. There are still plenty of limitations. Some things — such as curbside service or delivery by nonessential retailers, golf and motorboating — can start or resume.
What phase are we in now, and what’s allowed?
Michigan is now in the “flattening” phase.
That means new daily cases and deaths have remained relatively constant and transmission rates have fallen to manageable levels. Without new cases constantly increasing, the health system is not typically overwhelmed.
As part of this phase, testing and contact tracing efforts increase statewide to prevent infected individuals from spreading the virus unchecked.
Non-critical businesses that pose lower risk of infection can open with increased safety measures. Here’s exactly what kind of work can take place:
Retail: Limited to grocery stores and other critical retail (e.g., pharmacies), plus curbside or delivery for nonessential retail
Public transportation: Permitted
Restaurants and bars: Available for take-out, delivery and drive-through only
Manufacturing: Permitted with additional safety measures and guidelines
Construction: Permitted with additional safety measures and guidelines
Food and agriculture: Permitted
Offices: Closed to all non-critical workers
Education: Remote learning in K-12 and higher education
Child care: For critical workers and anyone resuming work activities
Outdoor work: Permitted with additional safety measures and guidelines
Social gatherings are not yet permitted, and people should wear face coverings when they’re indoors and always maintain a six-foot distance from others when outside the home.
People who are part of at-risk populations should continue to shelter in place.
There are three more phases to get through before there will be no more restrictions, though there are likely to be some lasting safety requirements based on what officials have learned during the pandemic. Once the state gets to a point where the number of new daily cases and deaths has been continuously falling, we’ll enter the improving stage of the plan.
During this stage, some restrictions will lift:
All retail will be permitted with safety measures, such as limited capacity
Offices can open, though people should still work remotely when possible
Summer education programming can resume with small groups
People can start having small gatherings as long as they follow social distancing guidelines
As new cases and deaths continue to decrease, the state will enter the next stage.
During that stage, known as containing, even more restrictions will lift:
Restaurants and bars can open for dine-in service with limited capacity and other safety measures
Offices can fully open with safety measures in place
Teachers can resume live instruction in K-12 and higher education
People can have larger gatherings but should still follow social distancing guidelines
All outdoor recreation will be allowed
We don’t reach the final stage of post-pandemic until there’s sufficient immunity and availability of treatment.
At that point, all areas of the economy reopen, and gatherings of all sizes resume.
The plan doesn’t lay out an exact timeline. Instead, it lays out benchmarks the state much reach to move on to the next phase. Moving between phases is based on three questions. The first is whether the epidemic is growing, flattening or declining. To determine that, officials look at:
Number of new cases per million
Trends in new daily cases
The percent of tests coming back positive
Officials also look at whether the health system has the right capacity to address both current needs and potential new cases. For that, they’re examining hospital capacity and the availability of personal protective equipment.
Finally, officials ask whether testing and tracing efforts are sufficient to monitor the epidemic and keep it from spreading when cases go undetected.
For that, they look at whether there’s access to testing when needed and whether health departments are able to quickly follow up on newly identified cases and associated contacts to have them self-isolate.
Don’t expect to move through all the stages quickly. The plan outlines that it will be a long process.
“The worst thing we can do is open up in a way that causes a second wave of infections and death, puts health care workers at further risk, and wipes out all the progress we’ve made,” Whitmer said in a statement about the plan. “That’s why we will continue to monitor the spread of this virus, hospital capacity, testing rates, and more as we work toward reaching the ‘improving’ phase.”
Can we move backward?
Yes. If risk increases or people stop adhering to safe practices, we might revert to previous stages.