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Michigan business leaders ask Whitmer to reopen gyms, movie theaters

It’s time allow Michigan’s gyms, movie theaters and bowling alleys to implement safety protocols and reopen, state business organizations said in a recent letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

The letter, sent Thursday, comes as the state continues to grapple with the deadly effects of the coronavirus and its disastrous impact on the economy.

“These businesses have been completely closed after months of the public health emergency, while still facing property tax bills, rent, payroll and other expenses,” notes the letter, written jointly by the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Grand Rapids Chamber, Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Association of Michigan.

“This has placed businesses in extreme hardship, resulting in permanent closures and layoffs.”

More: Defiant gym owners staying open, refuse to obey Whitmer’s order

More: Upcoming AMC movie theater reopenings don’t include Michigan locations

Nearly 95,000 confirmed cases in the state have led to more than 6,360 known deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. But testing shows Michigan is doing a better job of curtailing the spread of the virus than most states. 

Whitmer has maintained these businesses need to stay closed in areas of the state where case rates remain stubbornly high. On Wednesday though, Whitmer said she is working with state health officials and hinted she may have new details for these businesses soon. 

“This still is a novel virus. There still is no vaccine and no cure at this juncture. We’re learning a lot about it every single day, and we have the benefit of learning what is happening in other states — what’s happening that’s bad, that we don’t want to do, but perhaps some things that they’ve done that’ve been successful,” Whitmer said during a news conference. 

Reopening is based on the state’s phased approach to combating the coronavirus. As regions of the state enter different phases, more businesses are allowed to reopen. 

In early June, Whitmer allowed the state’s bars and restaurants to reopen at 50% capacity. She’s allowed gyms in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula to reopen as well, citing far fewer confirmed coronavirus cases in this region. And in late July, she announced Detroit’s casinos would be allowed to open in limited capacities. 

More: Police force Lincoln Park gym to close, hand members citations

More: Appeals court says Michigan gyms must remain closed, just hours before they were to reopen

Some gym owners defied Whitmer’s orders, while others asked federal courts to overrule her mandate. While a district court sided with gym owners in June, a federal appeals court overruled the decision hours before gyms were allowed to open. 

The business organizations thanked the governor for her leadership on coronavirus, and offered to meet with her administration to discuss how businesses that remain closed can safely welcome customers again. They also acknowledged some businesses may not have the space and ability to allow social distancing, but said many do and are ready to open. 

Businesses that must remain closed also want some property tax relief, arguing they “should not be forced to bear the additional burden of interest, penalties and fees on property taxes they cannot pay due to their closure,” the letter states.

The chamber leaders also asked Whitmer to work with lawmakers to pass legislation that would provide liability protections for businesses that follow safety protocols against coronavirus-related lawsuits. 

Michigan’s state-of-emergency, the declaration that Whitmer is using as the basis for her executive orders on the coronavirus, is set to expire Sept. 4. 

Contact Dave Boucher at [email protected] or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.

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