(Adds governor comments, details on auto sector, background, byline)
By Ben Klayman
DETROIT, April 9 (Reuters) – Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday extended through April 30 the stay-at-home order she has in place in the state to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The executive order she signed limits gatherings and travel, and requires all workers who are not necessary to protect life to stay at home, while imposing more stringent limitations on stores to reduce foot traffic.
“Michigan has the third highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, and we’re still on the upswing. We must continue to do everything we can to slow the spread and protect our families,” Whitmer said.
She also warned that the time table would be reassessed. “This doesn’t mean everything will go back to normal on the 30th,” said Whitmer, whose state has become one of the fastest-growing areas for the coronavirus, especially in the county that includes Detroit.
On Thursday, the number of COVID-19 cases in Michigan topped 21,500, while deaths totaled 1,076, she said at a press conference. State officials said growth rates of COVID-19 may be slowing, but there is still a lack of testing.
Whitmer, who issued a stay-at-home order for the state on March 24, has traded jabs with President Donald Trump over the spread of COVID-19 in the state. On Wednesday, Trump said he would like to reopen the U.S. economy with a “big bang” but not before the death toll is headed downward.
On Thursday, the top U.S. infectious disease expert warned against reopening the economy too soon in the face of improving data on the coronavirus outbreak.
The need for resources to serve those suffering from COVID-19 in Michigan peaked on Tuesday, according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The number of deaths per day in Michigan is peaking now and will likely drop to near zero by the end of the month, the University of Washington research center said.
Whitmer disputed the IHME model, saying it didn’t represent the reality in Michigan.
If she further extends the shutdown beyond the end of April, it could put her in conflict with the Detroit Three automakers and their suppliers, who would like to restart factories to avoid burning through cash. Most automakers in North America are targeting May 4 to resume production, said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions.
The pandemic has thrown the global auto industry into its worst tailspin since the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Consumer demand for vehicles has collapsed as governments have enforced lockdowns.
Italian-American automaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) has said it hopes to restart auto production at its U.S. and Canadian plants on May 4. Ford Motor Co had earlier said it wanted to resume work at several plants by mid-April, but subsequently postponed that timetable.
General Motors Co has not said when it will reopen plants in the United States.
Executives at the No. 1 U.S. automaker, which has adapted measures taken by Amazon.com Inc to protect warehouse workers such as temperature screening to catch employees with fevers before they enter the workplace, said they know how to keep their workers safe.
A new section of the Michigan order imposes restrictions on stores in an effort to reduce crowds, with limitations based on a store’s square footage. Automobile dealers also will now be allowed to open for remote sales, though showrooms must remain closed.
Whitmer also announced a partnership of several hospitals to open a regional care center at the TCF convention center in downtown Detroit starting on Friday. (Reporting by Ben Klayman, Editing by Franklin Paul, Diane Craft and Daniel Wallis)
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