Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday extended her stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the coronavirus to April 30, emphasizing that the deadly threat of the virus to public health has not subsided enough to resume normal activity in the home state of the U.S. auto industry.
The governor's executive order "prohibits all businesses and operations from requiring workers to leave their homes, unless those workers are necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations."
A lifting of the the order on April 30 could pave the way for auto production to resume in the state on May 4 – Fiat Chrysler's target date for the reopening of some plants.
On the retail front, the extension included a key change: Employees engaged in online vehicle sales and deliveries have been added to the list of "critical infrastructure workers":
"Workers at motor vehicle dealerships who are necessary to facilitate remote and electronic sales or leases, or to deliver motor vehicles to customers, provided that showrooms remain closed to in-person traffic," the order said.
Auto dealership showrooms have been closed in Michigan under the governor's previous order and sales mostly prohibited, while service departments have been allowed to stay open.
“We thank Governor Whitmer for understanding the needs of the residents of Michigan," the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association said in a statement detailing the new order on the group's website. "New vehicle dealers sell ‘mobility’ and that is what Michiganders need today in order to get to work, procure food, medicine and health care. This will allow us to help meet those needs.”
Whitmer's new order also is imposing new restrictions on the number of customers allowed inside grocery and big-box stores that are allowed to remain open. Supermarkets and big-box warehouse and home-improvement stores will be limited to no more than four customers for every 1,000 square feet of accessible floor space. Small stores will be limited to 25 percent of their licensed capacity, according to the governor's office.
With the death count at 1,076 on Thursday, Michigan has the third-most deaths in the country and more than 21,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The Michigan governor's order could influence other automaking and manufacturing regions as the coronavirus crisis shuts down swaths of the North American economy. As of Thursday, 42 states maintained stay-at-home orders.
Beyond being home to the Detroit 3, Michigan has 12 auto assembly plants and hundreds of parts operations along with numerous technical and r&d centers. More than 173,000 production workers are employed in those operations, according to government figures.
Michigan also is home to more than 600 new-vehicle franchised dealerships, employing more than 36,000 people.
Whitney McDonald, Lindsay VanHulle and Philip Nussel contributed to this report. Chad Livengood is a reporter for Crain's Detroit Business.