This provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing, Mich., Monday, April 13, 2020. The governor said the state has tough days ahead in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, but a return to normalcy is “on the horizon.” (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP, Pool)

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Friday extended her stay-at-home order through May 15, though she is lifting restrictions so some businesses can reopen and the public can participate in outdoor activities like golf and motorized boating during the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure immediately replaces one that was scheduled to expire next week. Michigan has nearly 3,000 deaths related to COVID-19, trailing only New York and New Jersey among U.S. states. Whitmer said in the new order that the prior order had been “effective,” and “the strain on our health care system has begun to relent, even as our testing capacity has increased.”

Social distancing measures will remain in place. People are now required, rather than encouraged, to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces such as grocery stores if they can medically tolerate it. Employers must provide non-medical grade masks to their in-person employees.

Landscapers, lawn-service companies, plant nurseries and bike repair shops can resume operating, subject to social-distancing rules. Stores selling nonessential supplies can reopen for curbside pickup and delivery. Big-box retailers no longer have to close off garden centers and areas dedicated to selling paint, flooring and carpet.

Whitmer said people with multiple in-state homes can resume traveling between them, though it is strongly discouraged. All other travel is still banned, including travel to vacation rentals.

“The vast majority of people in this state are doing the right things. We’ve seen the curve get pushed down,” the Democratic governor told The Associated Press. “I think it’s appropriate to reevaluate along the way. At this point we feel like’s good to have our first wave of reengagement in this way.”

The order continues to prohibit in-person work that is not necessary to sustain or protect life, with exemptions for various critical jobs. Restaurants remain closed to dine-in customers under a separate measure, and bars, movie theaters, gyms and other sports facilities also are still shuttered.

The prior stay-home order — in tandem with guidance issued by Whitmer’s office — prompted lawsuits on behalf of anglers, landscaping companies, cottage owners and others. Republicans who control the Legislature also criticized it and plan to vote Friday to limit her emergency powers despite a certain veto. Conservative demonstrators held a large rally at the state Capitol last week, and a much smaller protest took place Thursday outside the governor’s residence in Lansing.

Whitmer defended the previous order, which she issued April 9 and was stricter than one that took effect March 24. Imposing some of the country’s toughest restrictions, she said, was necessary because of what were rapidly rising cases and deaths that threatened to overwhelm hospitals.

“Michigan’s COVID-19 experience was tougher than just about any other state,” said Whitmer, whose moves have been backed by health experts and in public polling.

Landscaping and more outdoor activities, she said, were “naturally parts of our economy that we could move forward on” now. While golfing is allowed, the use of carts is not. State parks will generally remain open, and people already were allowed to run, walk, hike and ride bikes.

Whitmer said her administration is talking with medical and business experts to assess different jobs and industries for risk, to promulgate safety protocols and to determine “markers” that need to be reached before reopening additional sectors. 

The order does not explicitly address Detroit-area automakers’ ability to restart plants. It continues to list “transportation and logistics” and “critical manufacturing” as sectors where some employees can go to work. Talks continue between the Detroit Three and the United Auto Workers union.

“This is one of what will be many waves,” Whitmer said. “My hope is that we can contemplate the next one. But it all depends on if people observe these best practices, if we can keep the COVID-19 trajectory headed downward and if we can keep people safe.”

Jack Turman contributed to this report.

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