Ottawa County

Q&A: What businesses need to know ahead of reopening

As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continues to ease up restrictions on businesses, many business owners are preparing to open their doors under the "MI Safe Start Plan,” which is designed to reengage the state’s economy while preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The governor announced Thursday that beginning May 26, retail stores and auto dealerships can open but must operate via appointment only and can't have more than 10 people in their spaces at a time. Her latest executive order also allows medical, dental, and veterinary facilities can resume performing nonessential procedures on May 29.

Kristina Wieghmink, Ottawa County Department of Public Health information officer, explains what businesses need to know as they prepare to open. Wieghmink has been the county’s point person in providing regular briefings about the county’s COVID-19 response and updates on cases. As of May 21, Ottawa County had 705 confirmed cases and 31 deaths, according to its online dashboard. 

In this Q&A, she shares what is going on behind the scenes and the best sources for more COVID-19 precaution information. Her advice ranges from common sense practices to specific guidelines revolving around sanitation, how to set up social distancing space and requirements for employees and customers. 

The Lakeshore: As of now, what kind of communication is the county having with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office to determine how and when Ottawa County businesses can reopen?

Kristina Wieghmink: The Ottawa County Department of Public Health — along with other jurisdictions across Michigan — holds multiple calls per week with the state to receive response updates and information on the steps being taken to re-engage our economy. 

This process is based on the plan outlined in the governor’s phased reopening guidelines.   

The Six Phases of the MI Safe Start Plan details how the governor and Michigan counties are to re-engage our economy. The governor has worked with leaders in public health, health care, business, labor, and education to develop the plan. Re-engagement will happen in phases. Those businesses that are necessary to protect and sustain life are already open. As we move into lower-risk phases, additional business categories will reopen, and the restrictions on public gatherings and social interactions will ease.

TL: Is Ottawa County releasing guidelines for businesses to use for reopening?

KW: Yes. We are using the Michigan Economic Recovery Council’s (MERC) resources posted on their website and as outlined in the governor’s Safe Start Plan. 

A part of our role working with county businesses is helping them navigate best practices from various credible sources, like MERC, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as seen in our Response Center links.  Additionally, on our website, we have other tools for employers to use, such as screening forms, checklists for reopening, personal protective equipment (PPE) resources, and information on the recent executive order. 

TL: Are businesses required to create a policy outlining safe procedures for employees, customers, and vendors before opening?

KW: Yes, as outlined in the recent Executive Order 2020-97, Safeguards to protect Michigan’s workers from COVID-19:
  • In particular, businesses must do their part to protect their employees, their patrons, and their communities. Many businesses have already done so by implementing robust safeguards to prevent viral transmission. But we can and must do more: no one should feel unsafe at work. With Executive Order 2020-91, I created an enforceable set of workplace standards that apply to all businesses across the state. I am now amending those standards to include new provisions governing outpatient health-care facilities. 
  • Any business or operation that violates the rules in sections 1 through 10 has failed to provide a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to an employee, within the meaning of the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act, MCL 408.1011.
TL: Is a business required to take the temperature of employees before they come to work?

KW: It depends on the sector and the work environment. More sector guidance is available online and the Executive Order 2020-97 notes:

Conduct a daily entry screening protocol for employees, contractors, suppliers, and any other individuals entering a worksite, including a questionnaire covering symptoms and suspected or confirmed exposure to people with possible COVID-19, together with, if possible, a temperature screening.

TL: If employees are working 6 feet away from each other, are they still required to wear PPEs?

KW: The executive order states: 
  • Keep everyone on the worksite premises at least six feet from one another to the maximum extent possible, including through the use of ground markings, signs, and physical barriers, as appropriate to the worksite.
  • Provide non-medical-grade face coverings to their employees, with supplies of N95 masks and surgical masks reserved, for now, for health care professionals, first responders (e.g., police officers, fire fighters, paramedics), and other critical workers.
  • Require face coverings to be worn when employees cannot consistently maintain six feet of separation from other individuals in the workplace, and consider face shields when employees cannot consistently maintain three feet of separation from other individuals in the workplace.
TL: Can a business require employees, customers, and vendors to wear masks and other PPE?

KW: Yes, as outlined in the recent Executive Order 2020-97: 
  • Post signs at store entrance(s) instructing customers of their legal obligation to wear a face covering when inside the store.
  • Post sign(s) instructing customers to wear face coverings until they get to their table.
TL: Is a business required to provide masks and other PPEs to employees? 

KW: Yes, as outlined in the executive order.

TL: If an employee, customer, or vendor notifies the business they have become sick, what is a business required to do?

KW: Report to our department, obtain the person’s work schedule for the past 14 days, exclude the person from contact with others, confirm the diagnosis with Public Health, and consider identifying potentially exposed persons. 

TL: How will Ottawa County be a resource for businesses? 

KW: We provide the Michigan COVID-19 Business Response Center and Guidance Information on our website that outlines how we work with businesses. We also designate business liaison specialists to coordinate the response plan and communications with businesses that may have a positive case. 

TL: Is there a county person to contact if businesses have unique situations or run out of PPEs?

KW: We have a PPE resource list on our website’s business section and provide information from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Procurement Platform Resource. Other inquiries can also be directed to our main line at 616-396-5266. There is also detailed guidance for restaurants.  All these links are updated regularly with the latest information. 

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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