Slew of restrictions lifted on Michigan businesses as COVID-19 cases continue falling

More restrictions were lifted in Michigan on Thursday as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sought to capitalize on declining rates of COVID-19 by easing burdens on the state's economy.

Under the governor's new executive order, auto dealerships and retail businesses can reopen by appointment, and nonessential medical, dental, and veterinary procedures could also resume. 

"This is another positive step forward in our re-engagement," said Whitmer during Thursday's press conference.

The executive order also allows for small gatherings of 10 people or less to resume, the first explicit lift on restrictions of gatherings to happen since social distancing went into effect. Whitmer's orders have followed in lockstep with the trends of COVID-19 caseloads in Michigan. On Wednesday, the state reported 43 more deaths and 659 new cases, daily totals on the lower end of the COVID-19 spectrum.

The good news comes as a second disaster struck Michigan this week when flooding decimated mid-Michigan cities along the Tittabawassee River.

“The data shows that Michigan is ready to phase in these sectors of our economy, but we must stay vigilant and ensure we’re doing everything we can to protect ourselves and our families from the spread of COVID-19,” said Governor Whitmer. “On behalf of our brave first responders on the front lines of this crisis, we must continue to all do our part by staying safer at home. We owe it to them to do what we can to stop the spread of this virus.”

Appointments at dealerships and retail businesses can resume May 26. Medical, dental, and veterinary procedures can resume May 29. New rules on small gatherings are enacted immediately.

RELATED: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allows gathers of 10 or fewer people immediately

The middle of May carried a lot of new updates for the state. During Monday's press conference, Whitmer unveiled a breadth of new updates about state restrictions. On the day when Michigan manufacturing returned tens of thousands of workers, the governor lifted restrictions on bars, restaurants, and retail in northern Michigan. The decision followed weeks of consternation among residents and Republican lawmakers growing increasingly frustrated with a lack of engagement in the economy.

The pivot to a region-based approach to restarting the economy is one that conservatives have pushed for weeks, noting the lack of spread among rural communities in the west and northern regions of the state. While caseloads did begin to rise in smaller pockets in recent weeks, there hasn't been any spiking increase like what Southeast Michigan experience in March and April.

Those regions have now entered phase 4 of the MI Safe Start plan, labeled "improving." That means small gatherings can now resume. It also means that cases and deaths linked to COVID-19 have declined sharply as testing for the virus has grown. Recently, the state completed 15,000 daily tests. 

RELATED: Gov. Whitmer says retail, auto showrooms can open next week in Michigan to appointments only

The decision to reopen less populated parts of the state precedes the Memorial Day weekend, which typically means a flood of travelers visiting lake houses and coastal cities. While popular locations like Traverse City welcomed the reopening of businesses, its mayor pleaded with potential travelers to take ample care when visiting.

What's become more clear is that stay-home orders implemented by the governor aren't carrying the same weight in the minds of residents, who have increasingly started traveling more and more. 

Last week, Michigan received a D- for social distancing. That's a similar score most states received as recommendations for self-isolating increasingly ran counter to warming temperatures and antsy residents eager to get outside more.

Even with more residents ignoring the governor's orders, new polling data found growing approval for her handling of the crisis. Per a survey published yesterday, 63% of residents support Whitmer's response.