Graphic by Tania Lili.
Graphic by Tania Lili.

Five months into the pandemic, the disease still burns across the state but much of the financial support for Michiganders has evaporated.

LANSING, MI — On Monday, Michigan reached the five-month mark of the coronavirus pandemic. By Thursday, the state reported the highest single-day increase in confirmed cases since mid-May, with 1,121 new confirmed cases.  That compared to recent daily numbers trending around 700 since the start of August. That’s a spike of over 160%.

The state of emergency surrounding the novel coronavirus was declared March 10, after the first case was diagnosed, though symptom data suggests the disease had already entered the state as early as the end of February. Since then, daily life has changed dramatically, and this has had an impact on the economic reality Michiganders face.

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Michiganders lost jobs at the fastest rate on record after the pandemic was declared, and though there was support in place early on, much of it has since dried up while Michiganders remain out of work, leaving a large gap of people desperate for support. 

“No amount of hard work, grit, or sheer determination can fix what has happened, on our end,” entrepreneur Katie Carls told The ‘Gander. “We need a cohesive response and plan at a federal level that actually puts the people first. We don’t need profit over people. We need help.”

The extra support given to the burdened unemployment system expired in July, and much of the money aimed at helping small businesses was taken by major companies with ties to Republicans. 

That’s meant smaller businesses and out-of-work Michiganders have been left to fend for themselves. Some businesses have seen great community support, like White Lotus Farms in Ann Arbor

“Well, I spoke with a few other people who did some pastry orders from us and they said they were doing okay. But I would say we’re an exception in keeping it profitable,” White Lotus baker B. Love Davis said to The ‘Gander. “It’s tough to keep safety and livelihood balanced. … I would like the situation to be handled better with more thoughtfulness.”

There are also policy proposals to encourage a return to normalcy that risk returning the economy to the more turbulent early weeks of the pandemic by undermining efforts to contain the disease. Most notably, the extreme risk of superspreader events centered on schools risks spreading the pandemic to families and teachers as well as students. 

“My biggest fear is sending [my daughter] back to school, because she can’t manage to put on her socks in the morning, so having her put on her mask and use hand sanitizer and I’m on my way to work and have to think about if she’s following protocol?” said Tiffany Simmons of Taylor.  “That’s a lot of pressure to put on an 11-year-old.”

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The plan to encourage in-person education advanced both by President Donald Trump and Michigan Republicans was actually delayed in the legislature when the state Senate closed after a legislator was diagnosed with the coronavirus, illustrating the persisting risk of the virus closing down parts of Michigan’s economy that have struggled to reopen.

Another prime example of the virus causing Michigan business to roll back reopening plans was the superspreader event at East Lansing bar Harper’s, which infected nearly 200 Michiganders and led to indoor service at restaurants to be reevaluated. 

Even before reopening of certain businesses was reevaluated, Michigan’s unemployment rate was over 14% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Carls was one of those unemployed Michiganders. So was Beth Graham from Plymouth. 

Graham and her partner both work as graphic designers and both lost their jobs as event work dried up in March. And like Carls, Graham wants to get back to work, but needs support from programs like unemployment’s coronavirus enhancements in the meantime. 

“I really like my job and I want to get back to it,” she told The ’Gander. “Same for my partner.”