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By Carol Stiffler

As the coronavirus continues to lessen its grip on the state, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has promoted regions 6 and 8 to phase five of the state’s pandemic recovery plan. Region 6 includes counties in the northern lower peninsula, and region 8 is the entire Upper Peninsula.

There are six phases to the MI Safe Start plan, with phase six occurring when the pandemic is over.

In phase 5, we can meet indoors in groups of 50 or less, go to the movies and hair salons, and school can resume. Modifications for safety will be required in each case – salon chairs must be 6 feet apart, and masks are still required in public buildings.

People are eager for a professional haircut, to say the least. Shannon Dewitt, owner of Salon One Eleven in Newberry, says her phone has been ringing “off the hook” since news broke that professional cuts can resume today.

“I will be happy to get back to normal life here really soon,” Dewitt said. During her mandated time off, she enjoyed her family, worked around her house, and says she didn’t worry about her job.

“People are always going to need haircuts,” she said. “I knew this would pass eventually.”

Now comes the potentially tricky job of fixing all those quarantine haircuts people managed at home.

Even more tricky is the discussion of resuming school, where so many individual components need to be considered. How will bus transportation be viable if kids have to sit one per seat, every other seat? How will kids eat lunch if no more than 50 of them are allowed in the lunchroom at a time?

These are issues Tahquamenon Area Schools Superintendent and High School Principal Stacy Price has to contend with as the district prepares to return to classroom teaching on Tuesday, September 8.

“There have been meetings for weeks,” she said. “How all this will look is up in the air.”

The district will study CDC and local health department guidelines to see how schools will be impacted.

Foggers will be used to disinfect; there will be no buffet line in the cafeteria, and safety will be the top priority.

“My goal is to have things as close to normal as possible,” Price said. “I know things won’t be as they were prior to March 13, 2020, but teachers need to do what they know how to do with students in front of them in the safest way possible.”

That part will never change, Price said. “What has changed is what is the safest,” she said.

Some safety standards make reopening impractical, at least for now.

That’s the case at Fred Dunkeld’s Tahqua-Land Theater, which can technically reopen but only at 25% capacity. With 140 seats in the theater, he’d be limited to less than 40 guests, and they’d have to squeeze by too close to the concession stand.

“The only way I could maintain a six-foot distance is to keep people lined up on the sidewalk,” Dunkeld said.

Dunkeld extensively renovated the theater and reopened in 2001, then had to fundraise to switch to digital five years ago. As theaters fight to stay alive in the age of Netflix and streaming movies, the coronavirus is just another hurdle.

“A good analogy is that quote: ‘Every house is built with a kitchen, but there’s a restaurant on every block.’ Whether that’s going to hold true for theaters, who knows,” he said. “We just keep plugging along until they turn the lights off.”

There’s no definite date for him to reopen, though he hopes it will be possible by the fourth of July.

“Because of the restrictions that are placed on me, I was one of the first to get closed up, and the last to reopen,” he said. “I would like to be able and ready to reopen. July and August is a busy time for us. I don’t want to miss it.”