Coronavirus in the Midwestern United States: scratching beneath the surface in Detroit, Michigan and Missouri

written by Helen Fanthorpe

updated 5.06.2020

The Midwestern United States is often referred to as the “Heartland” of America. Missouri and Michigan – and its largest city, Detroit – are defined in large part by their waterways. Michigan makes up part of the Great Lakes region, while the Missouri River gave the eponymous state its name. All that means plenty of outdoor pursuits – from swimming to hiking and kayaking – which seem made for social distancing. To find out more about how Detroit, Michigan and Missouri are experiencing coronavirus, and what their respective plans are for travellers for the future, we spoke to representatives from each region: Dave Lorenz, Vice President of Travel Michigan; Larry Alexander, President and CEO of Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Lori Simms, Deputy Director for Tourism, Missouri.


Mackinac Bridge, known as the "Big Mac", Michigan © John Brueske/Shutterstock

Chatting with Dave, Larry and Lori

Q: What does lockdown currently look like in Detroit, Michigan and Missouri respectively? Have any restrictions been lifted? Are there any plans to relax restrictions in the near future?

A [Larry, Detroit]: The Governor still has a Stay at Home Executive order in place for Detroit, Michigan, but she is slowly lifting restrictions, allowing recreational activities like golf, boating and visiting garden centres. Restaurants and attractions are still closed at this point. People are going to work in phases. The Governor allowed areas in Northern Michigan to open up on 21 May and we anticipate she will relax more restrictions in Detroit at the end of May.

A [Dave, Michigan]: Michigan has created the MI Safe Start Plan as the process to open the state.

As of 26 May, travel remains prohibited, except that people can travel back to their homes from out of state and between their own residences. Partial openings of retail and restaurants in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula were announced. Orders are changing rapidly with updates provided at

A [Lori, Missouri]: We’re seeing that people are taking advantage of Missouri’s beautiful outdoors. Forests, lakes, rivers and natural areas have allowed individuals and families to explore safely while maintaining proper physical distancing. Missouri’s stay-at-home order lifted on 4 May. As such, guidelines stipulate that individuals should continue to limit their social activity and interactions and continue to practice 6-feet physical distancing. Basic infection prevention measures have been implemented by many businesses across the state, in the form of face masks, sneeze guards, increased sanitization, and regulating the flow of traffic. Retail stores are under occupancy restrictions, only able to operate at 10–25 percent capacity – based on square footage. Restaurants may allow dining-in services as long as tables are 6-feet apart and there are less than 10 people per party. These restrictions are likely to remain in place until there is a decline in Covid-19 cases – and that decline that is sustained over an extended period of time.


St Louis and its Gateway Arch, Missouri © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Q: Can you share any positive news stories generated during the crisis?

A [Larry, Detroit]: There are many and they can be found on the home page of They include stories about how America’s two biggest carmakers are making ventilators; how several Detroit companies are raising $23 million to give a laptop to every Detroit student so they can learn remotely; and much, much more.

A [Dave, Michigan]: Here in Michigan, we created a virtual event to showcase our regional pride and to support Michigan tourism workers. The event has raised more than $30,000 for the Michigan Hospitality Industry Employee Relief Fund, organized by MLRA to assist employees of Michigan's restaurant and lodging industry who need support after the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also launched a new campaign: Two Peninsulas, One Pure Michigan.

A [Lori, Missouri]: One of our distilleries, J. Rieger & Co., saw there was a need for hand sanitizer. As such, they shifted their operations and transitioned from distilling Kansas City whiskey to producing hand sanitizer direly needed.


Detroit River and city skyline © Gerald Bernard/Shutterstock

Q: In what ways have Detroit, Michigan and Missouri been keeping in touch with travellers virtually?

A [Larry, Detroit]: Nearly all of our major attractions have developed virtual tours which we have promoted on our website and social media platforms. The Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau website and social media platforms are showcasing beautiful images of Detroit with messaging urging visitors to dream now but visit later.

A [Dave, Michigan]: There are many ways that visitors can now experience the state virtually – read more here.

A [Lori, Missouri]: Missouri launched the “That’s My MO” campaign, which focuses on bringing Missouri to travellers. From the comfort of your home, you can virtually enjoy live music from Missouri venues, watch the critters at our zoos, tour our architectural marvels, download MO backgrounds for your next Zoom call and more. We’re also reaching out on our social channels to ask what people are missing from the Show-Me State and serving up that content.


Lake of the Ozarks © Missouri Tourism

Q: When do you envisage attractions and areas opening up again to visitors?

A [Larry, Detroit]: It’s not completely known at this point. Some attractions are planning to open at the end of June.

A [Dave, Michigan]: Currently, it is unclear when that will occur. The industry is working diligently in developing best-in-class practices for the safety of travellers and the industry for when travel returns.

A [Lori, Missouri]: Many of our partners have set dates to reopen by mid-July. They’re working on securing the PPE (personal protective equipment) they need to keep guests and staff safe. That being said, our Department of Health is closely monitoring the situation in Missouri. Should there be an increase in cases, it is likely businesses will push back their opening date.


Detroit business district © Gerald Bernard/Shutterstock

Q: What new measures and safety regulations could we see introduced when travellers are welcomed back?

A [Larry, Detroit]: We project that new stringent safety measures will be put in place at all points of the visitor experience, from requiring staff and visitors to wear masks and gloves at attractions, to attractions and dining venues only operating at half capacity for social distancing, to requiring that every guest have their temperature taken when entering the facility. Hotels will have very strict regulations and they are working on their plans now.

A [Dave, Michigan]: Underdevelopment and plan to be released soon.

A [Lori, Missouri]: Some facilities may implement temperature checks before being admitted into their establishment. Others may move to timed entry for admission to control the flow of visitors. The use of face masks is likely to be encouraged, if not required. Hand-sanitizer stations will be placed in high traffic areas.


Reed Spring Mill in the Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri © Eifel Kreutz/Shutterstock

Q: What are your predictions for the tourist industry in your respective destinations for the rest of this year and into 2021?

A [Larry, Detroit]: We believe there is going to be pent-up demand to travel among those people who retained their jobs and income during this pandemic. We believe outdoor attractions will have the most appeal in the short term. Safety and cleanliness of the destinations and venues will be of primary importance to travellers. Detroit is expected to gain back some visitors in the fall, but spring of 2021 will be when Detroit predicts tourism will return strongly.

A [Dave, Michigan]: There is a pent-up demand to travel. In-state and regional travellers have always been loyal return visitors to Michigan and they will stay close to home with road trips more now than ever. It will be a busy warm-weather season and fall will play a bigger role in domestic travel than it has in the past. Fall 2020 will be the “new summer”.

A [Lori, Missouri]: Like many destinations, we expect that visitation will begin regionally and expand outward. This year will draw mostly domestic travellers, based on the latest research available. Missouri is easily accessible via car and people feel safe traveling in their own vehicle. This trend will likely extend through 2021. Though international travellers may be hesitant to board a plane right now, Missouri is ready to welcome them when the time comes.

St. Joseph, Michigan North Pier Lighthouses with a Sailboat on Lake Michigan

St Joseph, Michigan: North Pier Lighthouses on Lake Michigan © Kenneth Keifer/Shutterstock

Q: Could you give us some ideas of how visitors might spend their summers in your regions?

A [Larry, Detroit]: Detroit and Michigan offer more freshwater lakes than anywhere in the US. Boating, fishing, biking, hiking and swimming are some of the most popular activities in our lakes. Visitors can also enjoy our beautiful Downtown area, with its beautiful parks and green space, outdoor dining and shopping. One of our best attractions, the Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford, offers a one-of-a-kind outdoor history experience. Detroit has many suburbs with quaint downtowns that offer unique shopping and dining opportunities. The area also has several outdoor concert venues.

A [Dave, Michigan]: Michigan has the outdoor experiences for people to socially distance and enjoy our lakes, beaches and trails. We continue to encourage travellers to plan their upcoming summer and fall trip to Michigan now.

People are missing the unique travel experiences that Michigan provides and we will see families and friends reconnecting, once travel is reinstated, at our destinations across the state.

A [Lori, Missouri]: Visitors can still enjoy a variety of summer activities. This could include paragliding on Lake of the Ozarks, fishing at Stockton Lake, horseback riding through Dogwood Canyon, hiking to the wet-weather waterfall at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, spelunking through Mark Twain Cave or kayaking past natural springs on the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. When you’re ready to cool off, make your way to our smaller communities. Sip wine and explore German heritage in Hermann, discover Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline, get locked up at Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, visit the home of outlaw Jesse James in St Joseph or marvel at the French architecturein Ste Genevieve. The opportunities are endless. But remember to be safe: maintain 6-feet physical distancing, practice good hygiene and, if you don’t feel well, stay home.


Chapel of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri, with Table Rock Lake in the background © Donna Chance Hall/Shutterstock

Q: What lessons do you think we can learn from Covid-19, and take forwards with us for a brighter future?

A [Larry, Detroit]: Sometimes a simple life rich with experiences and family is more important than a life of material things. When you can’t have the experiences or be with family, you really learn how important it is.

Appreciate the Earth. We are seeing some of the positive impacts of less people driving and congregating on the environment. We should continue to respect our planet even when Covid-19 is gone.

A [Dave, Michigan]: Treasure the opportunity that travel provides in creating experiences, connections and memories with family and friends. Everyone is missing the ability to travel and the connections you make while traveling. We’ll see travel experiences become more of a priority in our lives in 2020 and beyond. Travel experiences will be more valued as a learning opportunity for children and the possibility of more “home schooling” will provide more opportunity for travel.

A [Lori, Missouri]: The ability to travel is truly a precious gift. We often take it for granted, making excuses of why “now” isn’t a great time. We wait until we pay something off, or we’ll go next year when the timing is better. Maybe we dread the drive, the flight, packing the suitcase and always forgetting something important. But what we gain is so much more. Enjoy the beauty around you, immerse yourself in other cultures and create memories that you can treasure forever.

Top image: St Joseph, Michigan: North Pier Lighthouses on Lake Michigan © Kenneth Keifer/Shutterstock

Helen Fanthorpe

written by Helen Fanthorpe

updated 5.06.2020

Helen worked as a Senior Travel Editor at Rough Guides and Insight Guides, based in the London office. Among her favourite projects to work on are inspirational guides like Make the most of your time on Earth, the ultimate travel bucket list.

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