LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will provide another update on the state’s handling of COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon -- just two days after her most recent briefing.
Whitmer will be joined by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist.
Michigan is currently in the latter third of a three-week “pause” that shut down indoor dining at restaurants, in-person classes for colleges and high schools, and much more.
Under the restrictions -- which went into effect Nov. 18 and are currently scheduled until Tuesday (Dec. 8) -- all Michigan residents are required to work from home unless their jobs must be performed in person.
Indoor dine-in services are no longer be allowed for bars or restaurants. Casinos, movie theaters, stadiums and arenas must remain closed.
Bowling alleys, ice skating rinks, bingo halls, arcades and indoor water parks must also be closed.
All high school and college classes have to be conducted remotely.
Organized sports are shut down, not including professional sports and a select number of NCAA sports. Indoor group fitness classes are no longer permitted.
As of Wednesday (Dec. 2), Michigan had reported 373,197 COVID-19 cases and 9,405 deaths.
The first question posed to Whitmer during Tuesday’s briefing: Will the three-week pause be extended beyond Dec. 8?
“At this point in time, it’s really too early to say precisely where we will be in a few days, much less next week,” Whitmer said. “But I think it’s important for people to know: We’ve not predetermined anything. It’s going to be driven by where we see the numbers.”
“As we continue to monitor the numbers, we’re going to also continue to center our work around keeping people safe,” Whitmer said. “The epidemic order was geared toward stopping the spread of COVID-19 by limiting interactions that are indoors where people are maskless, where there are many households present.”
She said if everyone does their part and the numbers drop, the state will be in a stronger position.
“I would anticipate early next week we’ll have a much better idea of what this pause has meant, if people have taken it serious and done their part,” Whitmer said. “That will inform any decision going forward.”
Numbers slowly trending in right direction
Two of the most common measures of COVID-19 spread in Michigan are showing the state is slowly starting to move in the right direction again, according to Khaldun.
She said both the case rate and test positivity rate are slightly improving.
“Overall, our case rate is now at 608 cases per million people, and has been declining for the past week,” Khaldun said.
All eight of the state’s geographical regions have seen a decline in cases over the past seven to 15 days, according to Khaldun.
But the numbers are still not where state officials would like them to be. Khaldun said case rates are above 500 cases per million people in every Michigan region, except for the Traverse City Region.
Test positivity is also on the decline over the past week, dropping from 14% on Nov. 16 to 13% to start December.
“But it is still obviously much higher than we would like it to be,” Khaldun said. “We’re cautiously optimistic, based on what we are seeing, (that) more people starting doing the right things toward the beginning of November.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Michigan reported 6,955 new COVID-19 cases and 81 additional deaths, bringing the state totals up to 373,197 cases and 9,405 deaths.
Whitmer vs. restaurant owners
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the most recent order was the elimination of dine-in eating at restaurants. Many residents believe restaurants aren’t a significant spreader of COVID-19, but Whitmer disagrees.
“I challenge you to think about even a 10% full restaurant and what that means in terms of how many households are represented there, and inherently unmasked, because people are eating,” Whitmer said. “That’s just, unfortunately, all the different ingredients for a higher risk situation.”
Whitmer said that’s why the MDHHS order targeted places that involve people from different households being inside together.
The owners of Andiamo called for restaurants to unite against the restrictions if this three-week period is extended beyond Dec. 8.
“We need to band together and fight this closure,” Vicari wrote. “Our industry cannot survive another long-term closure. We are stronger if we stand together and use our strength of fight back.”
In the letter, Vicari cites a Michigan Lodging and Restaurant Association statistic that claims only around 4% of COVID-19 cases in the state can be traced back to restaurants. Michigan health officials have said it’s extremely difficult to contact trace outbreaks in restaurants because of the short duration a patron may spend inside.
“Yet, she decided to close restaurants, again,” the letter says. “The malls are packed with holiday shopping, hair salons and gyms can remain open, yet our restaurants are closed.”
“I want these restaurants to succeed,” she said. “I want to do everything in my power to help them through these tough times. That’s why I’ve asked our legislature to get this $100 million plan passed. That’s why I’ve been asking our federal government to take some action, but since they haven’t, I’m hoping that our legislature will work with me on this to give some relief to these restaurants.
Michigan football shuts down
Saturday’s game against Maryland will not be rescheduled, U of M announced. It was the final home game of the season for the Wolverines.
“The decision by our medical professionals to stop practices and cancel this Saturday’s game against Maryland was made with the health, safety and welfare of the student-athletes, coaches and staff as our utmost priority,” Athletic Director Warde Manuel said. “We have seen an increase in the number of student-athletes unavailable to compete due to positive tests and associated contact tracing due to our most recent antigen and PCR testing results.”
COVID-19 vaccine timeline
Khaldun spoke about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines during Tuesday’s briefing, as both companies have submitted requests to the Food and Drug Administration for authorization to use their vaccines in the fight against COVID-19.
“We are actively working on plans for distribution when these vaccines become available,” Khaldun said.
When Michigan first receives the vaccine, it will be in very limited quantities, she said.
“Our first priority would be to keep our health care systems operating and to protect those who are the most vulnerable,” Khaldun said. “Right now, this means that we are prioritizing vaccinating frontline health care workers.
“As the vaccine becomes more available, hopefully by January, we hope to quickly get vaccines out to people working in care facilities and residents of skilled nursing facilities. But all this is dependent on how quickly additional vaccine becomes available from the manufacturer.”
She said per CDC recommendations, the state will expand to other types of critical workers, such as educators.
Then, when enough doses are available, they will go to the general public.
“We hope to be able to have vaccine available to the general public by late spring,” Khaldun said.
Whitmer wants the state Legislature to pass a permanent extension of unemployment benefits as residents continue to deal with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I also urged the Legislature to pass a permanent extension of unemployment benefits,” Whitmer said Tuesday. “On the heels of the last recession, the Legislature cut workers’ economic lifeline from 26 to 20 weeks and let inflation whittle away the $362 maximum weekly benefit.”
In the fall, Michigan passed legislation that extended Michigan’s COVID-19 unemployment benefits until the end of 2020. Whitmer wants another extension, saying House Democrats have already drafted bills to do so.
“Just yesterday, they invited the Republican colleagues to join forces with them to protect unemployed Michiganders,” Whitmer said. “If we don’t take this bipartisan action now, thousands of Michiganders who are unemployed could lose benefits right after the holiday.”
You can watch Whitmer’s full briefing from Tuesday (Dec. 1) below.