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6 takeaways from Whitmer’s COVID briefing: Michigan’s restrictions, metrics concerns, vaccines

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun cites concerning trend in COVID-19 metrics

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke about concerning COVID-19 trends during a Jan. 6, 2021, briefing.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke about concerning COVID-19 trends during a Jan. 6, 2021, briefing. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer provided an update Wednesday on COVID-19 in Michigan, talking about whether restrictions will be loosened or strengthened, a concerning trend in the metrics and a new phase of vaccinations.

New phase of vaccinations

Michigan is moving on to a new phase of COVID-19 vaccinations, including teachers, first responders, childcare providers and residents over 65 years old.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced the new phase of vaccinations will begin Monday (Jan. 11).

The frontline essential workers in this phase of vaccine distribution include police officers, first responders, frontline state and federal workers, jail and prison staff members, Pre-K through 12th grade teachers and childcare providers.

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Concerning metrics

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for MDHHS, updated the state’s top three COVID-19 metrics, and cited some concerning trends.

Michigan is at 237 COVID-19 cases per million people statewide, from 198 cases per million in the Traverse City Region to 342 cases per million in the Jackson Region.

Unfortunately, the case rate has started to plateau over the past week after a clear decline that lasted for 46 days, according to Khaldun.

The state’s positivity rate, down to 8.2% on Dec. 27, rose significantly, she said. It’s now up to 9.6%.

Khaldun said hospitalizations are still trending downward, though. While 19.6% of inpatient beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients as of Dec. 4, that number is down to 12.6%, as of Wednesday’s update.

Michigan goes over 500,000 cases

On Monday, Michigan eclipsed the 500,000 mark in terms of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“The state of Michigan recorded our 500,000th confirmed case,” Whitmer said. “More than 12,000 Michiganders have died from this virus, and that’s more than 12,000 families and friends and coworkers and loved ones who came into this new year without someone they love.”

Whitmer said the virus is still present in the state, and urged residents to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing, even if they’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine.

She said anyone who is eligible to receive the vaccine should start making plans to do so.

‘New variant’ of virus

Whitmer also mentioned a new strand of COVID-19, which has been reported in the UK and some states in the U.S.

Whitmer said the virus has mutated. Khaldun said the new variant might be easier to spread than the one that’s been in the country previously.

“While we have not identified that variant in the state of Michigan, it is very likely that it’s already here, or it will be here soon, so that is concerning,” Khaldun said.

Vaccination highlights

As the state prepares to move onto a new phase of vaccinations, Khladun took a moment to look back at the first three weeks of vaccinations.

She said 152,511 vaccines have been administered in the state, as of Jan. 5. More than 8,326 of those doses were used in long-term care facilities, and more than 800 providers are enrolled in the vaccine program.

The expectation in Michigan is that 90% of doses received by any facility in the state should be used within seven days.

“We are seeing progress in the speed of vaccinations, as well,” Khaldun said.

She said during a meeting with the CDC, Michigan was shown as one of the top states in the country, in terms of vaccination efforts.

“There is more work to do, but we are certainly making progress,” Khaldun said.

COVID restrictions

Between the concerning trends in metrics and a potential new variant of the virus, should Michiganders expect MDHHS’s restrictions to be extended beyond the current Jan. 15 deadline? Or even stricter rules?

TIMELINE: How COVID trends have actually changed since Michigan issued, extended, revised order

“I think it’s very clear that the pause has worked,” Whitmer said. “Our numbers came down at the initiation of the pause, just as they did in the spring when we took action and curtailed our person-to-person activities.”

Whitmer said there was increased traveling during the most recent holiday season, so officials are watching the COVID-19 numbers closely.

“The order that has been in effect from MDHHS goes through (Jan. 15), so I would anticipate some more days of data before a determination is made on what the next steps look like,” Whitmer said.

On Wednesday, Michigan reported 4,326 new COVID-19 cases and 51 additional deaths, bringing the state totals to 508,736 confirmed cases and 12,918 deaths since the start of the pandemic.


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