Why Michigan officials felt now was right time to loosen COVID-19 restrictions

Michigan loosens restrictions on restaurants, nursing homes, gatherings, venues, more

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel at a March 2, 2021, COVID-19 briefing.
MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel at a March 2, 2021, COVID-19 briefing. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich. – On Friday, COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants, entertainment venues, nursing homes, gatherings and much more will be loosened across Michigan. Why was now the right time for such a move?

READ: 12 takeaways from Whitmer’s March 2, 2021, COVID briefing

In short, officials believe the state’s COVID trends have reached a threshold that justifies reopening more of the economy, though not without some concern.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, along with Dr. Joneigh Khaldun and Director Elizabeth Hertel of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about the many reasons the state can continue re-engagement.

“Of course there is a limitation -- we’re doing this incrementally,” Whitmer said. “But these are all the places where we can safely do more.”

“We have seen some of our key metrics continue to decline over the previous seven weeks,” Hertel said.

Those metrics -- the state’s case, positivity and hospitalization rates -- are still mostly heading in the right direction, but officials are a bit concerned that they’re beginning to plateau.

That’s what happened in early October before Michigan saw the drastic second spike in cases that eventually led to the mid-November COVID-19 “pause” from MDHHS.

On Tuesday (March 2), Khaldun reported a 91.2 case rate, 3.7% test positivity and 3.9% of hospital beds filled with COVID-19 patients statewide.

“We are now seeing a plateau in our case rates,” Khaldun said.

Both the case and hospitalization metrics showed slight declines from the previous week, but the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive actually rose by 0.2%. That might not seem like much of a margin, but it breaks a long streak of declining metrics for the state.

“This is similar to where we were in the beginning of October,” Khaldun said.

The Saginaw and Traverse City regions have seen a small growth in their case rates, according to Khaldun. Over the past several weeks, all regions had seen steady decline.

Another positive sign was that the number of outbreaks in the state is down from 631 to 565, local health departments report.

Hertel said the continuing trends in positivity, hospitalization and case rates allowed further re-engagement.

“We know when we loosen restrictions, we will probably see cases rise again,” Hertel said. “My hope is that we will see, perhaps, a continued plateau, maybe a slight increase, but then a decrease and then we can continue to loosen those restrictions moving forward.”

Michigan has administered 2,269,495 vaccines to residents across the state and will receive 82,000 doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Whitmer said.


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