LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is holding another briefing Wednesday (April 14), and there are plenty of topics to address about COVID-19 in the state.
The briefing will begin at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Click here to watch it live.
Here’s everything you should know about the state of the virus in Michigan before Whitmer’s update.
When Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, spoke Friday (April 9), the message was clear: Michigan’s COVID situation is reaching an alarming level.
“I am quite concerned with what we are seeing in our data,” Khaldun said. “We are on track to potentially see a surge in cases that’s even greater than the one we saw in the fall.”
Michigan’s case rate was up to 515 cases per million people per day -- four times what it was in mid-February.
The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive was up to 18%, which was also four times greater than in mid-February.
“We have not seen that high of a positivity rate since our first surge last spring, a year ago, and that’s concerning because we are doing many more tests than we were then,” Khaldun said. “This indicates that there is now broad community spread.”
As of last week, 15.2% of all hospital beds across the state were being used for COVID-19 patients.
Whitmer made it clear last week that she doesn’t want to implement new restrictions in Michigan, but she did ask residents to take voluntary action for the next two weeks.
Whitmer asked Michigan high schools to return to remote learning for the next two weeks. She also called on youth sports to voluntarily suspend games and practices over that time period.
“I’m strongly encouraging Michiganders to avoid dining indoors and avoid gathering with friends indoors for two weeks,” Whitmer said.
She asked Michiganders to get carry-out, eat outdoors and wear masks even during small gatherings.
“These are very tough things to do, and we do not make these recommendations lightly,” Khaldun said. “But everyone needs to understand that if we can just pause some of these activities temporarily, it will go a long way to prevent the spread of the virus and save lives.”
National health officials don’t agree with Whitmer’s decision not to issue new restrictions, saying that’s the best way for Michigan to slow the rapid spread of the virus.
“The answer to that is to really close things down, to go back to our basics, to go back to where we were last spring, last summer, and to shut things down to flatten the curve, to decrease contact with one another, to test to the extent that we have available, to contact trace -- sometimes you can’t even do it at the capacity that you need,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. “Really what we need to do in those situations is shut things down.”
Even after hearing Walensky’s comments, Whitmer’s administration confirmed to Local 4 on Monday that there were no plans to mandate restrictions. She believes Michiganders have the tools to fight COVID-19 without an MDHHS order.
On Friday, Whitmer also called Michigan a “COVID hotspot” and asked federal officials to surge additional vaccines here to combat the rapid spread.
“Anyone who looks at a COVID map knows that Michigan is unquestionably a national hotspot right now,” Whitmer said. “I am concerned because I believe, as do a number of public health experts, that we really should be surging vaccines to states that are experiencing serious outbreaks.”
“There are different tools that we can use for different periods of when there is an outbreak,” Walensky said. “For example, we know that if vaccines go in arms today, we will not see an affect of those vaccines, depending on the vaccine, for somewhere between 2-6 weeks.
“I think if we try to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact. Similarly, we need that vaccine in other places. If we vaccinate today and we will have impact in six weeks, and we don’t know where the next place is going to be that is going to surge.”
Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, echoed the same sentiments.
“Our job here is to follow the science, and I think in that regard, exactly what Dr. Walensky said, is important to us -- we have to remember the fact that in the next 2-6 weeks, the variants that we have seen in Michigan -- those variants are also present in other states,” Slavitt said. “So our ability to vaccinate people quickly in each of those states, rather than taking vaccines and shifting it to playing whack-a-mole, isn’t the strategy that public health leaders and scientists have laid out.”
Johnson & Johnson vaccinations paused
“More than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the U.S., and these adverse events appear to be extremely rare,” Khaldun said. “However, out of an abundance of caution, we are following recommendations from FDA and CDC and pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Michigan.”
According to national health officials, there have been six U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot forming in people after they received the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine.
Officials said a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis and low levels of blood platelets were seen in these cases.
All six cases occurred in women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms began six to 13 days after vaccination, according to authorities.
Michigan vaccine providers have been told not to administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while the CDC and FDA review those six cases and make sure any potential adverse reactions are being reported.
Clinics that have scheduled Johnson & Johnson vaccine appointments will either reschedule or use a different vaccine.
Emergency workplace COVID rules extended
The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity extended the rules by six months -- until Oct. 14. They were scheduled to expire Wednesday (April 14), but MIOSHA issued an extension as COVID-19 cases rise throughout the state.
Michigan officials said the rules can be adjusted or withdrawn at any time, depending on COVID-19 metrics in the state.
The emergency rules require employees to work remotely when feasible to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 in the workplace.
In-person work is allowed for jobs that can’t be done otherwise, but remote work is strongly recommended, Michigan officials said.
Businesses that resume in-person work have to maintain a written COVID-19 preparedness and response plan and provide thorough training to employees. That training must cover workplace infection control practices, how to use personal protection equipment, steps to notify the business about COVID-19 symptoms and how to report unsafe working conditions.
Extended unemployment benefits ending
Extended benefits take effect when Michigan’s total unemployment rate averages 6.5% or higher for three straight months. The U.S. Department of Labor notified the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency that the program will no longer be payable after this week.
The extended benefits program provides an extra 13-20 weeks of benefits for people who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits and other extensions.
UIA officials have started to notify the 16,000 claimants currently receiving extended benefits about the program’s end.
Three variants of COVID-19 have been identified in Michigan, and Whitmer updated those numbers during her last briefing on Friday.
“The variants in Michigan that we are facing right now won’t be contained if we don’t ramp up vaccinations as soon as possible,” Whitmer said.
On April 1, Michigan confirmed its first case of the P1 COVID-19 variant, which was first identified in Brazil.
Michigan had identified more than 2,262 cases of COVID-19 variants across the state, including the B117 variant, which was first found in the United Kingdom, and the B.1.135 variant, originally discovered in South Africa.
“These variants are incredibly serious and easy to catch,” Whitmer said. “Now that the variants are here and people are fatigued, we’re more vulnerable because we have large reservoirs of people in our state who have not caught the virus yet.”