LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer held another COVID briefing, addressing changes to the state’s restrictions, “progress” in our COVID metrics and her recent controversial trip to Florida.
Whitmer was joined Wednesday (May 12) by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Here are our takeaways from the briefing.
Vaccination milestone re-engagement
Late last month, Whitmer announced the “MI Vacc To Normal” plan, which outlined four vaccination goals tied to easing restrictions in Michigan.
This week, Michigan reached the first of those four milestones when 55% of residents received at least one dose of the vaccine.
“So far, 4.5 million people, or over 55%, have gotten their first shot,” Whitmer said.
That means two weeks after the goal was reached -- May 24, to be exact -- all workplaces will be allowed to reopen for in-person work.
“Michigan surpassed this 55% between Sunday and Monday at some point,” Whitmer said. “So on Monday, May 24, we anticipate that MIOSHA will take action allowing offices across Michigan to allow in-person work for all workers.”
The next milestone is 60% of Michiganders getting at least one shot. At that threshold, Michigan will lift the 11 p.m. curfew on restaurants and bars, increase capacity at exercise facilities and gyms, stadiums, conference centers, banquet halls and funeral homes.
“We’re slated to take further action as vaccinations continue climbing,” Whitmer said.
Updated pandemic order
On Thursday (May 6), MDHHS updated the state’s COVID-19 pandemic order to ease restrictions on gatherings and masks.
“Going forward, fully vaccinated people do not need to mask up anymore when gathered indoors at a residence,” Whitmer said. “Outside the home, masks are only required at outdoor gatherings with more than 100 people.”
She said masks are still an important tool to protect everyone from COVID-19, especially indoors. If you aren’t fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends wearing a mask whenever you’re around people who don’t live in your households.
“Masks are still required in stores, for contact sports and indoors if you haven’t been vaccinated yet and are with people who aren’t a part of your household,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer’s Florida trip
The details surrounding Whitmer’s recent trip to Florida to visit her sick father has recently come into question, and she was asked about it once again Wednesday.
There are claims that Whitmer used a private plane funded by Detroit businessmen to take the trip.
“I appreciate the question, and I’m going to make a couple of important points,” Whitmer said. “No. 1, when I ran for governor, I talked about all the different hats that I wear, that so many people wear, just like me -- mostly women, frankly. The hat of taking care of my mom at the end of her life. Rearing my daughter at the beginning of hers. Also serving as a state representative and having to fight to make sure that my mom had what she needed at the end of her life.
“This is a part of my story. So for anyone to be surprised that I had a family member who has been having a lot of health issues -- that I showed up to check in. I don’t think -- they’re obviously not paying attention to who I am and what I do.
“It’s been a centerpiece of the work that I’ve done as governor: to take care of and protect the people of Michigan. Now, I took a brief trip from a Friday to a Monday -- two full days I was there. It was not a vacation and it was not a gift.
“This was a quick trip that I took, and I think that it’s important for people to know: Like a lot of children of parents who have health issues or relative who have health issues, I showed up when I was needed. I did a lot of cooking, a lot of cleaning. I also did my day job, meaning I was on regular calls and conferences with my team. I didn’t miss any of that work, as well. When you’re the governor of Michigan, you’re always on the clock, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not also a daughter who shows up when a family member needs her.
“This flight was not a gift. This flight was not paid for at taxpayer expense, and it was -- I don’t know that there’s anything more to add. When a family member of mine needs a little help, though, I’m going to show up. Just like when we have a crisis here, we’re going to work 24/7 to keep the people of this state safe.”
‘Sense of hope’
The governor began her briefing on a positive note, talking about vaccinations rising and case rates declining after months of concerning trends.
“I know that we can all feel a sense of hope,” Whitmer said. “Vaccinations are up. Cases and hospitalizations are down.”
She said life is starting to look and feel increasingly more normal.
Michigan vaccination update
As of Wednesday, Michigan has administered nearly 7.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Whitmer said.
More than 55% of Michiganders have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and more than 40% are fully vaccinated. About 70% of seniors in Michigan are fully vaccinated, she said.
Leelanau County is the first county in Michigan to reach the 70% vaccination threshold, while Oakland, Washtenaw, Emmet and Grand Traverse counties are all north of 60%, according to Whitmer.
Nationally, more than 260 million doses of the vaccine have been administered, with nearly 60% of people 18 and up getting at least their first dose.
Vaccines for children
On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer vaccine to be used on children ages 12-15.
Whitmer said on Wednesday, a Center For Disease Control and Prevention committee will meet to review the FDA’s authorization of that vaccine.
“This committee has the final sign-off before shots start going into arms, and this is great news,” Whitmer said.
She said if and when the CDC committee signs off, Michigan will start administering vaccines to children in that age group.
“We expect that very soon,” Whitmer said.
She encouraged all parents to have a conversation with their doctors about getting the vaccine for their children.
“As a parent of two children in this age group, I am thrilled,” Khaldun said.
Bending the curve
After daily case totals fell below 1,000 in February, they ballooned to an alarming level -- nearly 9,000 for multiple days -- in April. On Wednesday, Whitmer talked about how much the case rate has improved.
“After cases ticked up in April, I encouraged all of us to double down on basic health protocols we know work,” Whitmer said. “Nearly two weeks into May, we have bent the curve.”
Cases are down more than 60% and hospitalizations are down about 30% since the mid-April peak, the governor said.
“While we are making steady progress, we know what this virus is capable of when we let our guard down,” Whitmer warned.
She urged Michiganders to continue getting vaccinated, wearing masks and keeping gatherings outside as much as possible.
Message for Michiganders who aren’t vaccinated
Whitmer took a moment to directly address Michigan residents who have questions about the vaccine or have not yet decided whether they will get the shots.
“The vaccine is safe,” Whitmer said. “It’ll help protect you and your family and other people from getting COVID. Even if you have had COVID, you should still get vaccinated to protect yourself from variants or a repeat infection.
“If you received a monoclonal antibody treatment, you should get your shot 90 days after your treatment. The vaccine has gone through rigorous testing, and over 150 million Americans have taken it. The vaccine, like others before it for polio and smallpox, is trusted by doctors.
“Vaccines are our best chance of putting this pandemic behind us and returning to normal. They represent hope and healing. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to talk to your family doctor and learn more about how the safe, effective vaccines can save your life and the lives of those you love.
“I got my second shot 13 days ago, meaning I can enjoy the benefits of an effective level of immunity starting tomorrow, and I’m really excited. I can’t wait to see my friends who I have not been able to hang out with in a long time. If you get vaccinated, we can all get back to doing the things we love with the people we love. We can have the quintessential Michigan summer we all crave. So thank you for doing your part.”
“I am pleased with the progress that we are making towards ending this pandemic,” Khaldun said. “All of the metrics that we are tracking for COVID-19 are decreasing, although the virus is still very present across the entire state.
As of Tuesday (May 11), Michigan has 253 cases per million people. That case rate has been decreasing for four weeks and is down almost one-third from where it was a week ago, Khaldun said.
The percentage of COVID tests coming back positive is down to 9.8% -- almost half of what it was at the April peak, she said.
Right now, 11.8% of hospital beds are being used for COIVD-19 patients and hospitalizations continue to decline, according to Khaldun.
“As these metrics trend down, the number of vaccinated people continues to trend up,” Khaldun said.
She said more transmissible variants are still spreading throughout the state and threatening to undo the progress we’ve made, so the fight against COVID-19 isn’t over.
More vaccine providers?
Khaldun formally asked all primary care doctors in the state to enroll as COVID-19 vaccine providers.
“The most important thing we can do right now is to make vaccines available for whenever someone is ready,” Khaldun said. “We know that patients trust their doctors, and when they are ready to get vaccinated, we want you to have vaccine on hand.”
She wants doctors to reach out to their patients to find out if they’re vaccinated and if they have any questions.
“Know that if you become a vaccine provider, you can also focus on just vaccinating the patients who you already know, who are already in your practice,” Khaldun said.
MDHHS is trying to make the process easy for doctors so the COVID vaccine is as accessible as possible for Michiganders. The state still has a goal of vaccinating 70% of the population ages 16 and up.
When Michiganders are allowed to return to in-person work May 24, it’s unclear what kind of safety guidelines might be in place.
Whitmer said MIOSHA -- the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- is working to create guidelines for that return to the workplace. MIOSHA is also waiting on some guidance from federal workplace safety officials.
“There’s been a lot of talk about getting people back to work, “Whitmer said. “People, I know, are struggling with a number of issues. One is confidence they’re going to be safe when they get back in the workplace, and that’s why it’s critical we get this right. Another is childcare ... I think we all understand that child care is a critical component toward getting people back in the workforce, getting parents back in the workforce.”
As for other issues -- such as whether employees will have to wear masks or socially distance when they return to work -- the details have not yet been made clear.