LANSING, Mich. – During her COVID briefing, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revealed the new schedule Michigan will follow to fully reopen, talked about restaurant rules and announced changes to the mask policy.
Here are our takeaways from the May 20, 2021, briefing:
Adjusting mask policy
Whitmer announced Thursday that Michigan is adjusting the mask policy in accordance with new guidelines set by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
“Last Thursday, the CDC released new guidance on masks, based on the strength of vaccines preventing infections and spread among vaccinated people,” Whitmer said.
The guidance says vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or socially distance indoors or outdoors, with exceptions for certain medical spaces.
“We have adjusted our mask policy to match the CDC recommendation,” Whitmer said. “So now, in Michigan, fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask outdoors or indoors unless required by their work or business.”
Changes to reopening plan
Whitmer said when the CDC changed its recommendations, it forced her administration to go back to the drawing board in terms of the MI Vacc To Normal plan.
“We went back to the drawing board,” Whitmer said. “Originally our plan had four steps, each of which was tied to a percentage of Michiganders receiving the first shot, plus two weeks.”
Michigan reached the first milestone -- 55% percent of residents age 16 and up with at least one shot -- on May 10, meaning all employees could return to in-person work by May 24.
“Next Monday, we’ll have a lot more details to share on the MIOSHA rules for COVID-19 workplace safety,” Whitmer said.
Based on the new mask guidance, Michigan now only has two more steps to return to normal, Whitmer said.
On June 1, all outdoor capacity limits will be lifted.
“We will maintain our mask rule, as already announced, but otherwise lift all mitigation measures on outdoor gatherings, and only retain a 50% capacity limit on indoor establishments,” Whitmer said. “That means that an indoor social gathering like a wedding or a funeral or a conference or a graduation party will be allowed to resume at 50% capacity through the month of June.”
In June, people who are not yet fully vaccinated are required to continue to wear masks when they’re indoors, Whitmer said.
MDHHS will officially release the updated order Monday, she said.
On July 1, Michigan will take its final step in reopening by lifting the broad mask and gatherings order and will no longer impose broad mitigation measures during the pandemic. Businesses and workplaces have the right to require masks beyond that date.
“Unless, of course, unanticipated circumstances arise,” Whitmer said. “We do not expect that to happen. We look at this as the last moment of these types of orders.”
There might be one or more targeted orders in place to protect vulnerable residents, the governor said.
“But for the most part, life will be back to normal,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer confirmed that the 11 p.m. curfew currently imposed on restaurants and bars will also be dropped June 1.
“The curfews are dropped, as well,” Whitmer said. “What we know is that when the CDC came out with this new rule is they have confidence that the science bears out that if you are vaccinated, you are safe to go without a mask in all places.
“So June 1, and then July 1 -- those are the two steps. We’ve collapsed the Vacc To Normal (plan) because it became very clear that it was important for us to give people sure dates and confidence that we can be safe doing this. So that’s why we’ve reconfigured the plan.”
As of Thursday, Michigan has administered nearly 7.9 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to more than 4.6 million residents ages 16 and up, Whitmer said.
More than 57% of the eligible population has gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, she said.
More than 60% of adults in the country have gotten their first shots, and nearly half of those are fully vaccinated.
“The way to put this pandemic behind us is for everyone to get their shot,” Whitmer said. “The vaccine is the best way to keep you, your family and the most vulnerable among us safe from COVID-19.”
She said more 160 million Americans have gotten their vaccines, in total.
Original vaccine goal in jeopardy?
The rate at which Michiganders are receiving the COVID vaccine is slowing, and now that the MI Vacc To Normal plan is no longer incentivizing people to get vaccinated, Michigan’s original goal of vaccinating 70% of people 16 and up could be in jeopardy.
“I’m hopeful that we get to 70%,” Whitmer said. “The more people that get vaccinated, the better for all of our sake.”
Whitmer said vaccines are still important because the virus can continue to mutate, and at some point, there could be a mutation that vaccines aren’t as effective against. So it would be important to have as many people as possible protected against severe infection.
She said modelers told her administration that around this time, vaccine supply would eclipse demand, and that’s what has happened.
“That’s why getting people’s questions answered, meeting people where they are -- these are critical components to us increasing the number of people who get vaccinated,” Whitmer said.
Why plan was changed
Whitmer was asked about the state’s decision to change the state’s reopening milestones from vaccine goals to hard dates, and whether that was a science-based decision.
She said it had a lot to do with what the CDC found before it updated its recommendations.
“The CDC change was based on their most recent understanding of the science,” Whitmer said. “So when they promulgated that, it wasn’t just confusing for Michiganders -- I’ve talked to enough of my colleagues across the country, on both sides of the aisle, and everyone had to move quickly to get some clarity and to make the state rules sing on the same page as the CDC guidelines. That’s precisely what we’re doing.”
She said the CDC has driven many of Michigan’s policies during the pandemic because those experts are immersed in the studies.
“We’ve been following the CDC, in large part,” Whitmer said. “When they came up with this new policy recommendation, we wanted to make sure the people of Michigan had clarity. But to be certain, the best way to stay safe is to be vaccinated.”
Pfizer vaccine for children
The Pfizer vaccine was recently authorized for use on children ages 12-15. Whitmer said tens of thousands of children in that age group have already received their first dose.
Metro Detroit children in that age group started receiving their vaccines within the past week. Several received the first dose at Ascension hospital in Southfield.
“I encourage all parents with kids in that age range to speak to your doctors about this vaccine,” Whitmer said.
The governor said many people still have questions about the vaccine or want to wait and see what happens. But she encouraged those residents or parents to talk to their doctors about the importance of getting vaccinated.
Cases and test positivity have declined for five straight weeks, according to Whitmer. Hospitalizations have declined for three weeks in a row, she said.
“Our COVID metrics are trending downward in Michigan, and of course, across the country,” Whitmer said.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive of MDHHS, did not join the briefing. She typically provides more in-depth COVID metrics.
Whitmer spoke about Michigan’s declining unemployment rate, saying it is down to 4.9%.
“That’s over a full point below the national average,” Whitmer said. “In the past year, unemployment in Michigan has fallen by nearly 80%.”
She said Michigan has added 968,000 jobs over the past year, but there is still work to do.
“We are still short of where we were before the pandemic, and our economic recovery is going well, but we need to do and continue to do a lot more to invest in our families, small businesses and communities to help them succeed,” Whitmer said.