Michigan plots slow reopen with improvements in 3 key COVID metrics

New MDHHS order keeps restrictions in place through Dec. 20

Hand washing sign in Detroit.
Hand washing sign in Detroit. (WDIV)

DETROIT – Michigan has extended its three-week COVID restrictions for 12 additional days to gauge the impact of Thanksgiving -- but health officials are hoping to slowly reopen at the end of the extension.

The new MDHHS order, which is in effect until Dec. 20, keeps the existing restrictions of the “three-week pause” in place, including a ban on dine-in service at restaurants, and in-person learning for high schools and colleges in the state.

More: Michigan COVID restrictions extended through Dec. 20: What to know

While the order has been extended, MDHHS said they have a plan in place to slowly reopen at the end of the 12 day extension, and named three key metrics they would need to see improvements in.

  • Share of hospital beds with COVID-19 patients: A flat or declining trend is improving.
  • COVID-19 case rate -- cases per 1 million: Declining trend is improving.
  • Percent positivity -- percent of COVID-19 tests that are positive (previous benchmark was 3%, but it’s currently around 14%): Declining trend is improving.

With improvements in these areas, MDHHS will slowly re-engage some areas, with in-person learning at high schools first. Next in line will be entertainment venues where people can maintain consistent masking, such as casinos, theaters and bowling, with concessions closed.

MDHHS director Robert Gordon said there is no formula, only people making the right actions. “What we’ve learned is that progress against COVID is hard to gain and easy to lose.”

“While we have seen early signs of progress in our case rates and hospitalizations, unfortunately our rates are still alarmingly high and we need more time to understand the impact that Thanksgiving travel may have had on the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “I am hopeful because vaccines will be available soon, potentially later this month. However, it will take time for the vaccine to be widely available to the general public, and it is important that we continue to do what we can to contain this virus.”

“We each have a personal responsibility to wear a mask consistently and minimize indoor gatherings, so we can protect our frontline heroes and loved ones,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “If we don’t, the disease will continue to spread and people will continue to get sick and die.”

Related: Michigan Gov. Whitmer seeks $400M in COVID spending in Legislature

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is scheduled to take up a request Thursday to authorize emergency use of Pfizer’s vaccine. Vaccinations could begin just days later, though initial supplies will be rationed, and shots are not expected to become widely available until the spring.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that health care workers and nursing home patients get priority when the first shots become available.

Both Pfizer’s vaccine and a Moderna vaccine that will also be reviewed by the FDA later this month require two doses a few weeks apart. Current estimates project that a combined total of no more than 40 million doses will be available by the end of the year. The plan is to use those to fully vaccinate 20 million people.

More: How to track Michigan COVID-19 data

MDHHS orders

MDHHS has the authority to issue these orders during the pandemic, and has been doing so since the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the law Whitmer was using to issue her executive orders.

Whitmer had previously been issuing restrictions without the approval of the Republican-led Legislature, but now the orders fall to MDHHS.

Related: Michigan rolls out coronavirus exposure app statewide: How it works, how to download


About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital special projects manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013.