MDHHS extends mask order, expands it to kids as young as 2

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has extended its epidemic order that limits gatherings and requires masks through May 24.

While the Gatherings and Mask epidemic order remains largely unchanged from the last version, it does expand the requirement to wear masks in public to children between the ages of 2 and 4, especially in group settings like at child care or camps. The state said in a Friday release that change was in accordance with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics.

The expansion of the order to small children goes into effect April 26.

Dr. Hossain Marandi, the president of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, supports the decision.

“A child that is at home without the exposure to other children, has upwards of 12 episodes of colds or viral infections in a 12-month period, while children in daycare settings have one-and-a-half, almost two-times that because of that close contact,” Marandi said. 

He says people using masks throughout the pandemic has decreased the number of respiratory diseases in kids. 

“What we’ve seen is many previous respiratory diseases we used to see children suffer from, respiratory syncytial virus, asthma exacerbations due to different things, a lot of simple cold viruses we’ve seen them suffer from, this past year we’ve not seen any of that,” Marandi said. “That’s been mainly not only children, but many adults around, wearing the masks.”   

It’s not all good news. He and his colleagues have seen an increase of younger people being admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms. 

“Historically, it’s effected the elderly population, it’s not as much pediatric,” Marandi said. “We have definitely seen a shift in that over the past month or so. We’ve seen an increased number of admissions to the hospital and children being seen in the emergency room with symptoms that are testing positive.”

While some people may find it hard to think two-year-old’s can keep their masks on, Marandi says kids that age can understand why it’s necessary. 

“Once they hit the age of two, from a developmental standpoint, they are able to understand to keep the mask on,” said Marandi. “To keep it on until they are ready to eat and do a lot of things they do on a regular basis, without any difficulty while they still maintain that mask on their face.”   

The same mask and capacity restrictions for indoor and outdoor gatherings, businesses, stadiums and restaurants remain in effect.

—News 8’s Ruben Juarez contributed to this report.

NEARLY 9,000 CASES REPORTED FRIDAY

The epidemic order extension comes as Michigan continues to see the nation’s worst coronavirus surge. The case rate has been rising for eight weeks and has increased 475% from the mid-February low; the average testing positivity rate is around 17.5%, nearly six times higher than the 3% that demonstrates community spread is controlled; and hospitals are treating more COVID-19 patients than at the peak of the fall surge.

While deaths are again climbing and are now averaging around 40 per day, the rise is happening slower than during the fall surge. However, those who are dying most frequently are younger than during the fall surge.

Michigan on Friday reported 8,955 more confirmed coronavirus cases and 40 additional related deaths. The state has now seen 779,777 total cases since the virus was first detected here in March 2020 and 16,771 associated deaths.

On Thursday, labs tested 52,938 samples for the virus and 7,772, or 14.68%, were positive. The number of positive tests is not the same as the number of new cases because people may be tested more than once. Additionally, testing numbers are from a single calendar date, while the number of new cases lists the increase since the last time the state compiled the data; these two time frames do not match up precisely.

Kent County on Friday reported three more deaths, bringing its total to 701, and confirmed 624 more cases for a total of 59,352.

Several other West Michigan counties also reported additional deaths:

  • Allegan County: One more death for 101 total; 8,521 total confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
  • Barry County: One more death for 53 total; 4,435 total cases.
  • Calhoun County: Three more deaths for 241 total; 10,724 total cases.
  • Kalamazoo County: Two more deaths for 304 total; 17,403 total cases.
  • Muskegon County: One more death for 308 total; 12,289 total cases.
  • Newaygo County: One more death for 54 total; 3,687 total cases.
  • Ottawa County: One more death for 44 total; 26,388 total cases.

Wayne County, the state’s most populous and hit hardest by the virus, reported eight more deaths for a total of 4,161 and confirmed 1,676 more cases for a total of 131,274. Neighboring Oakland County has had 89,321 cases (1,086 more than the previous day) and 2,000 deaths (one more). Macomb County has had 80,206 cases (943 more) and 1,992 deaths (five more).

“I continue to be incredibly concerned about our state’s COVID-19 data. We are still very much fighting this pandemic and seeing concerning trends in new cases and hospitalization,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said in a statement accompanying the epidemic order extension. “Michiganders need to be using every tool in our toolbox right now to get these cases and hospitalizations down. Just because something is open and legal does not mean you should be doing it. We all must continue doing what works to slow the spread of the disease by wearing masks, washing our hands, avoiding crowds and indoor gatherings, and making plans to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.”

The state has received nearly 7.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, 1.6 million of which are dedicated to specific federal programs. Nearly 5.8 million doses have been administered. More than 44% of the state’s population over the age of 16 has received at least one shot and nearly 30% of that population is considered fully vaccinated. The goal is to reach 70%.

DOCTORS NOT SURPRISED BY PFIZER BOOSTER SHOT EXPECTATION

On Thursday, news broke that the Pfizer CEO said that for those who get his company’s vaccine, it’s likely a third shot will be needed 12 months later. Local doctors say they were not surprised to see that suggestion.

“As soon as we started hearing about a small risk of reinfection, we knew that people’s immunity was starting to wean, and we thought maybe there was a chance of some boosters being needed,” said Dr. Andrew Jameson with Mercy Health.

Jameson says booster shots are not unheard of. He says the technique is already used for the whooping cough and tetanus vaccines. 

“I think one of the best ways to think about it is kind of building a wall of defense. So the first brick you lay down is kind of that primer. It helps your antibodies build up, it helps you get ready to fight it off,” said Jameson. “The next vaccine you get is a booster, and that kind of lays that second brick of a foundation, and then additional bricks on top of that can kind of build up the memory that your system has, so it can respond quicker and more aggressively if it ever sees that thing you’re getting vaccinated against.”

Jameson also says it’s important to note that needing an additional shot does not mean the first two are not working. 

“We’ve seen the real world data that’s come out, not just the trial data, but the real world data is showing that this vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna are more than 90% effective at not just preventing symptomatic disease, but also asymptomatic disease,” said Jameson. “We are doing good things, and we are making good progress.”

Both Kent County and the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic at Devos Place say it’s too early to know what a rollout of the third shot would look like.

—News 8’s Whitney Burney contributed to this report.

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