ABOVE: Watch Friday’s full news conference with updates on coronavirus-related restrictions in Michigan.
LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Friday lifted a prohibition on in-person instruction at Michigan high schools and said movie theaters and other entertainment venues can reopen with capacity restrictions following a decline in coronavirus cases.
Universities and colleges can let students return to campus next month, with a request to wait until Jan. 18 to restart face-to-face classes.
Indoor restaurant dining will continue to be barred under the new state health department order that takes effect Monday, however, as will indoor sports and outdoor contact sports unless there is rigorous testing like there is at the pro and NCAA levels. Bowling alleys, casinos and other entertainment businesses that reopen must close drink and food concessions.
Under the new order, the Michigan High School Athletic Association announced Friday that the three remaining fall sports will be able to complete their seasons. Football and volleyball players and swimmers will participate in a coronavirus antigen-testing program.
The order will last through Jan. 15, though the Democratic governor said she will seriously consider lifting some provisions sooner “if we substantially sustain our progress.” She and top health officials announced the revised measure at a news conference Friday afternoon.
“The curve is flattening. But we can’t let our guard down for a second because our fortunes can change fast,” Whitmer said.
The restrictions began Nov. 18 following a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide. All high schools and colleges have been virtual. Youth sports, including football playoffs, have been on hold. K-8 schools have been able to continue with on-site classes, though — as has been the case all fall — it is not required for them or high schools.
State health director Robert Gordon announced an antigen-testing program so the high school football, volleyball, and swimming and diving tournaments can be completed.
Michigan’s seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases is at 4,662, well down from 8,344 two weeks ago. The average positivity rate is 9%, a drop from 13.3% on Dec. 3, according to The COVID Tracking Project. Average daily deaths, which lag cases, have slightly risen from 124 to nearly 129 over two weeks. About 3,400 were hospitalized with virus-related symptoms on Thursday, a decrease from roughly 4,300 on Dec. 1.
“Michiganders did what they were supposed to do over the Thanksgiving holiday, and we avoided the surge that so many other states are seeing,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and chief deputy health director. “While I’m still concerned that our cases are six times higher than they were at the beginning of September, things are certainly trending in the right direction.”
Last week, private schools challenged the high school closure in court, saying it violates the constitutional right to practice religion.
NEW COVID-19 NUMBERS RELEASED
The latest coronavirus numbers released by the state on Friday brought the total number of confirmed cases to 454,956 after an additional 4,180 cases were reported.
An additional 66 deaths were reported Friday, bringing the total of virus-related deaths to 11,274 since the virus was first detected in Michigan in March.
On Friday, labs in Michigan tested 46,830 samples for the virus and 4,573 were positive, a rate of 9.18%.
Kent County recorded eight more deaths for a total of 467. It also confirmed 272 more cases for a total of 38,694 in the nine months since the outbreak started.
Several other West Michigan counties also recorded additional deaths:
- Branch County: One more death for 50 total; 2,602 total cases.
- Calhoun County: Two more deaths for 156 total; 6,496 total cases.
- Kalamazoo County: Two more deaths for 198 total; 10,002 total cases.
- Muskegon County: Six more deaths for 232 total; 8,804 total cases.
- Ottawa County: Five more deaths for 212 total; 16,394 total cases.
Wayne County, which has seen the most people die due to the virus, confirmed one more death for a total of 3,309 with a total of 74,688 cases. Neighboring Oakland County has had 50,688 confirmed cases (403 more than the previous day) and 1,451 deaths (three more). Macomb County has had 44,860 cases (294 more) and no additional deaths.
During Friday’s news conference, Dr. Khaldun said while numbers continue to improve, everyone must stay vigilant.
“This isn’t just about numbers and metrics and graphs,” she said. “Every life lost is someone’s father, mother, brother, sister or friend. They are important members of our community. We simply must not become complacent.”
Khaldun added that Michigan’s COVID-19 cases have been declining for 27 days. However, the numbers are still six times higher than they were in September.