GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has extended a set of restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus for 12 days, through Dec. 20.
“There is more work we need to do to protect one another,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in announcing the move at a Monday press conference. “Our progress is fragile and we cannot let up yet.”
She added that the full effects of Thanksgiving gatherings had not yet been seen, explaining the numbers should start to become apparent later this week, two weeks after the holiday.
“We’re very worried that they could be significant impacts,” Whitmer said.
The epidemic order — which among other things bans dining in at restaurants, closes entertainment venues, limits gatherings to two households and requires high schools and colleges to teach virtually — was initially set to last three weeks and end Tuesday night. Hospital leaders said it was effective in combating the spread of the virus and urged its extension.
MDHHS Director Robert Gordon, whose name is on the order, said while “we’ve achieved some progress,” it’s not enough to lift the restrictions right now.
Gordon said he would be watching hospitalizations, the daily case counts and test positivity rates in determining continuing actions. He continued, “let me clear: there’s no formula.”
“These numbers don’t capture some things that matter, like the age of people getting sick or the mix of tests being measured,” Gordon said. “Michigan lives are too important to use a faulty formula. But we will be reviewing these data and we will be transparent with the public about what exactly we are seeing.”
RESTAURANT DINING ROOMS UNLIKELY TO OPEN SOON
Whitemer said that as restrictions are lifted, it won’t be all at once, “so we don’t undo the progress that we’ve made.”
“Progress against COVID is hard to earn and easy to lose,” Gordon pointed out. “We need to reopen cautiously, not recklessly.”
Under the extended epidemic order, high school career and technical training may resume in-person classes under strict health safety requirements. Gordon said the next phase of reopenings will be traditional high schools.
Reopening entertainment venues like bowling alleys and movie theaters, with concessions closed, would follow.
It seems as though restaurant dining rooms would be in the last tier to reopen, and it seems unlikely that will be Dec. 21.
“If progress continues, we will eagerly reopen venues beyond those I’ve described,” Gordon said. “We’re not ready to so now and it’s unlikely we’ll be ready to do so in 12 days, but we will so as soon as we can.”
In a statement, the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, which lobbies for bars and restaurants, said it was “disappointed” by the extended closure, “especially since before the most recent shutdown, MDHHS data indicated that bars and restaurants did not significantly contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan.”
However, Whitmer said during the press conference that “studies after studies” show that dining in is associated with new cases.
“It’s not anybody’s fault,” she said. “This is how COVID-19 spreads. It’s just that simple.”
High school sports remain suspended for now. Practices were set to resume this week. The Michigan High School Athletic Association said it was investigating its options and expected to have a plan after board meeting Wednesday.
“We realize the crisis our medical caregivers and first responders are navigating and understand the need to continue the pause. However, the MHSAA had provided a detailed plan to both Governor Whitmer and MDHHS that would have completed fall tournaments with no spectators as safely as possible during the month of December along with allowing winter sport practices to resume,” MHSAA Director Mark Uyl said in a statement. “While we are disappointed in today’s announcement, we will continue to look forward as we remain committed to play three sports seasons to their conclusion. The MHSAA Representative Council will meet on Wednesday of this week to chart out another plan for finishing Fall and restarting Winter.”
MICHIGAN HAS HAD MORE THAN 400,000 CONFIRMED CASES
MDHHS on Monday announced 9,350 more cases of coronavirus had been confirmed since Saturday, the last time data had been compiled, bringing the total to 404,386 since it was first detected in Michigan in March. The state has announced 100,000 new cases in the the last 16 days alone.
The state also recorded 93 more deaths over the two days for a total of 9,947.
On Saturday, labs in Michigan tested 42,642 samples for the virus and 5,031 came back positive, a rate of 11.8%. On Sunday, 51,596 samples were tested and 6,474 were positive, a rate of 12.55%.
Kent County alone confirmed 819 more cases for a total of 35,155 since the start of the outbreak and recorded 11 more deaths for a total of 402.
Several other West Michigan counties also recorded additional deaths:
- Barry County: One more death for 16 total; 2,338 total cases.
- Branch County: Two more deaths for 41 total; 2,348 total cases.
- Calhoun County: Five more deaths for 130 total; 5,947 total cases.
- Mecosta County: One more death for 12 total; 1,330 total cases.
- Montcalm County: One more death for 33 total; 2,236 total cases.
- Muskegon County: Two more deaths for 196 total; 8,001 total cases.
- Newaygo County: Two more deaths for 22 total; 1,822 total cases.
- Oceana County: Four more deaths for 28 total; 1,311 total cases.
- Ottawa County: Six more deaths for 166 total; 14,792 total cases.
- Van Buren: Two more deaths for 53 total; 3,144 total cases.
The number of deaths in Kalamazoo County was revised down by one to 171. This has not been unusual as cases are double-checked and sometimes moved between jurisdictions. The county has had a total of 9,072 confirmed cases.
Wayne County, home to Detroit and hit hardest by the virus, confirmed 1,246 additional cases of the virus for a total of 66,799 since the start of the outbreak. It also confirmed nine more deaths for a total of 3,143. Neighboring Oakland County has had 45,433 confirmed cases (784 more since Saturday’s data update) and 1,354 deaths (one more). Macomb County has had 40,314 cases (811 more) and 1,279 deaths (one more).
The state is tracking 267 outbreaks associated with K-12 schools, colleges or universities, an increase of seven from the previous week.
The state posts a list of such outbreaks, which is updated once per week on Mondays, shows college and universities continue to have the largest numbers. Michigan State University has recorded about 2,221 cases associated with off-campus housing. The University of Michigan has had 581 cases in the last 28 days.
While there are many K-12 schools that have outbreaks, the number of people involved is quite smaller than colleges, often fewer than 10. The largest is still at Rockford High School and Freshman Center, which includes 79 students and staff members.
MICHIGAN ‘STILL IN OUR SECOND SURGE’
The seven-day average of cases per million people per day in Michigan is about 441. State tracking shows a modest downward trend over the past 16 days, but the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said the rate is still “alarmingly high” at seven times above what it was at the beginning of September.
“While there are some signs that things may be improving, we are clearly still in our second surge of COVID-19 in Michigan,” she said at the press conference with Whitmer and Gordon.
Statewide, the seven-day average of positive tests is above 14%, nearly four times what it was at the beginning of September and nearly five times the 3% threshold that public health officials say shows community spread is controlled.
“Positivity had been declining, but in the last week, it increased,” Khaldun added.
She went on to say that growth in hospitalizations slowed last week. As of Monday, state data showed 4,099 adult inpatients in Michigan were either suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, a slight decline from Friday. Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health said it had 308 patients, an increase of three over Friday.
The seven-day average of daily deaths is now seven times more than the rate in early October.
“We know the way this virus works: Someone gets infected, then they have a positive test, and then hospitalizations rise. And after that, we know that some people will unfortunately lose their battle with COVID-19 and they will die,” Khaldun said. “So each metric takes time for us to see as the virus spreads and we know that some metrics will change sooner than others.”
She said that while she was concerned by the metrics, she was also hopeful that people would follow mitigation practices to slow the spread of the virus. Public health officials also continue to urge people not to gather or travel for the December holidays.
“For this holiday season, let’s mask up, let’s avoid indoor gatherings and let’s give the gift of life,” Gordon, the MDHHS director, said.
Khaldun said that once vaccines are rolled out, which could be in a matter of days, initial doses will go to health care workers and those most at risk of developing a severe case of the virus.
But once they are more widely available, Khaldun said, they will be distributed at more than 280 sites across the state. She urged everyone to start thinking about how they will get their vaccines, which require two shots three to four weeks apart, depending on which vaccine you get.
She promised the process for developing the vaccines was scientific and meant to ensure their safety.
“They don’t actually give you the disease,” Khaldun said. “They prepare your body so it is ready to fight if it comes into contact with the real virus.”
She added there could be mild side-effects after getting a shot, like a low-grade fever or lethargy, but noted these are evidence the vaccine is working.
“This is just the simple science of how vaccines work,” she said.
The state has set up a webpage that it will update with vaccination information at Michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine.