MIDLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will lift its Gatherings and Face Mask order — the broadest of its coronavirus mitigation orders — on July 1, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promised Thursday.
“We look at this as the last moment of these types of orders,” Whitmer said. “We will be able to sing at church, dance at weddings, cheer at games, hug each other and laugh together. I know that that is welcome news to so many.”
The governor’s announcement, made during a briefing at the Dow Diamond in Midland, changed the terms of her “Vacc to Normal” plan to loosen virus restrictions. Rather than tying four phases of lighter rules to the percentage of Michigan residents who have been vaccinated, she set dates.
On June 1, all outdoor capacity limits will be lifted. All indoor establishments and events may start operating at 50% capacity. That includes everything from restaurants to funeral homes to conference facilities to wedding venues to graduation parties. The curfew for bars and restaurants will also be lifted.
People who are not vaccinated will still have to wear a mask indoors until the Gatherings and Mask order is lifted at the start of July. After that, Whitmer said, “we may have one or more targeted orders in place to protect vulnerable populations, but for the most part, life will be back to normal and we can have the kind of Independence Day we’re all looking forward to.”
Michigan is already on track to allow all sectors of work to return in person Monday. Whitmer said the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration would release more details on its COVID-19 mitigation rules for workplaces then.
The governor announced last week that fully vaccinated residents do not have to wear a mask indoors except in a few specific circumstances and that no one, vaccinated or not vaccinated, has to wear a mask outside. On Thursday, she reminded people that even once all mask rules are lifted, businesses still have the option to require their customers to wear them. She also urged people to “extend one another a little bit of grace” regarding their decision whether to continue wearing one.
She also noted that if there is an unexpected coronavirus surge, the MDHHS orders may have to stay.
BUSINESSES HAPPY TO WELCOME MORE CUSTOMERS
Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Baker called the announcement exciting news, saying it’s exactly what the chamber has been pushing for. Baker said having a specific date for reopening is especially important for wedding venues and other event spaces.
“Knowing they don’t have to make changes or postpone is a load off the minds of brides and others who have big plans this year,” he told News 8.
Baker encouraged everyone to be tolerant as restaurants and other businesses try to hire enough staff to fill positions and adjust to being open at full capacity.
In a statement released after the governor’s announcement, the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association also praised the set dates but said that more than a year of shutdowns and restrictions has caused a staffing shortage that must next be addressed.
“The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association welcomes the clear guidance today from MDHHS towards Michigan’s full economic reintegration and takes solace in knowing that our advocacy on behalf of event and banquet centers will prevent the outright loss of another wedding, graduation and conference season.
“As Michigan’s hospitality industry now pivots to meet unprecedented pent-up demand to dine and travel free of occupancy restrictions, our focus will turn aggressively to securing workforce solutions that help restaurant, hotel and resort operators meet staffing needs. It would be a preventable tragedy if Michigan’s hospitality industry, which endured 159 days of closure and 16 months of occupancy restrictions, was rendered incapable of realizing its newfound opportunity because well-intended, but outdated policies discouraged a full return to the workforce. Michigan’s labor participation rate ranks 42nd in the nation and as such we need bipartisan solutions to address this immediate threat to our hospitality revival.
“The MRLA has authored bold solutions to lead that revival and will continue to work with the legislature and governor to realize our comeback.”MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow
The West Michigan Whitecaps said they were thrilled they would soon be able to open LMCU Ballpark to all comers.
“We’ve had a great first homestand where we sold out five of the six games with 2,000 people, and it felt like a full crowd because they were so excited to be here, the energy was high,” Whitecaps Director of Community Relations Jenny Garrone said. “But to have 8,000 people coming up in our first homestand in June, that is going to feel incredible. You know, a lot of people that come to Whitecaps games don’t see any baseball. They are here for the community experience. They’re here to have hot dogs and beer. They’re hanging out with friends. We’ve got all of that. In addition, we’ve got a great team, too.”
LATEST VIRUS AND VACCINE DATA
Michigan has been seeing its virus metrics trending in the right direction for a month, with the test positivity rate, case rate, hospitalizations and, more recently, the death rate, declining consistently.
On Thursday, MDHHS reported 1,372 newly confirmed cases and 74 additional deaths. Of those deaths, 61 were discovered during a review of death certificates to find any that hadn’t already been reported to the state.
In all, Michigan has now had 881,057 total confirmed cases since the virus was detected her in March 2020 and 18,815 related deaths.
On Wednesday, labs tested 37,161 samples for the virus and 2,039 were positive, which works out to 5.49%; that’s the lowest it’s been since March 11. 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 recorded three more deaths for a pandemic total of 762 and 102 more cases for a total of 67,314.
Several other West Michigan counties also reported additional deaths:
- Berrien County: Three more deaths for 262 total; 13,720 total confirmed cases since March 2020.
- Calhoun County: One more death for 274 total; 12,150 total cases.
- Montcalm County: One more death for 106 total; 5,338 total cases.
- Oceana County: One more death for 58 total; 2,591 total cases.
- Ottawa County: One more death for 368 total; 29,989 total cases.
Wayne County, hit hardest by the virus, tallied 18 more deaths for a total of 4,631 and 253 more cases for a total of 150,578 throughout the course of the pandemic. Neighboring Oakland County has had 100,806 cases (139 more than the previous day) and 2,192 deaths (six more). Macomb County has had 90,859 cases (138 more) and 2,267 deaths (14 more).
More than 7.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Michigan and the percentage of residents 16 and up with at least one dose is 57.1%, up three tenths of a percentage point from the previous day. The state is still aiming to reach 70%.
As demand has dropped, efforts to encourage people to get vaccinated are getting more creative. Meijer, for example, announced Thursday that people who schedule and finish their vaccine course at Meijer will get a $10 coupon. You can also get one if you show your completed vaccine card to your local Meijer pharmacy.
Health officials are also now focusing on reaching people in their communities and addressing hesitation. Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist reminded residents that getting vaccinated is the best way to stop the pandemic. Whitmer urged those who are nervous about getting it to talk to their family doctor about how it works and why it’s safe.
“The vaccine represents hope and healing,” Whitmer said.
—News 8’s Michele DeSelms and Jack Doles contributed to this report.