LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are lifting the state’s broadest COVID-19 restrictions Tuesday.
That’s a little more than a week ahead of the previously established July 1 date that the MDHHS Gatherings and Face Mask order was going to expire.
With that order over effective Tuesday, restaurants and other businesses may return to full capacity. No one, vaccinated or unvaccinated, will be mandated by state law to wear a mask — though businesses may still choose to require them.
“It’s a big deal. It’s a tremendous step forward that’s a testament to, frankly, the fortitude of the people who worked so hard throughout this whole pandemic to sustain life and keep us safe; all the people on the front lines. The public servants in state government and local government, local health departments trying to work hard, and we’ve had to make a lot of difficult decisions, but that has been in the name of saving lives and keeping people safe so that we could reengage our economy as quickly and as safely as possible. And Tuesday, we’re going to be able to take a giant leap toward that,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist told News 8 in a Thursday afternoon Zoom call. “…We’re recognizing that our people are our economy; and we made decisions to save them. And now we’re focusing on people realizing their full economic potential coming out of this pandemic and coming out of it strong.”
In addition to the Gatherings and Face Mask order being lifted, MDHHS will end eight other epidemic orders, including restrictions on visitors to congregate care and juvenile justice facilities and some mandatory testing requirements for MDHHS employees, as well as rules for housing unstable people and homeless shelters, and regarding the handling of dead bodies.
“This is great news and a day all of us have been looking forward to for more than a year,” MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel, whose name is on the epidemic orders, stated. “We have said all along that the vaccine would help us return to a sense of normalcy and today we announce that day is here.”
Other epidemic orders outlining rules for prisons, long-term care facilities and the agriculture industry will remain in effect for now. Updated guidance for schools will come out next week, according to a release from the governor’s office.
The state will keep providing free COVID-19 testing and institutions will have to keep reporting COVID-19 data to MDHHS.
There have so far not been any change to the latest virus mitigation rules from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced.
“Today is a day that we have all been looking forward to, as we can safely get back to normal day-to-day activities and put this pandemic behind us,” Whitmer said in a statement. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the medical experts and health professionals who stood on the front lines to keep us all safe. And we are incredibly thankful to all of the essential workers who kept our state moving. Thanks to the millions of Michiganders who rolled up their sleeves to get the safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine, we have been able to make these changes ahead of schedule. Our top priority going forward is utilizing the federal relief funding in a smart, sustainable way as we put Michigan back to work and jumpstart our economy. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure that Michigan’s families, small businesses, and communities emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever before.”
Those in the restaurant industry said they were glad the restrictions were being lifted, but they still face challenges, including getting enough workers.
“We need to get people off unemployment and get them back to work,” Scott Ellis, the executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, told News 8. “And … training: We know now that a lot of people have left this industry and maybe went into something else because they were worried about the stability of this industry. Now we need to train new people. We’re working with the Legislature, we’re working with the governor’s office to try to get some funding for training, to try to help us end unemployment, free unemployment. Lets get people back to work.”
THURSDAY DATA: 172 MORE CASES
MDHHS on Thursday announced 172 newly confirmed cases of the virus and 20 more associated deaths. Of those deaths, 18 were discovered during a three-times-per week review of the state’s database of death certificates to find any that had not already been reported to the state.
Michigan has now counted 893,002 total confirmed cases since the virus was first detected here in March 2020 and 19,598 related deaths.
On Wednesday, labs tested 21,286 samples for the virus and 243 were positive, which works out to 1.14%. 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 counted one more death for a total of 789 and confirmed 23 more cases for a total of 68,483.
Three other West Michigan counties recorded additional deaths:
- Allegan County: One more death for 134 total; 10,000 total confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
- Calhoun County: One more death for 296 total; 12,369 total cases.
- Muskegon County: One more death for 359 total; 15,680 total cases.
The number of total deaths in each Berrien and Kalamazoo counties was revised down by one to 270 and 361, respectively. This has not been uncommon as cases are double-checked and sometimes moved between jurisdictions. Berrien County has had a total of 13,910 confirmed cases and Kalamazoo County has had 20,246.
Wayne, the most populous county in the state, recorded nine more deaths for a total of 4,835 and 38 more cases for a total of 153,017. Neighboring Oakland County has had 102,102 confirmed cases (26 more than the previous day) and 2,290 (four more). Macomb County has had 91,868 cases (nine more) and 2,348 deaths (no change).
VIRUS IN RETREAT
As metrics continue to approve across the board, two of Michigan’s eight regions (Saginaw and Jackson) have been moved to Risk Level B — the third-lowest option on a scale from low to E. The remaining six regions are at Risk Level C, with the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo regions getting a better rating once June 12 data was considered. The state says all regions are expected to get even better ratings soon.
The seven-day average of the positive test rate has dropped to 1.8%, the lowest it has been since the pandemic began and well below the 3% threshold public health officials say shows community spread is controlled. The average case rate, which has been declining for nine weeks, is well below last summer’s low.
Hospitalizations have been down for more than seven weeks and the rate is now lower than it has been since October of last year. Statewide, only about 400 adults confirmed to have the virus are being treated at hospitals. As of Thursday, Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health was treating 47 patients for COVID-19, finally dropping below its March low.
The average death rate has been down for more than six weeks and is now around 20 per day.
With about 8.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Michigan, 60.8% of residents 16 and up — or about 4.9 million people — have gotten at least one dose. Among people 12 and up, more than 55% have gotten at least one dose. That’s about 4.8 million people.
“This is a great day, however, there is more work to be done,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said in a statement. “We can’t let our guard down as there continue to be several variants of the COVID-19 virus circulating in our state, including the concerning Delta variant. The COVID-19 vaccine is the most important tool we have to reduce the spread of the virus and I urge everyone ages 12 and up who has not yet received their vaccine to get it as soon as possible. Talk to your health care provider, your local health department or your neighborhood pharmacist about joining the millions of Michiganders who have received their vaccine.”