MDHHS hopes to let restaurant dining rooms reopen Feb. 1

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — State health officials say a set of restrictions issued as Michigan saw a coronavirus surge in November worked, leading them to let up on some more restrictions and set a tentative date for when restaurants may again offer dine-in service.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon said at a Wednesday press conference alongside Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that after the restrictions were implemented, Michigan saw a less severe peak in cases than other states in the Great Lakes region and now has the lowest case rate among them.

“Caution has worked for us in Michigan and we are staying with our cautious approach today,” Gordon said.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon discusses coronavirus restrictions in the state during a Jan. 13, 2021, press conference at the Capitol in Lansing. (Courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

With things getting better, MDHHS said it currently plans to let restaurant dining rooms reopen with capacity limits and a curfew on Feb. 1 — but it also qualified in a release that is the “working plan” and warned “the ultimate decision depends on data continuing to stabilize.”

“Now is not the time to let down our guard,” Gordon said. “Our actions on Feb. 1 will depend on what happens with the pandemic between now and then.

More information is expected next week, including about improving ventilation at restaurants.

But the state is prepared to loosen some other restrictions. Effective Saturday, MDHHS says indoor group exercise and indoor non-contact sports may resume with masks and social distancing.

People are still advised to avoid indoor gatherings with anyone outside their household.

“We have become so much safer in the last two months and we are so close to relief from vaccines. Let’s stay on a path back to normal for all Michiganders,” Gordon said.

WHERE THE EPIDEMIC STANDS

The state on Wednesday announced 2,694 more cases of coronavirus had been confirmed and 32 more related deaths reported. That brought the total number of cases in the state to 528,306 since the virus was first detected in Michigan in March 2020 and the total number of related deaths to 13,533.

On Tuesday, labs in Michigan tested 38,954 samples for the virus and 2,683 came back positive, a rate of 6.89% — the lowest single-day percentage since October. 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 confirmed 255 more cases of the virus for a total of 44,139 since March 2020. Its death toll was revised down by one to 548. This has not been uncommon as cases are double checked and sometimes moved between jurisdictions.

Calhoun, Ionia and Ottawa counties each recorded one more death:

  • Calhoun County: 190 total deaths; 7,299 total confirmed cases.
  • Ionia County: 54 total deaths; 3,661 total confirmed cases.
  • Ottawa County: 275 total deaths; 18,855 total confirmed cases.

Wayne County, which has seen more cases and deaths than any other county, confirmed 420 more cases of the virus for a total of 85,591 and recorded six more related deaths for a total of 3,609. Neighboring Oakland County has had 58,316 total cases (276 more than the previous day) and 1,674 deaths (one more). Macomb County has had 50,414 total cases (247 more) and 1,642 deaths (no change).

While the state’s case rate had been on the decline for more than a month, it recently rebounded slightly and now appears to be on a plateau. The seven-day average rate of daily positive tests dropped around Christmas but then rose again; in the last few days, it has been looking better. It is still more than three times the 3% threshold public health officials look for to show community spread is controlled.

Hospitalizations are trending down. Michigan’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said 12.1% of all hospital beds in the state are serving COVID-19 patients. That’s an improvement over last week, but Khaldun noted the rate of decline in that percentage is slowing.

The rate of deaths each day also continues to see improvements.

“Overall, we are in a much better place with our numbers than we were in the beginning of November and we are in a much better place than most other states,” Khaldun said, though she went on to warn that a more transmissible COVID-19 variant that originated in the United Kingdom could still cause problems. “While I’m concerned about the slight uptick in cases after the holidays, we are not seeing the surge in hospitalizations that we saw in the beginning of November.”

VACCINE ROLLOUT

The state has opened up COVID-19 vaccine shots to members of Phase 1B and Group A of Phase 1C, which includes more essential workers like police officers, teachers and child care workers and everyone over the age of 65. However, many local health departments say they simply don’t have the supply on hand to implement a truly broad rollout.

Gov. Whitmer’s Chief Operating Officer Tricia Foster, who’s helping coordinate vaccination logistics, said the process is “not instantaneous” and “wasn’t going to be instantaneous anyway.” She also said providers are administering at least 90% of their supply within a week.

Tricia Foster, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s chief operating officer, discusses the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine during a Jan. 13, 2021, press conference at the Capitol in Lansing. (Courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

“Please be patient,” Whitmer said. “We do not have enough vaccines and it takes time to administer these vaccines, but we are building quickly and it looks like we are going to be coming in to more vaccines soon.”

She again called on people to make a plan to get the vaccine but also to be aware it could take a while. Until then, people should keep wearing following coronavirus mitigation protocols.

Khaldun said people shouldn’t just show up somewhere seeking a shot; they must have an appointment. You can find out if an appointment is available near you on the state’s COVID-19 vaccine webpage.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday that it would start releasing more doses to the states. Still, criticizing the lack of a national vaccination strategy, Whitmer this week asked the federal government to give Michigan permission to buy doses directly from Pfizer, which is manufacturing vials of the vaccine at its plant in Portage.

“(Vaccines are) the greatest tool that we have to end this pandemic,” Whitmer said.

  

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