By Annah Johnson
Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services appeared for a press conference today to offer updates regarding COVID-19.
Since the Dec. 18 press conference, the number of active cases, positivity rate, and percentage of in-patient beds have all declined.
“These numbers are encouraging,” said Whitmer as she began the briefing. Although things are looking up, Whitmer and her team are heavily encouraging Michiganders to stay put for New Year’s celebrations to prevent a surge following the holidays.
Whitmer and Khaldun repeatedly urged citizens to follow the previously outlined safety measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Hand washing, wearing masks during contact with anyone outside of your household, and physically distancing yourself from others continue to be the biggest asset in slowing the spread.
Over the past two weeks, 71,000 citizens in Michigan have been receiving the vaccinations made available by Pfizer and Moderna. Following the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices priority guidelines, the first round of vaccines has begun to be administered in long-term living and care facilities to staff and residents, as well as other healthcare facilities.
“It will take time for this vaccine to be widely distributed to everyone, and that’s why it’s important that we continue to do our part,” said Whitmer. She also advised that those who have already been vaccinated still need to follow original safety protocols.
Making a plan to be vaccinated is an important step in the process of a national inoculation. Whitmer encouraged those included in later phases of vaccine rollout to make a plan for themselves and their family members to receive the vaccine.
Information regarding the vaccines and frequently asked questions are all available on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website.
A supplemental budget, including a $106 million COVID-19 relief plan, was signed by Whitmer today with bipartisan support. This will distribute $55 million to small businesses, $3.5 million for live music and entertainment venues, and $45 million to citizens who have been laid off or furloughed. Whitmer also signed into action an unemployment benefits extension through March, with hopes of increasing the weekly benefit amount.
“2020 is coming to an end this week, but our work is not done,” Whitmer said, “I want to remind all of you that this pandemic will not be over just with the beginning of a new year.”
Khaldun reported that Michigan is currently at 480,508 total recorded cases and 12,089 COVID-19 related deaths.
The metrics that the state has been using to track progress are all showing a slow decline in recent weeks. Current active cases are at 279 per million, which has been on the decline for the last 38 days but is still almost four times the amount recorded in September. The test positivity rate is at 8.4%, a decline from the past few weeks but is almost three times the amount recorded in September. In-patient beds being used for COVID-19 patients is down from 16.5% last week, to 13.8%. COVID-19 related deaths are at an average of 107 per day, also a decline from weeks prior.
“What we are seeing in the data is not a cause to celebrate,” Khaldun said. “While Michiganders are doing a great job bringing our cases down, that progress is fragile.”
Still worried that there may be a surge we have yet to see following Christmas gatherings, she warned that we are still not where we need to be.
Testing in Michigan is down to 37,307 tests this week, much less than what public health officials would like to see. Khaldun urged citizens to get tested if they are experiencing any symptoms or have been in contact with someone experiencing them.
During public questioning, Khaldun eased suspicion about the safety of the vaccines. Only those who have experienced negative effects from medications or prior vaccines have reported any reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine.
After much talk of the recommended physical safety measures, Khaldun also reminded citizens that being distant from family members during the holidays can take a mental toll, and encouraged them to reach out to loved ones and take care of mental and emotional health during these times.