By Annah Johnson
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced during the Jan. 13 press conference that she and a team of nine governors successfully requested the release of millions of vaccine doses by the federal government. Michigan has become a front runner in combating the spread of COVID-19 as the rest of the country has begun to follow the state’s vaccination phases, now vaccinating those over 65, educators, and the second round of essential workers.
Increased demand for the vaccine is reported as a positive step in working to slow the spread of the virus, but it’s difficult to execute the administration of the vaccine with little federal support.
Michigan officials are hoping to ramp up the distribution and administration of the vaccine to reach their goal of 50,000 shots per day, but have been forced to remain flexible as the doses are being slowly distributed to the state.
“I am happy to announce today that the state has chosen Meijer as the initial pharmaceutical partner to help us administer the COVID-19 vaccines,” Whitmer said. This partnership is projected to speed up the distribution process greatly.
Whitmer explained that her proposal for more support to individuals still struggling with unemployment has resulted in the Unemployment Insurance Agency again issuing weekly $300 payments to over 350,000 claimants in Michigan.
“There is, without question, more work to do,” Whitmer said. The $300 assistance will barely scratch the surface of what will be needed to assist those who are financially struggling, and Whitmer affirmed her belief that a $2,000 stimulus payment is still essential.
“I’m hopeful that the legislature will vote to permanently expand unemployment benefits for Michiganders,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer announced the new Employee Assistance grants for recreational, fitness, entertainment, restaurant and hospitality workers of up to $1,650 will be available for applicants beginning on Jan 15. through Jan. 25.
“The Michigan Strategic Fund board will consider the authorization of $58.5 million in additional COVID-19 support for small businesses to help them keep their lights on, pay their employees, and in some cases, prepare to reopen when the time comes,” Whitmer said.
Through similar packages from Whitmer’s desk, the state has already distributed over $180 million to small businesses, workers and employees across Michigan.
“As we continue working to combat this virus, my administration and I are doing all we can to build on this support to make sure our small businesses not only survive the pandemic but continue to succeed long after it has passed,” Whitmer said.
The main three metrics Michigan has been following to gauge the crisis level during the pandemic have shown slight upticks, but have recently plateaued due to the pause and protocols put in place by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Today, we are confident that the DHHS can lift some of the protocols that were previously in place,” Whitmer said.
Beginning on Jan. 16 through Jan. 31, indoor group fitness classes and non-contact sports may resume with masks and proper distancing. This includes K-12 extracurriculars and sports.
“If numbers continue to head in the right direction, our hope is that we will be able to resume indoor dining with strong safety measures in place on Feb.1,” Whitmer said.
The hopeful reopening of indoor dining would strongly enforce mask-wearing when patrons are not seated, proper ventilation, capacity limits, and a curfew. More information on the possible reopening will become available in the near future.
Whitmer commented that the reports of daily COVID-19 deaths reaching beyond the number of fatalities that occurred on 9/11 are troubling and that reopening is not an issue to be taken lightly. Maintaining that hand washing, mask-wearing, receiving a vaccine once one is available and physical distancing are the biggest tools we have.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported that Michigan totals 525,612 cases and 13,501 COVID-19 related deaths.
With 265 cases per million people increasing from 239 and 9.1% of tests being positive, Khaldun explains these metrics have changed direction for the first time since mid-November, but are now plateauing. Hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients are at 12.1% and steadily decreasing.
Khaldun shared that Michigan is in a far better place, but remains wary of the new strain of coronavirus that has yet to show up in the state.
“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,” Khaldun said.
Robert Gordon, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director, announced that the new order still prohibits indoor gatherings and promotes the same safety measures as before.
“Because of the actions we have taken, we have avoided thousands of COVID cases and there is every reason to believe that we have saved hundreds of lives,” Gordon said.
The new order is focused on promoting physical and emotional health by allowing citizens to safely exercise, recognizing the toll isolation has taken on overall health.
Chief Operating Officer and Executive Lead on Operational Response to Maintain COVID-19 Trish Foster explained that certainty from the federal government is essential to have efficient distribution and administration of the vaccines. Originally, Michigan was slated to receive 300,000 doses a week but is only receiving around 60,000 on average – making the goal of 50,000 doses administered weekly nearly impossible.
“The State of Michigan is not sitting on doses of vaccines,” Foster said. “Every provider is working diligently to schedule through all vaccine doses within a week of receipt.”
Foster explained that delays in the distribution of the vaccine are heavily linked to the lack of federal strategy. The ability to perform a test is far simpler than performing a vaccination, as the drug needs to be stored at extremely low temperatures, administered by a licensed professional, emergency medical technicians need to be on-site, and scheduling follow-up appointments for the second dose all make the process more challenging to coordinate quickly.
Whitmer closed out the press conference reminding citizens that the process of deciding to push back reopening is not as timely as anyone would prefer. Because the process of reporting test results has a 3-10 day turnaround time, it, unfortunately, can quickly push back reopening plans if the numbers spike.