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New Epidemic Order in Response to Rising Cases

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holds a press conference on COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan.)

By Annah Johnson

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave a COVID-19 update press conference Friday to announce a new epidemic order to go into effect on March 22, as well as vaccine availability opening up to more Michiganders.

“Michigan’s path forward out of the COVID pandemic is clear,” Whitmer said. “We’ve gotta keep masking up, we’ve gotta ramp up testing, and we’re going to invest billions from federal funds from the Biden administration to help small businesses, support working families and get our kids back in school.”

The governor continued to push citizens to get vaccinated, explaining that a high inoculation percentage is essential in getting life back to normal. At the time of the press conference, 3,310,162 doses had been administered in the state, and are steadily rising.

“Our goal remains to equitably vaccinate 70% of Michiganders 16 and up,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer announced that the Ford Field in Detroit is hosting a FEMA vaccination center. With the ability to administer 6,000 doses per day for eight weeks, it will be one of the largest mass-vaccination sites in the country. Texting ‘EndCOVID’ to 75049 will allow those interested in a vaccine to schedule an appointment or you can visit the Meijer clinic request information page.

“On Wednesday, we had zero reported deaths for the first time in months,” Whitmer said, noting though that cases are on the rise.

The state currently has identified 756 cases of the B117 variant, with Michigan accounting for the second-highest number of cases in the country – just behind Florida. Two identified cases of the B1351 variant have been reported in the state as well.

“Last week’s numbers are a reality check that COVID-19 is not yet behind us,” Whitmer said. “We may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but we are still in the tunnel.”

Whitmer reflected President Joe Biden’s comments from earlier in the week that continuing to get the population vaccinated may ensure that Americans will be able to spend the 4th of July together.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Deputy Director for Michigan Department of  Health and Human Services reported that metrics are heading in a concerning direction. Case rates have risen to 173 cases per million, a 77% increase over the past four weeks. The 10-19 age group has seen the most significant increase. Also steadily increasing are positive test rates, which are now at 6.2%. Hospitalization rates have been increasing for the past two weeks, with inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients at 4.9%.

The number of outbreaks has increased 9% in a single week, with K-12 facilities accounting for more reported cases than long-term care facilities for the first time. The outbreaks within the younger population are tied heavily with transmission through sports teams and events.

“This is concerning,” Khaldun said. “Outbreaks in this age group can have an impact on our children’s education… I also want to remind people, that while children are less likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, they still can. Or they can pass it on to people in their household, or their communities who can get very sick.”

The MDHHS is currently tracking and studying a multi-system inflammatory syndrome that has been associated with COVID-19 and children. So far 89 cases have been found in Michigan children. Khaldun explained that this is only another reason to be cautious about adhering to protocol and showing children the importance of doing so.

“The bottom line is that we all have a responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Khaldun said. “And I am concerned about our current numbers…We could potentially be at the beginning of another surge in Michigan.”

Khaldun stressed the importance that the collective effort of all citizens will determine the fate of reopening the state. 

March 22, Michiganders age 50 and up, as well as those over the age of 16 with underlying conditions or disabilities, are eligible to be vaccinated. On April 5, all Michiganders aged 16 and up will be eligible to get vaccinated with no restrictions. 

MDHHS’s new epidemic order effective from March 22 through April 19 includes:

  • Gatherings permitted outdoors with fixed seating at a 20% capacity limit
  • Requires 13-19-year-old athletes to be tested before all practices and events
  • Allows mask removal at residential gatherings if all participants are vaccinated fully