By Annah Johnson
On March 2, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a state-wide, re-engagement plan to further relax COVID-19 restrictions effective on March 5. With over 2,269,495 vaccines administered in Michigan and some of the lowest cases and positivity rates in the country, the governor and her team have decided now is the time to begin a return back to normal in the state.
Two of the three available COVID-19 vaccines are made in Michigan, Pfizer in Portage, and a new vaccine by Johnson & Johnson out of Grand Rapids.
“I think that it is important to pause, and marvel at the miracle of science that we now have three safe and effective vaccines on the market,” Whitmer said, reflecting on the upcoming one-year anniversary of discovering the virus in Michigan on March 10, 2020.
Whitmer applauded President Joe Biden’s leadership ramping up vaccination across the country and urged citizens to remember the goal of vaccinating 70% of the population has yet to be met – so continuing to follow safety protocols is essential.
Capacity limits for entertainment venues, casinos, retail businesses, gyms and restaurants were increased from 25% capacity to 50%. Non-residential and residential gatherings were given a capacity increase as well. Along with these re-engagements, Whitmer announced that visitations at long-term care facilities following a negative COVID-19 test will be allowed under this new order.
“The increased capacity limits outlined in this order will still give us the ability to protect public health as we carefully track variants and continue leading with science and data,” Whitmer said.
Confident that this step forward will not compromise public health, Whitmer was hopeful that this new order will allow more people to get back to work and begin a path back to normal.
A new workgroup was announced to address the reopening of offices that have been operating remotely for the past year. Business leaders across the state will be advising the administration on how to incrementally reopen in-person business operations.
“All of the momentum that we are seeing is possible because we remain committed to following guidelines that protect public health,” Whitmer said.
An increase in vaccinating, testing and tracing will continue to be major players in mitigating any potential spread. Additional re-engagements will require the state to further support those working in businesses and industries as they reopen, bringing Whitmer to once again urge the legislature to collaborate with her administration to pass the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan.
“Right now, those billions of dollars are gathering dust because the Michigan Legislature has not appropriated them,” Whitmer said, explaining the importance that money has in reviving Michigan’s economy.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported on the metrics that have been used to track the spread of COVID-19. Case rates have plateaued at 91 cases per million people. Test positivity is at 3.7%, showing a slight increase from last week’s 3.5%. Inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients are at 3.9%, down from 4.3% last week.
Concern still grows for the continued spread regarding the B117 strain as the state reaches 422 identified cases, two-thirds of which have been associated with a singular outbreak.
“Our case rates are not what they were in the fall, and we are getting more and more people vaccinated, but please, do be cautious,” Khaldun said. “This virus is still very present in the state and our progress we’ve made is very fragile. So even after you get your vaccine, regardless of which one it is, everyone still needs to keep masking up, socially distancing and following the quarantine and isolation recommendations of your local health department.”