Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced during a press conference Monday that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has extended the COVID-19 pause by 12 additional days.
MDHHS Chief Medical Executive Director Dr. Joneigh Khaldun and MDHHS Director Robert Gordon joined Whitmer.
"While there are some signs that things may be improving, we are clearly still in the midst of our second surge of COVID-19 in Michigan," Khaldun said.
The 'three-weeks pause' order, which began Nov. 15, was extended to understand the full impact of Thanksgiving travel on COVID-19 cases. The epidemic order targets indoor gathering activities, such as closing bars, indoor dining and high schools.
Places with on-site dining options are connected to an increase in COVID-19 cases, according to Whitmer. Adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to report dining at a restaurant than those who tested negative.
"This is not the restaurant's fault. ... This is how COVID-19 spreads," Whitmer said.
About half of Michigan bars currently face permanent closure, according to a statement from the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA).
"On average, bars are still spending $7,000 per week on operating costs while losing out on an average of $12,000 per week in potential revenue," MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis said. "On top of that, only 15 percent of bars are open for any type of outdoor service and roughly 55 percent are open for carry-out."
The MLBA has been advocating for financial assistance for the bar industry, Ellis said. In her remarks, Whitmer said she urged bipartisan support of $100 million in COVID-19 relief funds.
Whitmer also called for bipartisan support of mask requirements and a permanent extension of unemployment benefits.
Of all hospital beds in Michigan, 79% are currently occupied, with 19% of beds housing COVID-19 patients.
"It's important that our hospitals be able to take care of not just COVID patients, but non-COVID patients as well," Khaldun said.
Whitmer said hospital overwhelm is different than when COVID-19 hit Michigan. In the spring, patients could be transferred from areas with high COVID-19 cases to areas with lower cases. At that time, health care workers were able to help other overwhelmed hospitals.
At this time, Whitmer said all Michigan hospitals are filling up and staffing capabilities are limited.
Currently, Michigan's case rate is at 522 COVID-19 cases per million, Khaldun said. Cases are trending down, but are still seven times the rate of COVID-19 in September.
On some days, COVID-19 deaths total at over 100, Khaldun said.
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At this time, two COVID-19 vaccines are in the approval process and could be available as early as this month, Khaldun said.
Across Michigan, over 280 sites have enrolled in the COVID-19 vaccination program. Khaldun said no steps have been skipped in the vaccine process and it will only be provided if it is approved by medical experts.
"One of the most important things every adult should be doing right now is planning for how they will get the vaccine when it becomes available to them," Khaldun said.
The vaccine will require two shots and does not infect the body with COVID-19, it prepares it, Khaldun said.
Mild responses to the vaccine, such as a low fever, a sore arm and fatigue are actually good signs and show the body is preparing to fight COVID-19 if need be, Khaldun said.
Gordon discussed concern over the upcoming holiday season.
Gordon said each life that is lost to COVID-19 is precious and irreplaceable. By taking steps to prevent COVID-19, thousands of Michiganders will get the chance to enjoy the next holiday season.
"For this holiday season let's mask up, let's avoid indoor gatherings and let's give the gift of life," Gordon said.
Over the next 12 days, the MDHHS will look at three metrics to determine the next steps in reopening. These include the percentage of hospital beds housing COVID-19 patients, Michigan COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests, according to Gordon.
If metrics allow, MDHHS will look at allowing high schools to reopen. Then, the department will look at opening movie theatres, bowling alleys and casinos without food or drink options.
Whitmer also mentioned incidents of intimidation of public officials, including armed protesters who gathered outside of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's home Saturday.
"Threats against our elected officials or any office holder, no matter their party, are not acceptable," Whitmer said. "... Hate and violence have no place in Michigan."
These incidents have been fueled by election controversy. It is time to put the election behind us and focus on present COVID-19 challenges, Whitmer said.
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