Instead of enacting new COVID-19 regulations or policies, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged high schools to pause in-person learning and youth sports — both school-sponsored and non-school sponsored — teams to suspend in-person activities, like games and practices, for the next two weeks to prevent additional outbreaks.
She also recommends Michiganders avoid indoor dining and gathering with friends over this time period. This comes at a time when Michigan is ranked highest in the nation for new COVID-19 cases.
These are not regulations or policies, only suggestions. There are still public health rules in place like the mask mandate, limits on indoor social gatherings and mandatory testing requirements. Whitmer encouraged people to continue adhering to these regulations to mitigate the spread of the virus but will not be taking further policy actions in Michigan.
Whitmer and the health administration in Michigan attribute the rise in cases to lack of regulation compliance, COVID-19 variants and mobility issues.
“We know that policy changes alone won’t reduce the spread,” she said.
Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Joneigh Khaldun urged residents of the state to pause activities and said that just because something is open, does not mean it is safe.
“There is light at the end of this tunnel,” Whitmer said. “But the recent rise in cases is a reminder that we are still in the tunnel. The only way out is forward and together.”
Whitmer said those who are following regulations and taking steps to get vaccinated aren’t the cause of the rising cases, but rather travelers, those who refuse to wear a mask or participate in large gatherings against policy.
There has been a surge in cases that is greater than last fall and four times higher than what was being reported in February, according to a report from ClickOnDetroit. Those testing positive are most associated with younger age groups like teens and young adults, which means mortality rates are lower.
Positive tests are also at an all-time high, with an 18% positivity rate in Michigan, the report said. This is concerning to the MDHHS as testing has increased far more than at the start of the pandemic.
This kind of surge has not been seen since last spring, when the pandemic began, according to Khaldun.
“There is broad community spread,” Khaldun said.
Nearly 15% of hospital beds are taken by COVID-19 patients, and there are currently 991 outbreaks in counties across Michigan, according to Khaldun. The labs have also identified more than 2,000 cases in 60 counties across the state of new COVID-19 variants, which are far more contagious by 50% to 75%.
“Because we are seeing so many cases a day our public health system is overwhelmed,” Khaldun said. “We are not able to get information on many cases, nor are we able to identify their close contacts. We don’t know where all the cases or outbreaks are, and what we do know is likely an undercount.”
There were 7,819 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Michigan as of Thursday.
Whitmer pushes for increased vaccine allocation for the state
In total, almost 40% of Michigan residents are fully vaccinated. Anyone over the age of 16 is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. Whitmer said Michigan has officially administered nearly 5 million vaccines to over 3 million Michigan residents.
In a meeting with President Joe Biden on Thursday night, Whitmer urged Biden and various agencies in the administration to focus on a surge strategy. A surge strategy would encourage vaccine distribution to go toward states experiencing significantly high jumps in COVID-19 cases, like Michigan.
“We are making great progress, but we just need more vaccines,” Whitmer said.
At this point, she said the surge strategy is not being deployed, but she is not giving up. She said focusing on the hotspots and vaccine distribution equity is one of the most important parts of a national health strategy.
“Today it is Michigan and the Midwest,” she said. “Tomorrow it could be another section of our country.”
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