State extends COVID-19 restrictions amid ‘alarmingly high’ hospitalizations

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Facing record hospitalizations for COVID-19 infections across the state, Michigan health officials are extending the state’s pandemic control orders for 12 more days. 

The move comes after a call by the Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA) to extend the current health orders. 

“Michigan was on the path to record COVID-19 case rates, deaths and hospitalizations when this order was adopted in November,” MHA leaders wrote in a public plea to the governor this morning. “Today, our hospitals continue to face critical healthcare worker staffing shortages and troubling bed capacity numbers. Our teams on the front lines are exhausted as this second surge continues; we never truly recovered from the first. Now, data is indicating slight declines in COVID-19 emergency department visits, daily admissions and total hospitalizations. As physicians, we’re telling you: these measures are working.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the state, said some hospitals had up to 78% of the hospital beds filled up with COVID-19 patients. She called the situation “alarmingly high.”

DHHS graphic, Dec. 7, 2020

On Monday, the state reported 9,350 new cases diagnosed on Sunday and Monday. It also saw 93 new deaths. Overall, the state has 404,386 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 9,947 deaths. 

The restrictions will remain unchanged from orders issued on Nov. 18. Those provisions shut down indoor dining, bars, high schools, colleges and other locations where groups gather. It also established tight rules on outdoor gatherings and strong recommendations for indoor gatherings at homes. 

After state officials announced the restrictions extension, the MHA praised the move. 

Whitmer and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon said the health officials would review data on three trends related to the virus to determine next steps. Those trends include hospitalization rates, positivity rates and the overall number of people with the virus. 

“If the numbers in these areas [Gordon] articulated are going down and in the judgement of our medical professionals we can do so, we will begin some phased-in lifting of restrictions,” said Whitmer. “But in a methodical way in consultation with our medical professionals.

Top on the list of easing restrictions is getting high schools back to in-person education, Gordon and Whitmer said during the press conference.

“I believe our first priority should be getting our students back in the classroom,” said Gordon. “That is paramount.”

Whitmer wants $300M more for COVID-19, including vaccine distribution

In addition to announcing the extension of the epidemic orders, Whitmer also renewed her call on the Legislature to work with her to extend unemployment benefits well past the end of the year. 

“We’ve got to get this extension beyond the calendar year done, so people at the beginning of the year aren’t struggling to get by,” Whitmer said. 

She’s asked the legislature to approve an additional $100 million to assist small business and laid off workers. 

She also called for Congress to act on the federal level to release more funding, particularly to fill the gaps. She said in a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) there were indications the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may be on the verge of agreeing to some form of relief for states. 

A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers last week introduced a bill that would authorize $980 billion to prop up the flagging economy and protect some workers. That’s far short of the $3 trillion package passed earlier this year by the House. That legislation is gathering dust on McConnell’s desk in the Senate.

Slotkin, Upton back new bipartisan pandemic relief proposal

Despite a glimmer of hope on the horizon with the pending approval of coronavirus vaccines, Khaldun said it was unlikely the vaccinations would be readily available for the general public until “late spring” of 2021. 

Noting the state has had a “horrible time” this past year, Whitmer said “This is real progress we are on the cusp of. But we can’t stop fighting.”

All three state officials encouraged Michiganders to remain vigilant against the virus by remaining six foot from other people, not socializing with others who do not live under the same roof, wearing masks and frequent handwashing. 

Whether the current epidemic orders are extended beyond Dec. 20, Whitmer said she is encouraging people not to gather for Christmas this year. 

“No matter what we show in the next 12 days, I am discouraging people from gathering for Christmas,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we are canceling Christmas. It means we are gathering with people who live with us and finding ways to keep others in our spirit and communicating with them.”