Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday doubled down on her strategy to ease Michigan out of its outgoing COVID-19 outbreak by focusing on mass vaccinations rather than issuing more health and business restrictions.
When Whitmer held a COVID-19 update on April 9, the state was experiencing its worst surge yet. Whitmer had called for a two-week “voluntary pause” on in-person activities to quell the rising case numbers.
Michigan has a total of 833,891 confirmed cases and 17,467 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon. According to the COVID ActNow tracker, Michigan remains at “very high risk” for COVID-19 with a “dangerous number of new cases.”
“I want to thank all the people that stepped up and did their part by taking this seriously. Thanks to you, our numbers are starting to come down again,” Whitmer said during a COVID-19 press conference Thursday. “… While the daily case count, test positivity and hospitalization numbers are still not where we want them to be, we’re headed in the right direction.”
As of Thursday, Michigan has administered 6.7 million vaccines; that number is expected to hit 7 million over the coming weekend. Whitmer reiterated her topline goal of equitably vaccinating 70% of Michiganders aged 16 and up, which equates to roughly 5.67 million people in the state receiving both shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
To reach that goal, Whitmer unveiled the new “MI Vacc to Normal” plan with targeted steps that will also unlock fewer COVID-19 restrictions in the state:
- Two weeks after 55% of eligible residents have received their first shot (around 4.5 million Michiganders), the state will lift remote work requirements — likely to happen by the end of next week, according to Whitmer.
- Two weeks after 60% of eligible residents have received their first shot (around 4.9 million Michiganders), the state will lift curfews on bars and restaurants while increasing indoor capacity to 25% at sports stadiums, conference centers, banquet halls and to 50% at gyms.
- Two weeks after 65% of eligible residents have received their first shot (around 5.3 million Michiganders), the state will lift all indoor capacity limits, relax social distancing rules and relax residential social gathering limits.
- Two weeks after 70% of eligible residents have received their first shot (around 5.7 million Michiganders), statewide gathering and face mask orders will be lifted. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will also “no longer impose broad mitigation measures” unless unanticipated circumstances arise, including spread of the B-117 variant.
For steps two and three, Whitmer noted that DHHS may delay implementation in certain regions if their seven-day average of new cases is greater than 250 cases a day per million.
“We believe this is unlikely, but it’s an important safety valve if something unexpected were to happen,” Whitmer said.
DHHS also plans to relax rules for outdoor gatherings as early as Friday.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said that since he last joined Whitmer at a COVID-19 press update, DHHS has made “tremendous progress” in limiting race disparities in COVID.
“While Black residents make up just over 13% of Michigan’s population, we represented a staggering 29.4% of the cases in the early days of tracking COVID-19” a year ago, Gilchrist said. “In the past two weeks of available data, the state has maintained the progress in limiting the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, with Black residents accounting for less than 11% of the cases.”
Gilchrist plans to launch a “Making Real Change” tour across the state to continue this work and encourage equitable distribution of vaccines, with stops scheduled in Flint, Grand Rapids, Detroit and Saginaw.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical officer and chief deputy director for health for the DHHS, said that current COVID-19 metrics are “better,” but “still not where we want to be.”
“Our COVID-19 cases remain high. But I’m pleased that we are starting to see key metrics trend in the right direction,” Khaldun said.
Broad community spread is still ongoing, and DHHS reported this week 493 cases per million; 30% lower than two weeks ago, but still four times higher than the middle of February.
There also are over 1,272 outbreaks across the state being tracked by DHHS.