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Indoor dining pause continues under order; All vaccine clinic slots filled at MCHD, more to be announced

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday updated its epidemic order to allow reopening of additional activities such as indoor group exercise and non-contact sports.

However, the order continues to temporarily pause indoor dining in bars and restaurants until Feb. 1, but they can continue to offer outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery.

Reopened are activities where Michiganders can remain masked and socially distanced, as this has been scientifically shown to slow the virus, according to the State Emergency Operations Center. This includes indoor group exercise and non-contact sports.

The new order is effective Saturday and will last until Jan. 31.

“The efforts we have made together to protect our families, frontline workers and small business owners are working,” Whitmer said in a statement. “While there has been a slight uptick in our percent positivity rate, our cases per million have plateaued and more hospital beds are becoming available.”

Whitmer said one of the most important things Michiganders can do is to make a plan to get the safe and effective vaccine when it’s available to them, and mask up and maintain 6 feet of social distancing.

“We continue to make progress in our fight against this virus, and expanding vaccination to health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, some essential frontline workers and those age 65 and older is bringing us closer to ending the pandemic,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, in a statement.

MDHHS previously had identified stabilization or declines in three metrics as critical for relaxing protocols. Although Michigan saw improvements across all three following the “pause” implemented in mid-November, some numbers have plateaued or begun to increase in recent days:

≤ Hospital capacity dedicated to COVID-19 patients has been in a 13-day decline, with current capacity at 12% for beds with COVID-19 patients. Capacity peaked at 19.6% on Dec. 4;

≤ Overall case rates are increasing, currently at 266 cases per million, with the peak at 740 cases per million on Nov. 14 and declining to a low of 239 per million on Dec. 25; and

≤ Positivity rate is plateauing, and is currently at 9.1% after reaching a low of 8.1% on Dec. 28. It has increased up to a 10% positivity rate since then.

“The new order allows group exercise and non-contact sports, always with masks and social distancing, because in the winter it’s not as easy to get out and exercise and physical activity is important for physical and mental health,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said in a statement. “We are glad that we made it through the holidays without a big increase in numbers, but there are also worrying signs in the new numbers.

“We need to remain focused and continue to see declines in hospitalizations and to bring case rates and percent positivity down by doing what we know works.”

Indoor residential gatherings remain limited to 10 people and two households. MDHHS continues to urge families to avoid indoor gatherings or to pick a single other household to interact with consistent with guidance already released by the department.

Families are encouraged to stay home as much as possible to maintain momentum and to protect loved ones. Families are also encouraged to “Mask Up, Mask Right,” using guidance for what masks to wear and how to wear them.

According to the MDHHS, “masking right” includes wearing one of three options of masks that provide stronger protection: three-layered washable cloth face coverings, medical-grade disposable masks or approved KN95 masks. It also includes wearing the approved mask correctly and having it secured over the nose and face and tightly fitting without gaps.

Indoor dining ban still on

The epidemic order continues to temporarily pause indoor dining in bars and restaurants, but they can continue to offer outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery.

The working plan is to open indoor dining with mitigation measures such as mask requirements, capacity limits and a curfew on Feb. 1, but the ultimate decision depends on pandemic metrics continuing to stabilize.

Additional details on the reopening pathway are expected next week.

“We need to get this right,” Whitmer said during a Wednesday news conference.

Colleges and universities can have students return to campus for the winter semester and restart in-person courses as of Jan. 18.

As before, employees who work in jobs that cannot be performed from home can continue to go to work, while employees who can work from home should continue to do so. Individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed: retail shopping, public transit, restaurant takeout and personal-care services such as haircuts, by appointment.

Vaccine appointments fill quickly

It appears the demand for the COVID-19 vaccine is tremendous.

The Marquette County Health Department reported early Wednesday afternoon that since it began scheduling appointments for vaccinations to be administered to people age 65 and over today and Friday at the Baraga Gym in Marquette, 845 appointments already were made.

This accounts for the available clinic appointments for people in that age bracket based upon current vaccine allotment in hand.

Although what it called “technical difficulties” in making the scheduling link at mqthealth.org live were experienced Wednesday morning, appointments filled up rapidly.

In a Wednesday Facebook post, MCHD said 400 appointments were filled online in about 30 seconds. In another post, it indicated its phone lines for making appointments were overwhelmed.

MCHD issued an announcement in the afternoon saying it continued vaccinating essential personnel in Phase 1A on Wednesday. It will announce additional appointment availability for individuals age 65 and over on Friday. The number of appointments available will be determined by the actual allotment of vaccine received by MCHD from MDHHS.

For essential workers slated to receive a vaccine, scheduling will be conducted through their employers.

MCHD encourages everyone age 16 and older to receive a vaccination when it becomes available to them.

The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department said in a Wednesday Facebook post that due to high demand and limited vaccine inventory, WUPHD is unable to schedule additional community clinics at this time.

It anticipates receiving more vaccine shipments in the coming weeks, and as soon as possible, it will offer more clinics.

Until there are enough vaccines for everyone who wishes to get their doses, the WUPHD urges residents to reach out to one of its health care partners if they have started scheduling appointments for adults age 65 and over.

Outhouse Classic canceled

Organizers for the 28th Ever Trenary Outhouse Classic announced the event will not take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We held off as long as we could with this decision, but unfortunately, things are coming down to the wire and a decision had to be made,” a Wednesday Facebook post reads.

The race typically takes place on the last Saturday in February.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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