Whitmer moves up end of epidemic orders

Effective Tuesday, indoor and outdoor settings can be at full capacity, state won’t require masks

MARQUETTE — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday accelerated the end of all COVID-19 epidemic orders on gatherings and masking as COVID-19 cases continue to plummet following increased vaccinations.

Beginning Tuesday, capacity in both indoor and outdoor settings will increase to 100% and the state will no longer require residents to wear a face mask.

“Today is a day that we have all been looking forward to, as we can safely get back to normal day-to-day activities and put this pandemic behind us,” Whitmer said in a statement. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the medical experts and health professionals who stood on the front lines to keep us all safe. And we are incredibly thankful to all of the essential workers who kept our state moving.

“Thanks to the millions of Michiganders who rolled up their sleeves to get the safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine, we have been able to make these changes ahead of schedule.”

The top priority going forward, she said, is using the federal relief funding in a “smart, sustainable way” as Michigan residents back to work and the economy is jumpstarted.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure that Michigan’s families, small businesses and communities emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever before,” she said.

Nearly five million Michiganders ages 16 and older have received their first vaccine dose, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. According to data from the Michigan Care Improvement Registry, half of Michigan residents have completed their vaccination and over 60% have gotten their first shots.

“This is great news and a day all of us have been looking forward to for more than a year,” said Elizabeth Hertel, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director, in a statement. “We have said all along that the vaccine would help us return to a sense of normalcy and today we announce that day is here.”

However, the Associated Press reported this vaccination rate is “short of the state’s goal, which is to vaccinate 70% as quickly as possible. The governor previously scrapped a plan to tie full reopening to the 70% mark, instead announcing on May 20 the end of outdoor capacity limits effective June 1 and indoor restrictions effective July 1.”

According to the governor’s office, case rates, percent positivity and hospitalizations have all plummeted over the past several weeks. Currently, Michigan is reporting 24.3 cases per million and has recorded a 1.9% positivity rate over the last seven days.

The seven-day average of new infections was 198, the lowest rate in nearly a year, the AP reported.

However, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, acknowledged more work needs to be done.

“We can’t let our guard down as there continue to be several variants of the COVID-19 virus circulating in our state, including the concerning Delta variant,” Khaldun said in a statement. “The COVID-19 vaccine is the most important tool we have to reduce the spread of the virus and I urge everyone ages 12 and up who has not yet received their vaccine to get it as soon as possible.”

In addition to the Gatherings and Mask Order, additional orders are being rescinded as of Tuesday. These orders include:

≤ Temporary Restrictions for Entry into Congregate Care and Juvenile Justice Facilities

≤ Mandatory Testing for Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Juvenile Justice Facility Staff

≤ Mandatory Testing for Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Hospitals and Centers Staff

≤ Exceptions to Temporary Restrictions on Entry into Congregate Care and Juvenile Justice Facilities

≤ Exceptions to Temporary Restrictions on Entry into Certain Facilities

≤ Safe Housing for Housing Unstable Individuals

≤ Handling of Bodily Remains

≤ Safe Housing for Michigan Homeless

Additionally, some orders will remain in effect to protect vulnerable populations in corrections, long-term care and agriculture, the governor’s office said. Public health measures will continue for reporting requirements and COVID testing to make sure areas where community spread is high are identified, kids are safe in school and free COVID-19 tests are available. Guidance for keeping children and staff safe in schools will be released next week.

MDHHS will continue to provide recommendations to keep residents safe and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in higher risk settings and places where vulnerable populations or populations with large numbers of individuals are not yet fully vaccinated, officials said.

Governor supports ‘hero pay’

Whitmer on Thursday announced her support for “hero pay” for frontline and essential workers in Michigan. With billions in federal relief funding available, the “hero pay” proposal, which was put forward by Sen. Marshall Bullock, D-Detroit, and Rep. Cynthia Neeley, D-Flint, would provide one-time payments to essential employees for “serving admirably through the pandemic as they kept the state and their fellow Michiganders moving,” officials said.

“The hundreds of thousands of folks who worked through the pandemic to keep the rest of us going embody what being a Michigander is all about: You care for your neighbors, you work hard, you get it done no matter the odds,” Whitmer said in a statement. “We must ensure they have the support they need to thrive as we emerge from the pandemic together. I will fight alongside my colleagues in the Michigan House and Senate to ensure that frontline and essential workers get the hero pay they deserve as we continue our economic jumpstart, and I look forward to signing a piece of legislation that makes effective use of the federal stimulus dollars we have to invest in working families and communities.”

Currently, more than half of all occupations in the U.S. with a median wage below $15 per hour are considered essential, the governor’s office said. While some companies have stepped in to provide hero pay to frontline employees, many have not, according to the governor’s office.

The resolutions put forward by the House and Senate Democrats build on previous actions Michigan took in using federal dollars to disburse hero pay to a group of frontline essential workers in public-sector-funded industries, including a one-time $1,000 for first responders and a $2-per-hour for direct-care workers who provided Medicaid-funded care.

Jamie Brown, a registered nurse and president of the Michigan Nurses Association, on Thursday issued a statement in response to support expressed by Whitmer and legislators for hero pay for essential workers.

“Nurses and other health care workers have risked our lives taking care of others throughout the pandemic,” Brown said. “We are burned out and exhausted. At times, we have felt abandoned. Investing in hero pay is important because it will send a message that we are truly valued and hopefully prevent even more RNs from leaving our profession.

“We desperately need to be able to retain the nurses necessary to keep our patients safe. We urge bipartisan support for this important initiative.”

The Michigan Nurses Association has been consistently calling for the government and health systems to appropriately compensate frontline workers through hero pay, it said.

NMU to continue to track COVID

Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson updated the NMU community on the COVID-19 situation in a Wednesday letter.

“As we have since March 2020, NMU will continue to track the COVID-19 cases of students, faculty and staff, both on and off campus, in the upcoming academic year,” Erickson wrote. “We receive assistance in this monitoring from the Marquette County Health Department. Our COVID-19 dashboard will become operational on a daily basis again on Aug. 23, the start of fall classes. Currently, COVID-19 levels in Marquette County and the entire Upper Peninsula are very low.”

Regarding vaccination coverage, including students, faculty and staff, he stressed that understanding vaccination levels for the overall on-campus population helps NMU officials estimate the potential level of COVID-19 transmission at the university.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Education and MDHHS recommend that institutions of higher learning use their knowledge of their vaccination levels in making decisions about their pandemic protocols and response.

“We are trying to do that,” Erickson said.

He also addressed vaccination levels.

“If our (vaccination) levels are high, continued daily self-monitoring of symptoms may be all that we need to require to effectively identify those with COVID-19,” Erickson said. “We’ll share our final decisions regarding testing later in July.”

He also said that once NMU has information about the requirements the MDHHS or the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration has in place after July 1, it will pass along its approach as it continues a “safe transition to a more pre-pandemic environment.”

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


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