LANSING, Mich. – Last week, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke about the alarming rise of COVID-19 cases across the state and asked residents to voluntarily follow several restrictions over the next two weeks.
Whitmer held her first COVID-19 briefing in 21 days Friday. She and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, revealed case and positivity rates four times what they were in mid-February.
You can watch the full briefing from April 9, 2021, in the video posted above.
“We have not seen that high of a positivity rate since our first surge last spring, a year ago, and that’s concerning because we are doing many more tests than we were then,” Khaldun said. “This indicates that there is now broad community spread.”
The possibility of a new executive order isn’t being taken completely off the table, but Whitmer said she believes Michiganders have the tools needed to slow the spread without additional action from MDHHS.
Instead, she’s asking residents to follow a new set of voluntary restrictions for two weeks.
Whitmer asked Michigan high schools to return to remote learning for the next two weeks.
Officials are worried about COVID-19 spreading in high schools as students return from spring break. Whitmer encouraged districts to have everyone tested before returning from the break.
“Given where we are with our numbers, MDHHS recommends that all high schools pause in-person learning for two weeks,” Khaldun said. “Students and staff should also get tested if they have traveled during that time. As the governor mentioned, we have over 56 pop-up testing sites with schools on campuses across the state that are offering post-spring break testing.”
The state asked all schools to offer an in-person learning option starting March 1. But rising cases and outbreaks have caused some concern, at least at the high school level.
Whitmer and Khaldun also called on youth sports to voluntarily suspend games and practices for two weeks.
“We also recommend that all youth sports — both contact and non-contact — pause both practice and competitions for two weeks,” Khaldun said.
Whitmer was asked why restrictions — on youth sports specifically — are being recommended, and not mandated.
“We know now that we’ve got the tools we need to protect ourselves, and it is less of a policy problem that we have and more of a compliance and variants issue that we are confronting as a state,” Whitmer said.
She said policy changes alone aren’t enough to change the tide.
“We need everyone to step up and to take personal responsibility here,” Whitmer said. “So I’m not taking any options off the table, but in this moment, we are strongly urging that public schools and youth sports voluntarily take action.”
Restaurants are allowed to remain open at 50% capacity, but officials are asking Michiganders to avoid indoor dining for the next two weeks.
“We are strongly urging restaurants and diners to be smart and eat outdoors or get takeout,” Whitmer said. “We know what works.”
“Just because something is open, it does not mean that it is safe or that you should do it,” Khaldun said.
They said dining indoors is risky because it brings people from different households together in a setting in which they take off their masks.
“Infectious disease and public health experts across the country have been quite clear that indoor dining is one of the riskiest things you can do during this pandemic,” Khaldun said. “With the numbers we are seeing now, we simply do not recommend it. You should order takeout, a drive-through service or do outdoor dining. My family orders takeout multiple times per week.
The state recommends avoiding gatherings with people from other households entirely, but if there are gatherings, officials want people to wear masks.
“These are very tough things to do, and we do not make these recommendations lightly,” Khaldun said. “But everyone needs to understand that if we can just pause some of these activities temporarily, it will go a long way to prevent the spread of the virus and save lives.”
Specifically, the governor asked Michiganders to “avoid gathering with friends indoors for two weeks.”
“You should avoid gatherings with multiple households, and if you do have a gathering, it should be small,” Khaldun added. “It should be outside, and people should be wearing a mask. You should get tested if you’ve been exposed, especially if you’ve just returned from a spring break trip. Get tested.”