Flint, MI–The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a public health advisory ahead of Thanksgiving encouraging everyone ages two and older to wear masks at indoor gatherings regardless of their vaccination status.

While the health department is only recommending mask use–stopping short of issuing a new mask mandate–it encouraged businesses to implement their own mask requirements and advised individuals who are not fully vaccinated or who are immunocompromised to avoid large gatherings.

The advisory came as cases of COVID-19 surge statewide, paired with an influx of seasonal viruses like influenza.

When it was issued Nov. 19, Michigan was the worst COVID-19 hotspot in the United States, leading the nation in new cases per population over the seven days prior, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Michigan accounted for 1 in 10 new cases in the entire United States as of last week.

Michigan also experienced its highest seven-day case rate of the pandemic last week, reporting 53,575 new cases. The state’s test positivity rate climbed to an average of 17% from Nov. 12 to Nov. 18.

In Genesee County, there was a weekly case rate of 337.1 cases per 100,000 people and a seven-day average test positivity rate of 19.1% as of Nov. 19. The county, like most of the state, is categorized as being at high risk for transmission by the CDC.

As of Nov. 22, the state reported 3,917 patients were in the hospital with COVID-19.

Hospitals in Flint have reached or are nearing 100 percent bed occupancy.

Hurley Medical Center reported 55 COVID-19 patients as of Nov. 22, while McLaren Flint reported 79 patients with COVID-19.

Hurley Medical Center said in a Facebook post to the community that a majority of the patients being hospitalized due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

“If more people were vaccinated, that would help reduce the number of COVID-19 patients, since most of the COVID-19 patients we are providing care to remain unvaccinated,” they said.

The hospital noted that they are caring for the COVID-19 patients in addition to anyone who comes in for other medical emergencies, such as car accidents, heart attacks, or strokes, and expressed concern about how a surge of the flu paired with the current COVID-19 surge could exacerbate the capacity issues.

They encouraged everyone to get their COVID-19 vaccine or booster, get a flu vaccine, and wear masks when in indoor public spaces or outdoors and unable to socially distance.

“The increases in case counts, percent positivity and hospitalizations have us very concerned,” said MDHHS director Elizabeth Hertel. “We are issuing the face mask advisory and are looking to Michiganders to do their part to help protect their friends, their families and their communities by wearing a mask in indoor settings and getting vaccinated for COVID-19 and flu as soon as possible if they have not already done so.”

Andrew Roth is a reporter and photographer covering politics and policy in Michigan, as well technology, culture and their convergence. Andrew is a journalism student at Michigan State University and first...