Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon announced Monday that the state is extending by 12 days an emergency order limiting some businesses and school activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The restrictions, initially intended to last three weeks, through Dec. 8, stop in-person instruction at high schools and colleges, halt high school athletics and close bar and restaurant dining rooms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and casinos.
Barber shops, gyms, retail stores are allowed to remain open and preschool through eighth-grade classes can continue under the order.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the state has made progress during the initial order, but noted that hospitals are still nearing capacity while deaths in the state remain high – before the effects of Thanksgiving gatherings are fully reflected in the data.
“A month ago, we were worried, and we warned that on the trajectory we were on we could see 100 deaths a day by Christmas. That was what we were worried about. Here we are a few weeks before Christmas, and we are already, sadly, above that mark,” Whitmer said. “That means our progress is fragile. We cannot let up yet.”
While the order is now scheduled to expire on Dec. 20, Gordon said not all businesses will be able to re-open at the same time.
“One thing we’ve learned is that progress against COVID is hard to earn, and easy to lose. We need to re-open cautiously, not recklessly,” Gordon said.
The first thing to resume operation would be in person instruction for high school students. Next in line would be entertainment venues like casinos, bowling alleys and movie theaters, but they will be required to keep their concessions closed to ensure that people wear their face masks for the entirety of their visit.
“Concessions need to stay closed, because if they’re open, individuals are eating and drinking, unmasked, together. The science on eating and drinking inside is settled,” Gordon said.
Additional business re-openings would be evaluated after that time period, Gordon said, meaning that some of the restrictions will likely last beyond Dec. 20.
“If progress continues, we will eagerly re-open venues beyond those I’ve described. We’re not ready to do that now, and it’s unlikely we’ll be ready to do so in 12 days, but we will do so as soon as we can,” Gordon said.
Gordon identified three metrics that will inform the state in deciding when businesses can re-open: the percentage of hospital beds with COVID-19 patients, the number of daily cases of the virus and the test positivity rate.
Regardless of where the state’s numbers are on Dec. 20, Whitmer urged everyone to not gather with people from outside their own household on Christmas.
“It doesn’t mean we canceled Christmas, it means we celebrate in a responsible way and we make our plan now to do that,” Whitmer said. “In order to make sure that next year’s celebration can be like last year’s, where we have everyone together, this year’s has to be smart. This year’s has to be celebrated at home with the people with whom you live.”
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said that there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of vaccines and urged everyone to continue wearing their masks and social distancing until the vaccines are widely available.
“We are almost there: 2021 will be the year that Michigan beats back this pandemic, and we just have to stay the course,” Khaldun said.
But Khaldun noted that the vaccine likely wouldn’t be widely available to everyone until the spring, and requires two shots separated by several weeks.
Khaldun said that means “we will likely be well into the second half of 2021 before we really start seeing a significant impact” from vaccinations.
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in October that a 1945 state law from which Whitmer’s previous executive orders had drawn their power was unconstitutional.
Democrats flipped party control of the Michigan Supreme Court in the Nov. 3 election, taking a 4-3 majority that begins in January.
The MDHHS orders draw authority from a separate law that was not at question in that lawsuit.
Michigan had 404,386 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Monday, and 9,947 people have died from the virus.
Of the confirmed cases, 15,035 are in Genesee County, and 439 people in the county have died from the virus.