The holiday season is nearly upon us, but for many, this typically festive period is marked by COVID-19, which is still ravaging many parts of the country and the world with just over 11 million cases in the US and just over 246,000 deaths, according to CNN reports. And with the second wave here, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services [MDHHS] announced today a three-week pause on indoor social gatherings, among other group activities, to slow the spread.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer spoke during the roughly 40-minute press conference today with MDHHS officials on the three-week pause to “share a little more perspective” as the state prepares itself for the “tough months ahead.”
Whitmer said that in March, 250 days ago, she stood in the same spot and announced the first cases of COVID-19 that were present here in Michigan.
“In the months that followed the people of our state stepped up to protect one another,” Whitmer said, adding that healthcare workers worked 18-hour shifts in hospitals. “Truck drivers continued to deliver critical supplies, grocery store clerks kept our shelves stocked. Businesses, small and large, retooled so they could produce sorely needed PPE. … educators found creative ways to engage and stay connected to their students and every day people did their part by staying home and masking up when they went out.”
Whitmer went on to say that Michiganders made “huge sacrifices” this year to protect public health, and the state “smashed” the curve by listening to experts and doing what was right. “[We] saved thousands of lives together and because of it we have one of the best economic rebounds in the country.”
Whitmer added that back in March there was a lot unknown about COVID-19.
“We now know wearing a mask is the single most powerful weapon we have against this virus,” she said. “Now eight months after I first spoke to you in March I’m asking that we join forces again because as hard as those first months were for our state these next few months are going to be even harder.”
Whitmer said that for months people have been sounding the alarm about the heightened dangers of the fall and winter surge due to schools opening, more indoor gatherings, and flu season complications
Whitmer added that “we are in the worst moment of the pandemic.”
“To date, the situation has never been more dire; we are at the precipice and we need to take some action as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors the virus will spread more,” she said. “People will get sick and there will be more fatalities and the worst public health emergency our nation has faced in over a century. … Our response is strongest if we are unified and all in this together.”
Whitmer said that it is important to join forces and combat the enemy of COVID-19 to avoid seeing 1,000 deaths per week in the state.
“If we act now though just like we took action in spring and work together we can save lives,” she said, adding that she wants people to reconsider having Thanksgiving with others. “I urge you to make the difficult but right choice because it is ultimately going to be in the long-term benefit of everyone you love.”
Joneigh S. Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director for Health and Human Services, said that on Nov. 14, MDDHS announced a total of 251,813 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 7,994 deaths statewide. In the past seven days, MDHHS announced a total of 44,019 more cases.
“Some of those cases will not beat this virus, they will die,” Khaldun said, adding in the past week, 416 people have died from the virus and by next February, there could be as many as 20,000 additional COVID-19-related deaths. “Even if they live [they are] facing potentially long-term health consequences.”
Khaldun added that if the state does not act now ”there is no question the next several months will be deadly and grim” she said, also mentioning that the virus is not like the cold or the flu.
She also said that state case rates are “rising at an alarming rate” and overall the state is at a case rate of 513 cases per million; the percent of tests coming back positive is 12.5 percent.
Khaldun also said that at one point, the state tested 54,000 people in a day, though “we still need to test more,” she said.
If possibly exposed to the coronavirus or displaying symptoms [like fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of sense of smell] find a location to get tested by calling 211 or visiting www.michigan.gov/coronavirustest.
Khaldun thanked the people who are “doing the right thing” by washing their hands, wearing masks, not gathering in large groups, and staying safe, but that is not enough, she said of others who also need to do their part.
“We continue to see outbreaks associated with gathering indoors and gathering,” she said. “We are now investigating 980 outbreaks and every week that number is increasing.”
Khaldun said that the top categories for outbreaks come from long-term care, K-12 schools, manufacturing and construction, healthcare, bars and restaurants, and social gatherings.
She said that a significant portion of the outbreaks in schools come from high schools and she said that the virus is preventable, which “gives her hope.”
“Everyone just needs to focus on what you can do … maintain [social] distance, get a flu shot, take care of your physical and mental health … this pandemic will end and if we do these very basic things; we will save lives,” Khaldun said.
MDHHS Director Robert Gordon, who also spoke, agreed.
“When firefighters pull people from burning buildings we call them heroes because they are,” he said at the press conference. “With COVID on track to kill 1,000 Michiganders each week in every corner of the state Michigan … is on fire and each of us can be a hero to save lives.”
Gordon added that the most vulnerable seniors and people with preexisting conditions live alongside us not in bubbles.
“COVID is traveling from dinner tables to nursing homes, from hockey games and ICUs. By following orders and guidance tonight we can … save thousands, keep our hospitals open and avoid even more severe steps in the future,” Gordon said.
During these three weeks, which are between Nov. 18 and Dec. 8, the state will mandate that these operations be closed:
- in-person learning at high schools, colleges and universities
theaters, stadiums and arenas
All who are able to work from home will be required to do just that
dine-in restaurants and bars
organized sports, except professional sports
bowling centers, ice skating, indoor water parks
bingo halls, casinos, arcades
group fitness classes
There will be several areas that will remain open, according to the state. Those include:
- Hair salons, barber shops & other personal services
Gyms and pools for individual exercise
Indoor gatherings limited to two households & 10 people
Small outdoor gatherings limited to 25 people
Preschool through 8th grade
Manufacturing, construction, other work impossible to do remotely.