MDHHS Approves Partial Re-Opening of High Schools, Indoor Entertainment, Pause Still in Effect

There’s some good news for businesses that run casinos, bowling alleys, and theatres: they are allowed to reopen on the condition that concessions are not sold, according to a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services [MDHHS] epidemic order update today. 


“The key is keeping your mask on,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a press conference today.


The partial reopening, which also includes high schools, is coming right before the 12-day extension was scheduled to end on December 20. The extension came from an initial three-week pause on Nov. 15 to slow the spread of COVID-19.


Whitmer and other state officials at the press conference praised residents across the state for their work in slowing the spread.


“I want to acknowledge and say thank you to the everyday Michiganders who’ve … did their part,” Whitmer said. “Michiganders have done a really good job of bringing down our seven-day average.”


On top of being masked at all times and not allowing concessions, the businesses allowed to reopen can only do so with total capacity capped at 100 and social distancing requirements in place. 


The new order is effective Monday, Dec. 21, and will last until Friday, Jan. 15, according to a state press release. “Because of our collective hard work, we are now able to begin the steps to carefully lift some of the protocols we have in place,” said Whitmer. “I am encouraged by the progress we have made since early November, and will continue to monitor the data closely during and after the holidays. One of the most important things Michiganders can do right now is make a plan to get a safe and effective vaccine as soon as it’s available to you. And as always: mask up, practice safe social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings where COVID-19 can easily spread from person to person. We will eradicate this virus together.” 


Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, who received a COVID-19 vaccine for the first time yesterday at Henry Ford Hospital, said that “we have made some progress in our fight against this pandemic.”

“This was a historical week as we started to distribute life-saving vaccines,” she said. “It is important that everyone continues to do their part. Start planning for when you will get a vaccine when it is available to you, and let’s avoid a surge in cases after the holidays by avoiding gatherings, wearing our masks, and continuing to socially distance.” 


Previously, MDHHS had identified declines in three metrics as critical for lifting the statewide pause. 

  • Hospital capacity dedicated to COVID-19 patients is at a 13-day decline; current capacity is at 17.3% for beds with COVID-19 patients. Peaked at 20.1% on Tuesday, December 1. 

  • Overall case rates are at a 27-day decline; currently at 439 cases per million. Peaked at 739 cases per million on Saturday, November 14. 

  • The positivity rate is at an 11-day decline; currently at 10.6% positive tests. Recently peaked at 14.3% on Friday, December 4. 


“Michiganders should be proud: we have made incredible progress over the last month. But we could easily lose that progress and endanger our hospitals again over the next two weeks,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “At Thanksgiving, most Michiganders sacrificed and avoided family get-togethers. We need to do the same thing this holiday season. Then we can re-engage more activities sooner and more safely.” 


Indoor residential gatherings remain limited to 10 people and two households, according to the press release. Families are also encouraged to stay home this holiday season to maintain the positive momentum that has developed and to protect loved ones. 


The epidemic order continues to temporarily pause indoor dining in bars and restaurants, but they can continue to offer outdoor dining, carry-out, and delivery. 


Colleges and universities will be able to have students return to campus for the winter semester, with a voluntary commitment to wait until Jan. 18 to restart in-person courses, Whitmer said. 


Gyms remain open for individual exercise with strict safety measures in place. Outdoor group fitness and outdoor non-contact sports will again be allowed, including running, downhill, and cross-country skiing. 


Under this new order, reopened indoor entertainment venues will not be required to collect names and contact information, the release added. As case counts fall and contact tracing becomes able to keep up with the volume again, MDHHS expects to reinstate this information-gathering requirement. 

As before, employees who work in jobs that cannot be performed from home can continue to go to work, while employees who can work from home should continue to do so. 


Individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed: retail shopping; public transit; restaurant takeout; personal-care services such as haircuts, by appointment; and individualized exercise at a gym, with extra spacing between machines. 


“As we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and safety of our employees and patrons remain a top priority,” said Joel Kincaid, vice president of operations with MJR Digital Cinemas. “We are grateful for MDHHS’s partnership and are prepared to reopen with strict safety measures in place. We look forward to working with the governor and her entire administration as we combat this virus together.” 


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