Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: All COVID restrictions to end in Michigan on July 1
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LANSING — Life is getting back to normal, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared Thursday as she announced she will end outdoor pandemic restrictions on June 1 and all other limits by July.
Starting next month, Michigan will allow indoor wedding venues and conference centers to resume operation at 50 percent capacity, up from a maximum of 25 people. And restaurants and bars will no longer have to close by 11 p.m. each night.
On July 1, Michigan will “no longer impose (any) broad mitigation measures during the pandemic, unless of course, unanticipated circumstances arise," Whitmer said.
The announcement signals the end of social and business restrictions that have upended life since the first case of the deadly virus arrived in Michigan in March 2020, infecting nearly 890,000 residents and killing 18,740.
The decision marks the second major revision of Whitmer’s “vacc to normal” plan in the past two weeks.
The first-term Democrat last week lifted the state’s mask mandate for fully vaccinated residents following new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those CDC guidelines, which also said social distancing is no longer necessary for fully vaccinated people, warranted further revisions to the state’s reopening plan, Whitmer said.
“We look at this as the last moment of these types of orders,” the governor said from the Dow Diamond baseball stadium in Midland.
“We will be able to sing at church, dance at weddings, cheer at games, hug each other and laugh together.”
Whitmer, who is fully vaccinated, said she is personally going “mask free.”
But the state will continue to require unvaccinated residents wear masks at indoor gatherings, and the governor stressed that businesses and workplaces still retain the right to require masks for all customers or workers, if desired.
Under current rules, businesses are expected to make a “good faith” effort to ensure unvaccinated residents wear masks indoors, a regulation that is difficult to enforce and has led to spotty compliance.
“There will ultimately come a day when masks will be distant memories, maybe in boxes in our basements, but until then, we've got to transition back to normalcy together and give each other some grace,” Whitmer said.
In late April, Whitmer tied the easing of pandemic restrictions to increased vaccinations.
But progress has stalled on inoculations, with just 140,000 getting a first dose in the past week, a third of what it was just a month ago.
So far, 4.6 million Michigan residents 16 and over have gotten the vaccine, with data from the CDC indicating that 57.2 percent of residents 16 and older have gotten at least one dose as of Thursday morning.
“While our numbers have slowed, we need to continue our progress in order to protect people and further our move back to normal,” said Dr. Pino D. Cologne, president of the Michigan State Medical Society.
CDC guidelines change terrain
Whitmer’s announcement followed weeks of indications that the state could take months to meet the milestones she set in the “Vacc to Normal” plan to lift remaining restrictions.
Whitmer had said all restrictions would cease two weeks after 70 percent of the adult population had received their first dose.
Early on, public health officials had hoped to reach that mark by mid summer. But U-M researchers have now estimated the state will never hit 70 percent and said the state would be at 59 percent on Aug. 1.
The CDC recommended sweeping new mask guidelines last week — essentially saying the fully vaccinated could gather in most settings, even indoors, without masks.
With that change, the state’s capacity and curfew restrictions on bars, restaurants and offices were rendered confusing and, perhaps, obsolete, with strict mask rules effectively giving way to an honor system on vaccination status.
Republican legislative leaders have spent months urging Whitmer to lift remaining regulations, but they had criticized her plan to base reopening on vaccination rates.
House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, said Thursday he is "glad there is finally a clear and growing consensus that Michigan can manage this pandemic and improve metrics across the board without taking away people’s paychecks, without holding children back for another year, and without cutting off critical state services."
Beyond the new guidance from the CDC, much has changed in Michigan in the past few weeks.
When Whitmer announced the Vacc to Normal plan April 29, the state was averaging just under 4,000 new COVID-19 cases every day and 11.2 percent of all coronavirus tests in the previous week had come back positive.
As of Wednesday, the state was averaging just over 1,500 cases per day and 6.4 percent of tests in the past week have been positive. Hospitalizations have fallen from 3,284 COVID-19 patients on April 29 to 1,807 on Wednesday.
‘Work to do’
Business leaders said the changes are welcome, and they look forward to seeing further detail when the orders are outlined on Monday.
“We are pleased Gov. Whitmer ... listened to our pleas to lift the severe restrictions on indoor meeting, convention and event space. These industries have been suffering and losing business to other states who have been open and ready for the business,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber.
“There is still work to be done to get these businesses on the track they were pre-pandemic, but we are confident that a reduction in confusion will help us get there.”
With indoor capacity limited to 25 people, venues that host weddings, conferences, performances and other gatherings have seen the business decline to the point where chamber officials described them as in “desperate need.”
Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, said Thursday’s announcement that provides dates for changes to state-ordered restrictions is important for small businesses, giving them a plan for ramping up operations in June before all restrictions are lifted in July.
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