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As COVID-19 surges in Michigan, no new restrictions planned by state

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The current surge is worse than at any point of the pandemic, Michigan health officials said Friday. (Shutterstock)

Michigan’s top public health official, in the face of the state’s worst surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since the pandemic began, indicated again on Friday that the Whitmer administration has no plans to enact any new restrictions.

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said during a press briefing that the state’s position is that vaccines and boosters “are the absolute best tool that we have.”

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Hertel and Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive, said the current surge is worse than at any point of the pandemic and that COVID case counts continue to rise as the omicron variant — detected in a Kent County adult this week — looms.

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“We're in a critical stage right now. We are surging. We're leading the nation in terms of cases, we are trailing in terms of vaccinations, and we have omicron here,” Bagdasarian said.

Hertel was asked if the state was considering new restrictions but she did not address them at all, instead calling for more people to get vaccinated and, if vaccinated, to get a booster shot.

For months the Whitmer administration has continued to push vaccines and boosters, while recommending that everyone wear a mask when indoors in public. 

But unlike in 2020 and earlier this year, no statewide public health orders for the general public have been adopted. Officials have acknowledged COVID-19 “fatigue” and have instead sought to encourage but not demand safety measures.

The administration did not enact a statewide school mask mandate, saying that school districts and counties were better positioned to decide and in mid-November, Whitmer’s spokesperson said the governor would not be issuing mandates because vaccines gave had given people an opportunity to protect themselves.

Unlike last December when the fall surge began to wane, case counts are rising and hospitals have never treated as many COVID-19 patients at any one time. Hospital officials said they are also dealing with staff shortages as some medical personnel leave their jobs to find work elsewhere, said Dr. Paolo Marciano of Beaumont Health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Michigan hospitals out of 164 are experiencing critical staff shortages and that’s led to delayed elective procedures and problems for non-COVID-19 patients to get critical care.

Initial vaccinations did increase in Michigan among all age groups from mid-October through mid-November, the state’s vaccine data shows, with increases among all age groups.

But Michigan, with 56 percent of those eligible vaccinated, lags the national rate of 63 percent at a time when it has one of the highest infection rates and hospitalization rates in the country.

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Hospitals are scrambling for staff and officials said Friday they have asked for additional 200 ventilators from the federal government. Earlier in the pandemic, the state had received 700 ventilators from the federal stockpile, but most of those had been returned for required maintenance when case counts fell, MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said Friday.

The state also has received three teams of medical personnel from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The 22-person teams of nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists have been dispatched to Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids and Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw.

 Hertel said the state cannot expect any more.

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