Michigan extends COVID-19 health order for 1 month, adds new rules for kids – Detroit Free Press

Michigan is extending for one month  its current COVID-19 restrictions, which require mask wearing, limited capacity at most businesses, 50% indoor dining, small private gatherings and testing for youth athletics. 

The move comes after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state health officials repeatedly pleaded with Michiganders to get vaccines, wear masks and practice other safety measures in an effort to avoid further restrictions. While Republicans have applauded the governor’s resistance to calls for more rules, federal health officials have said they are the only way for Michigan to put an end to what has become the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreak. 

The changes include new requirements for children as young as 2 to start wearing masks. That’s already recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which acknowledges mask-wearing might be challenging for some young children, such as those with certain disabilities, including cognitive, intellectual, developmental, sensory and behavioral disorders.

“Beginning April 26, the face mask requirement includes children ages 2-4 and a good faith effort must be made to ensure that these children wear masks while in gatherings at childcare facilities or camps,” reads a statement from the state health department. 

The majority of these rules, some of the most lenient in the state’s fight against the pandemic and already in place for about one month, come at a time when Michigan’s soaring case rates, hospitalizations and deaths have pushed it to the worst COVID-19 hot spot in the nation. 

The state’s seven-day average case rate was 538.1 per 100,000 residents on Friday – more than 3.5 times higher than the national average case rate of 146.3 per 100,000 residents, according to the CDC

The leaders of several hospitals around the state have said this third COVID-19 wave has reached a crisis as emergency rooms are flooded and their beds fill up. More than 4,000 Michiganders were hospitalized Thursday with coronavirus, state health data show. Of them, 833 were in intensive care units and nearly 500 were on ventilators.

“Michigan continues to implement smart health policies and mitigation measures to fight the spread of COVID-19,” Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. 

“This includes the requirement to wear a mask while in public and at gatherings, limits on indoor residential social gatherings larger than 15 people with no more than three households, and expanded testing requirements for youth sports. Additionally, the most important thing people can do right now is to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves and their families, and help us eliminate this virus once and for all.”

The new rules are in effect until May 24. The existing health department order was set to expire Monday. 

Justin Winslow, the president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, said Hertel’s decision was difficult but appropriate. 

“In the hospitality industry, we know the importance of working together to get the job done, and that is what we are calling for today. It is incumbent upon all of us — operators and guests alike — to do our part to act responsibly so that we can quickly return to a quality of life that includes dining and travel opportunities for everyone,” Winslow said in a statement. 

“If you are an operator, remain vigilant and double down on the processes and procedures known to keep people safe and promote outdoor dining if available. If you are a guest, please practice patience and respect the protocols in place to keep you and those around you safe.” 

Michigan health officials reported 908 new and ongoing oubreaks this week. Of them, 27 new outbreaks were reported in child care settings and among youth programs, which include day cares, day/overnight camps, extracurricular activities, and sports programs. That’s in addition to 79 ongoing outbreaks in those settings. 

However, the biggest source of outbreaks statewide continues to be K-12 schools, with 48 new outbreaks reported this week and 264 ongoing outbreaks. That’s followed by outbreaks in manufacturing/construction settings, and long-term care facilities, state data show.

Health experts, including the director of the CDC, called on Michigan to institute more stringent regulations weeks ago. But Whitmer argued ramping up vaccinations now was the most effective and important way to stop a surge already out of control. 

But federal officials have declined Whitmer’s request to send more vaccines to Michigan,

given what it would mean for other states also demanding far more doses of the vaccine than could be supplied. 

Michigan has not instituted sweeping COVID-19 restrictions since March, when the state enacted temporary bans on indoor dining, indoor contact sports, in-person classes for high school and college students, and other activities. 

Most of those bans were reversed within several weeks, although critics blasted the state for not acting sooner to allow more indoor dining and youth sports. 

“The presence of more infectious variants, such as the B 1.1.7 variant, threatens our progress in control of the epidemic and MDHHS continues to monitor data closely, including three key metrics: case rates, percent positivity and hospitalizations,” Lynn Sutfin, a health department spokeswoman, said in a statement issued Thursday. 

“We are still very much in this pandemic, but we’ve learned a tremendous amount about how to protect ourselves and our loved ones. That’s why every Michigander has a personal responsibility to do their part by wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining social distancing to help us slow the spread of this virus.”

The number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths went down after the November health orders. Whitmer and state health officials argued these and previous health orders clearly saved lives, moves that outweighed the detriment caused to the economy. 

Critics, from Republican lawmakers to business associations, say the restrictions are overburdensome, cripple local shops and show the state does not trust its residents. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, praised Whitmer earlier this week for resisting calls to implement new restrictions despite Michigan’s alarming COVID-19 trends. 

Contact Dave Boucher at [email protected] or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.

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