Gov. Whitmer says COVID-19 variant, post-holiday data will determine if bars, restaurants can open Jan. 15

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer held a news conference Friday to talk about the state of COVID-19 and the continuing response to the virus. She announced a push for districts to begin offering an in-person learning option by at least March 1, and also spoke about the riot that unfolded earlier in the week at the U.S. Capitol. 

Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service's restriction on indoor dining in the state is set to expire on January 15, 2021. Gov. Whitmer addressed the possibility of bars and restaurants opening back up during her news conference, saying ultimately that health officials are still watching the numbers closely before any decision will be made. 

"The studies have shown that restaurants and bars are places where we see many outbreaks," Gov. Whitmer said. "Our tracing capabilities are underwhelming in that front and so I think that's part of the data issue [for ongoing outbreaks] that we haven't seen translate and that's why we have continued the [ban on indoor dining] policy. We know that the pause is working. We look at where the numbers are."

Gov. Whitmer said health officials are considering two things right now before allowing in-person dining to resume: the post-holiday data trends, as well as the looming COVID-19 variant. 

"This variant is giving us pause and we want to watch and make sure we've got as many days' worth of data post-holiday so we recognize whether or not this blip beyond the holidays is a trend or if it's just that, a blip," she said.

The mutated version circulating in Britain has also been detected in the U.S. and numerous other countries. That and the variant seen in South Africa are causing global concern because they appear to spread more easily — although how much more isn’t yet known.

The state's medical director Dr. Joneigh Khaldun reported the most recent post-holiday data in the state on Friday during the news conference. 

As of January 8, 2021, health officials are continuing to see improvements - but may be seeing some plateau - in three key COVID-19 metrics in the state. 

Michigan is seeing an average of 222 cases per million people per day. Dr. Khaldun said earlier this week these case rates have plateaued after having been clearly declining over the previous 46 days. 

The case rate is still currently two times what it was in the beginning of October. The average case rate in Michigan peaked at 739 cases per million on Nov. 14.

The percent of hospital beds being used for COVID-19 patients is continuing to decline. As of Jan. 8, the capacity was at 12.8% for beds with COVID-19 patients. This peaked at 20.1% on Dec. 1. 

The state is seeing a slight increase in test positivity, which could be attributed to a dip in testing over the holidays. As of Jan. 8, Dr. Khaldun said the percent positivity is at 9.3%, up from 8.2% on Dec. 27. Dr. Khaldun has said a percent positive rate below 3% indicates community spread isn't happening. 

"There's some encouraging signs but we have to be really smart and we're going to continue to watch the data," Gov. Whitmer said.