LANSING, Mich. - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other public health leaders outlined a rosy future on the horizon for Michigan as she outlined the state's four benchmarks that must be hit before it starts to lift longstanding epidemic orders.
"This is team Michigan's challenge," the governor said Thursday morning during a press conference.
While the lower benchmarks will allow in-person work of all businesses to resume, the higher rates will lift gathering and mask order limits. At 70%, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will no longer employ statewide measures to tamp down the virus under most circumstances.
"I am proud of the progress that we have made by working together," said MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel. "If residents continue to get their vaccines, wear masks and avoid indoor gatherings, we will soon be able to take further steps to loosen our public health requirements and better be able to enjoy the activities that we all love."
Looser restrictions on the way
Whitmer had hinted at looser restrictions in the near future at a worker safety event earlier this week. If more epidemic rules are relaxed, it would coincide with the growing number of adults now vaccinated.
"We are continuing to monitor what the CDC is recommending and our data here in Michigan," Whitmer said while in Clinton Township, "and I am anticipating forthcoming policy changes potentially that will feel a little bit more normal for all of us."
Currently, about 48% of the state has received one shot. About 96% of those that got the first shot have also gotten their second shot, according to the governor.
The restrictions tied to vaccine rates will determine capacity limits at sports stadiums, restaurant, and bar curfews, and the number of people that can be in gyms at the same time.
The only variable that could derail the plan is the presence of vaccine-resistant strains that have mutated from the original coronavirus. Currently, the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are all effective against the UK and South Africa strains.
High case rates still falling
The state reported another 4,371 cases on Wednesday, part of a gradual decline after an unexpected surge pushed hospitals near capacity around the state. The number of people hospitalized in Michigan with coronavirus symptoms is 3,392 - which is still much higher than health officials are comfortable with.
But it's also an improvement from more than 4,100 occupied inpatient beds tallied earlier in the month.
Even with the record number of people in hospitals, the number of subsequent deaths linked to the pandemic did not climb as high as the state's previous two surges, an indication of the better outcomes that many experienced. Part of that is due to the makeup of patients in hospitals in March and April, which tended to be younger and healthier.
These numbers are still part of a pandemic spread that is among the highest in the nation.
Currently, the state's positive test rate is 13.2%, down from 18.3% on April 9. The number of daily cases has fallen from 649.9 cases per million to 439.3 cases per million.
"We are continuing to monitor what the CDC is recommending and our data here in Michigan," Whitmer said while in Clinton Township, "and I am anticipating forthcoming policy changes potentially that will feel a little bit more normal for all of us." (Courtesy of the Governor's Office.)
Director Hertel said Wednesday that she was "cautiously optimistic" as case rates have halved from the recent peak.
While the state hasn't implemented new business restrictions in weeks, it did begin enforcing a new mask mandate for young kids last Monday. It also just won in court against a group that pushed to halt coronavirus rules in high school sports.