State health officials are banking on vaccines being Michigan’s best bet to end the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer outlined the state’s four-step “Vacc to Normal” plan, setting specific goals that must be reached to roll back restrictions.
Whitmer said the goal is to hit 70% of Michiganders with at least one dose of the vaccine, then all orders on masks and gatherings can be lifted.
“There’s evidence to show that these vaccines are effective against known variants that are present. And that’s why really tying [the lifting of orders to] the number of people that get vaccinated is a metric that makes sense,” she said.
Currently, 48% of the state’s eligible population has received one shot. The first benchmark is 55%, which would end work-from-home requirements.
She said the state could be a couple weeks away from that happening.
“We will likely reach 55% by the end of next week, meaning we could reach step one just two weeks later before the end of May. But it’s counting on all of us to keep pushing to make sure we get vaccinated,” she said.
Step two is set at 60% of residents receiving their first dose and would allow 50% capacity at gyms and lift the curfew at restaurants and bars.
All indoor capacity limits (with social distancing) will be lifted when 65% of Michiganders are vaccinated. When 70% of residents are at least partially immunized from the coronavirus, the state will lift the gatherings and face mask orders, Whitmer said.
“We will likely reach 55% by the end of next week, meaning we could reach step one just two weeks later before the end of May. But it’s counting on all of us to keep pushing to make sure we get vaccinated.” — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
“MDHHS will no longer impose broad mitigation measures unless unanticipated circumstances arise, such as the spread of vaccine resistant variants,” she said.
The number of new COVID-19 infections in Michigan has dropped over the past two weeks. The state has become a hot spot nationally for COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations at a time when more than half the U.S. adult population has been vaccinated and other states have seen the virus diminish substantially.
Chief Medical Executive Doctor Joneigh Khaldun said trends are improving, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement in Michigan.
“19% of hospital beds are being used for COVID-19 patients and the total number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 is trending down. This is better but this is still not where we want to be,” Khaldun said.
As of this week, Khaldun says there are 493 cases per million residents, 30% lower than it was two weeks ago. “But that’s still four times where we were at the middle of February,” she said.
“The percent of tests that are positive is about 13.2%, nearly three times where we were in the middle of February, but down by 4.3%, from where we were just two weeks ago.”
There are nearly 1,300 outbreaks in counties across the state, and that number is holding steady, Khaldun said.
Gordon Says He Was Asked To Resign
Details of the plan comes as the state’s former health and human services director confirmed Thursday that he quit his post in January over disagreements with the administration’s COVID-19 response plans. Robert Gordon said Whitmer asked him to resign because it was “time to go in a new direction.”
His statement to a legislative committee confirmed what the governor’s office had refused to say publicly despite his $155,000 severance deal — that he was ousted after two years on the job. Gordon, with Whitmer’s support, issued COVID-19 restrictions in the fall and winter after the state Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a law that underpinned her orders.
The House Oversight Committee hearing was ongoing. The governor has not said why she replaced Gordon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.