Whitmer keeps pushing mitigation protocols, no new restrictions amid COVID-19 surge

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LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer again encouraged Michigan residents to double down on washing their hands, practicing social distancing and wearing masks, as well as called on them to get vaccinated as soon as possible, to combat the state’s current coronavirus surge.

“We’re in a tough spot, Michigan,” Whitmer said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference in Lansing. “I know how hard this year has been on all of us. I know we’re all feeling pandemic fatigue., but we’ve got to remember we’re in this together. It’s going to take hard work to beat this pandemic, but Michiganders are used to hard work and we can beat this virus together.”

While the state still has a mask mandate, capacity restrictions and high school sports testing requirements in place, Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services did not issue any new restrictions Wednesday.

While blaming the surge on the success of previous mitigation and therefore having a larger population still vulnerable to the virus; wide spread of variants; and lax compliance with restrictions that are in effect, Whitmer has cited increased understanding of the virus and the vaccine rollout as her reasons for not issuing new rules.

She also explained that MDHHS was working to expand the usage of antibody therapies in this who are sick and that her administration was partnering with the federal government to get more doses of the antiviral Remdesivir into the state.

NEARLY 8,000 NEW CASES

Michigan on Wednesday reported 7,955 more confirmed cases of the virus and 33 additional associated deaths. The state has now had a total of 764,519 confirmed cases since the pandemic started in March 2020 and 16,619 related deaths.

On Tuesday, labs tested 47,291 samples for the virus and 6,917, or 14.63%, were positive. The number of positive tests is not the same as the number of new cases because people may be tested more than once. Additionally, testing numbers are from a single calendar date, while the number of new cases lists the increase since the last time the state compiled the data; these two time frames do not match up precisely.

Kent County confirmed 651 more cases for a total of 58,364 since March 2020. One more death was recorded, bringing the total to 693.

A few other West Michigan counties also reported additional deaths:

  • Allegan County: One more death for 100 total; 8,329 total confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
  • Berrien County: One more death for 240 total; 12,489 total cases.
  • Ottawa County: Two more deaths for 342 total; 25,879 total cases.
  • Van Buren County: One more death for 94 total; 5,768 total cases.

Wayne County, the state’s most populous, reported two more deaths for a total of 4,127 and confirmed 1,445 total cases for a total of 128,376. Oakland County has had 87,336 cases (1,030 more than the previous day) and 1,986 deaths (one more). Macomb County has had 78,596 cases (799 more) and 1,970 deaths (one more).

Michigan has the worst coronavirus surge in the nation, with the case rate rising for seven straight weeks, the seven-day average of the test positivity rate above 18% and more than 2,750 confirmed cases of the more transmissible variants — more than any other state. The number of deaths has increased nearly 40% week-over-week and the state now ranks eighth in the nation in both highest number and rate of deaths.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said hospitals are reporting they are at or near capacity. Michigan has the highest hospitalization rates in the country with more than 18% of all hospital beds in the state treating COVID-19 patients. The state posted record highs of confirmed COVID-19 inpatients two days in a row this week — though not on Wednesday.

Khaldun, who is a working emergency room doctor, said she is seeing the surge stress health care infrastructure and exhaust her fellow health care workers.

“We are seeing more and more people who are being diagnosed with COVID-19,” she said at the governor’s briefing. “Many of them are younger than what we were seeing with previous surges. … Patients are again lining our hallways like they were last spring.”

“The surge we are seeing now is very troublesome,” added Dr. Adnan Munkarah, the executive vice president and chief clinical officer for Henry Ford Health System in metro Detroit, explaining his hospital system has seen a nearly sixfold increase in COVID-19 inpatients in the last four weeks.

He echoed the governor’s call for everyone to follow coronavirus mitigation protocols and get vaccinated.

“Families continue to lose their loved ones to COVID-19 and all struggle to cope with loved ones who are getting very sick and hospitalized,” Munkarah said. “Our care teams are emotionally and physically exhausted. They are more than committed and dedicated to provide the best care; however, they are frustrated to see people coming in, very sick and die of an infection that we can control.”

Whitmer last week urged — but did not order — people to avoid dining in at restaurants or otherwise gathering for two weeks to help bring the virus metrics down. She also called on schools to go virtual and hit pause on indoor sports for two weeks. In an email sent to school administrators Tuesday, the Kent County Health Department encouraged schools to move to virtual or hybrid learning and call off other activities. So far, few schools in West Michigan have changed their learning formats.

On Wednesday, Khaldun again reminded people that just because restaurant dining rooms are open doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat there. She advised getting takeout.

“The past 14 months (have) been very challenging and especially the past couple of months in Michigan as our cases have climbed — but I still have hope we know what to do. We just all have to come together and do it,” Khaldun said.

With fewer people on unemployment the longer the pandemic progresses, the state was told by the federal Department of Labor that extended unemployment benefits would end this week. State officials say many family may still be eligible for federal pandemic emergency unemployment compensation or pandemic unemployment assistance.

VACCINES

The governor’s news conference came a day after the federal government’s recommendation to “pause” using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday recommended the pause out of an abundance of caution after six women reported potentially dangerous blood clots that occurred six to 13 days after vaccination. Health officials have not tied the blood clots to the vaccine and issued the pause out of an abundance of caution.

“This proves that our monitoring system for these vaccines is robust and it works,” Khaldun said.

She pointed out that with only six cases of clots and 6.8 million doses administered, the chances of experiencing such a reaction are about one in a million — “incredibly rare.”

“Your risk of getting COVID if you are not vaccinated is much higher than your risk of getting an adverse reaction to this vaccine,” Khaldun said.

Whitmer told News 8 Tuesday that she has high confidence in the safety and efficacy of the J&J vaccine but would follow guidance from the federal government.

She and Khaldun urged people to keep signing up to get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“Vaccines give you the freedom and the peace of mind that your risk of COVID is low,” Khaldun said.

The state has received more than 6.2 million vaccine doses (all brands) and more than 5.5 million of those have been administered. More than 42% of the state’s population over the age of 16 has received at least one shot. The goal is to reach 70%.

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