MDHHS announces new COVID-19 restrictions

Order limits gatherings, puts restrictions on restaurants, schools, HS sports, more due to COVID case surge

LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in a rare weekend press conference Sunday, announced new COVID-19 restrictions that come as a surge of cases has hit the state.

The new restrictions from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), tentatively expected to last three weeks, pauses indoor social gatherings and other group activities, intended to curb the rapid rise of COVID-19 infection rates. The restrictions take effect Wednesday, Nov. 18.

According to the restrictions, detailed in a press release from MDHHS, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people from no more than two households, and outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people from no more than three households at residential venues, 25 people or 20 people per 1,000 square feet at a non-residential venue without fixed seating, and 25 people or 20 percent seating capacity at a non-residential venue with fixed seating. The latter two restrictions do not apply to funerals, which are capped at 25 people.

Bars and restaurants will be open for outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery only. Gyms will remain open for individual exercise with “strict safety measures” in place. Casinos, movie theaters and group exercise classes will be closed. Professional and college sports meeting “extraordinary standards” for risk mitigation may continue without spectators, however all other organized sports, including high school sports, must stop.

Colleges and high schools may proceed with remote learning, according to the restrictions, but must end in-person classes. However, in-person K-8 schooling can continue, according to the restrictions, if it can be done with “strong mitigation,” including mask requirements. This particular restriction, according to MDHHS, was based on discussions between local health and school officials. Childcare will remain open to support working parents.

“In the spring, we listened to public health experts, stomped the curve, and saved thousands of lives together. Now, we must channel that same energy and join forces again to protect our families, frontline workers and small businesses,” Whitmer said in the release. “Right now, there are thousands of cases a day and hundreds of deaths a week in Michigan, and the number is growing. If we don’t act now, thousands more will die, and our hospitals will continue to be overwhelmed. We can get through this together by listening to health experts once again and taking action right now to slow the spread of this deadly virus."

“Indoor gatherings are the greatest source of spread, and sharply limiting them is our focus,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said in the release. “The order is targeted and temporary, but a terrible loss of life will be forever unless we act. By coming together today, we can save thousands of lives.”

The release stated the restrictions are not a blanket stay-at-home action, like was done by Whitmer in the spring. The order does leave open work that can’t be performed from home, including manufacturing, construction and health occupations. Outdoor gatherings and parks remain open, and Individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed. These include retail shopping, public transit, restaurant takeout, personal-care services such as haircuts, by appointment, and individualized exercise at a gym, with extra spacing between machines.

The orders come as COVID-19 cases in Michigan have skyrocketed in the past month and a half since Whitmer’s executive orders were deemed unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court on Oct. 2. Since that date, 116,644 confirmed cases have been reported as of Sunday in the state, nearly doubling the number of cases reported from the beginning of the pandemic to Oct. 2. The cumulative total as of Sunday is 275,792 confirmed cases with 8,376 deaths. In St. Joseph County, as of Saturday, there have been 1,776 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with 26 deaths reported.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel urged local enforcement of the new orders from public health departments and local law enforcement, saying they are “primarily responsible for enforcement in their own communities, and we hope they do so,” adding that “we stand ready to assist them in their efforts.”

Dr. Joneigh Kaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and MDHHS chief deputy for health, said in the release the data the state is seeing is “alarming” and “impacting every area of our state.”

“Our healthcare systems are becoming overwhelmed, and our contact tracers cannot keep up,” Khaldun said. “If we do not act now, we risk thousands more deaths, and even more people having long-term health consequences. The actions we are taking today are the best opportunity we have to get this virus under control.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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