LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Michiganders may not know for another week whether state health officials will lift statewide restrictions enacted to combat a statewide spike in COVID-19 cases.
Speaking at a state press conference for the first time since her administration issued a three-week “pause” that targeted indoor gatherings to limit the spread of COVID-19, Whitmer declined to questions about whether the order would be extended beyond its Dec. 8 expiration.
“We have not predetermined anything,” Whitmer said. “It’s going to be driven by where we see the numbers.”
Whitmer also did not say what those numbers were, said state officials are watching the trajectory of COVID-19 test percent-positivity and hospitalization rates.
“I would anticipate early next week we’ll have a much better idea of what this pause has meant, if people have taken it seriously and done their part,” Whitmer said. “That will inform any decision going forward.”
Under the order by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon, secondary schools, bars and restaurants are closed statewide. It also paused non-college or professional organized sports — throwing a hurdle in line of the Michigan High School Athletic Association football and volleyball playoffs.
Some Detroit-area restaurant owners have defied the order and urged partners to stay open. The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association is fighting a lawsuit that seeks an injunction against the MDHHS order to close their member businesses. A ruling from federal judge Paul Maloney of the Western District of Michigan was anticipated as early as Tuesday.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s Chief Medical Executive, said all regions saw a decline in cases during the past two weeks, and the Traverse City region is the only one to remain below 500 cases per-million.
“Based on what we are seeing, more people started doing doing the right thing toward the beginning of November,” Khaldun said. “That means wearing masks, not gathering and maintaining 6 feet of distance from others, and we think that is contributing to the decrease in our rate of rise in cases.”
Khaldun said MDHHS will continue to monitor case rates and positivity rates in the weeks following Thanksgiving. She said any data on cases that may result from holiday gatherings would not appear for two to three weeks.
“If you did gather or travel during Thanksgiving, you should really make sure you’re trying to stay away from oth- ers as much as possible for 14 days after you traveled,” Khaldun said.
Pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer last week applied for Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19 vaccines.
Some doses may be distributed before the end of December if regulators sign off. Precisely “who will be first?” and “when?” remain hot topics.
“We expect to have that decision by the middle of December,” Khaldun said.
But challenges in preparation to receive either vaccine revolve around freezers necessary to store them.
For example, Pfizer’s vaccine requires medical providers to store it at a minimum minus-70 degrees Celsius. That’s less than both the average temperature at the South Pole (minus-50 Celsius) and record-low temperature recorded in Michigan (minus-46) in Vanderbilt in February of 1934.
Khaldun said just 48 hospitals and 12 local health departments statewide have the freezers necessary to store and administer the vaccine if it became available today. Moderna’s vaccine, which could be stored at the temperature of a household refrigerator, could be handled by many more facilities.
“We’re working with all of these sites to make sure they have what they need to start administering the vaccine the moment it becomes available.”
Friday is the deadline for state health departments to submit requests to the Centers for Disease Control for doses and distribution locations of the first inoculations if approved by the FDA. Khaldun said Michigan officials still are awaiting word on exactly how many doses they’ll receive.
Pfizer is producing its vaccine at its Kalamazoo plant.
By the numbers
About 1,400 new cases of COVID-19 have been recorded by northern Lower Michigan health departments since the day before the holiday weekend. The greatest percent change was a 53 case increase in Montmorency County — almost half of the 128 cases it had confirmed not even a week ago.
Grand Traverse County had 214 new cases and one death reported since Wednesday, the most in region. There were 168 new cases and one new death were reported in Alpena County, the second-most in the seven-day span.
The Grand Traverse County Health Department also said in a press release it will no longer report public sites it determines through contact tracing investigations were linked to potential COVID-19 exposures.
“We can no longer extend our limited resources to investigating potential exposures,” a GTC Health Department press release read. “Due to the current caseload, we must focus our efforts on case investigation and contact tracing for the most vulnerable populations.”