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Whitmer: As COVID cases rise, reconsider Thanksgiving, Christmas plans

Beth LeBlanc Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun urged Michigan residents Thursday to rein in their plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas amid exponential growth in COVID-19 cases in Michigan. 

Without decisive action on the part of each Michigan resident, the state "could be hitting our daily peak of deaths in Michigan come Christmas," Whitmer said. 

Khaldun echoed those grim concerns and urged people to cancel plans with family outside their immediate household. 

"If you are smart now, you may be able to have a safe holiday with your loved ones alive this time next year," she said. 

Whitmer said she and her administrative team are "strongly considering all actions we can take to keep Michiganders safe," adding  there "ongoing discussions about the next actions."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urges Michigan residents to rein in their plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas amid exponential growth in COVID-19 cases in Michigan.

A key law underpinning Whitmer's emergency powers was overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court in early October, with the 4-3 majority ruling the law delegated legislative power unconstitutionally to the governor. 

Even without her emergency powers, Whitmer has been able to issue epidemic orders through her Department of Health and Human Services, which operates under a separate statute. 

Any future orders likely would be issued through MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. 

"None of us needs a judge or an executive order to make smart decisions for ourselves and families," Whitmer said.

Numbers growing exponentially

On Thursday morning, the chief executives of five major hospital systems in Michigan urged residents to take proper COVID-19 precautions in the midst of an "exponential" rate of infection. 

They expect hospitalizations — which are up more than fivefold over six weeks ago — to exceed peak numbers from the spring, the only difference being that instead of a large concentration in Detroit, hospitalizations are now spread throughout the state. 

About 3,072 people are hospitalized statewide with COVID-19, compared with 928 a month ago on Oct. 12.

New daily cases are up fivefold over the last five weeks.

Michigan's coronavirus case count continues to increase at a high rate as 6,940 cases were added on Thursday, breaking yet another daily case record. The state also added 45 deaths. The new additions bring the state's total of confirmed cases to 236,225 and total confirmed deaths to 7,811, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The state has a case rate of 416 new cases per million people per day, with a positivity rate of 10.8%. 

The Upper Peninsula, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Saginaw regions all have a daily case rate of 497 and 653 new cases per million people per day, Khaldun said.

The Jackson, Detroit and Lansing regions have case rates in the 300s per million people per day range, she said. 

"There is no area of the state that is spared," Khaldun said. "To have more than 10% of those tests coming back positive is alarming and means this virus is out of control." 

'We'll pay the consequences'

The numbers absolutely merit the warnings Whitmer and Khaldun issued Thursday, said Nigel Paneth, a professor of epidemiology at Michigan State University. He plans to hold his Thanksgiving with family over Zoom. 

Even if every person at the gathering wore a mask, they'd still need to remove it to eat, Paneth said. 

"Don't bring people together," he said. "It will cause outbreaks."

But Paneth was pessimistic about residents' willingness to limit gatherings over the holidays. People just "don't want to do this," he said, "and we'll pay the consequences. 

"It's like beating a dead horse, banging your head against the wall, pick any metaphor you want," he said. "People don’t want to face the ugly truth.”

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its holiday guidance, noting the virus crisis is worsening and that small household gatherings are “an important contributor.” Older people and at-risk individuals should avoid gatherings will people outside their homes, the CDC said. 

Experts say Canada's Oct. 12 Thanksgiving celebration prompted some clusters of cases tied to the family gatherings.

Instead of a gathering indoors to mark Thanksgiving, families could go for a hike outdoors, said Lacy Fehrenbach, Washington state deputy secretary of health.

If a gathering is held indoors, it should be small enough so people can sit six feet apart while eating, Fehrenbach said, and windows should be open to circulate air. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

Associated Press contributed.