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Michigan expected to see uptick in COVID-19 cases due to Thanksgiving travel

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer warned that cases in Michigan could rise over the next couple of weeks because "too many people traveled for Thanksgiving." 

Those cases will take two to three weeks to show up in state data and are expected to increase state numbers ahead of the Christmas holiday, the governor said during a press conference Tuesday. 

The state reported 190 deaths related to the virus Tuesday, 30 of which were identified through delayed record reviews. With the 30 delayed reports, Tuesday's tally is the largest since the previous record of 164 on April 16, when none of the deaths reported included those identified through delayed record reviews.

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun cautioned people who had traveled to stay away from others for 14 days upon return and stay in contact with those they visited. 

"If you or anyone you were in contact with becomes ill, you should immediately get tested and isolate from others," Khaldun said.

While the state's positivity rate has dropped to 13% from about 14% Nov. 16, Whitmer said it was still too early to say whether the state's three-week pause on in-person restaurant dining, high school classes and college courses would be extended. 

Whitmer said it was likely the effect of the pause would be clearer early next week. The epidemic order expires on Dec. 9. 

The governor urged patience with the ongoing restrictions and counseled restaurants considering reopening in contradiction to the state's orders to avoid "willfully breaking the law."

More: Small businesses in Michigan eligible for COVID-relief grants up to $15,000

"I know every one of us is tired of this pandemic," Whitmer said. "Me, too. We’ve been fighting this for a long time, but we have to be resilient enough to see this through.”

Detroit physician Dr. Ijeoma Nnodim Opara warned restaurants not to rush reopening amid high infection rates in response to a letter from restauranteurs Joe and Rosalie Vicari that asked other restaurants to reopen on Dec. 9 even if the three-week pause was extended. 

“All of us want people to get back to work and businesses to reopen responsibly, but Mr. Vicari’s call to reopen no matter the health risk is reckless," Opara said. "Data and evidence show that restaurants, bars and cafes are places with the highest likelihood for COVID-19 transmissions, and as physicians, we urge these businesses to help reduce infections by following expert scientific advice so we can all do our part to help keep people safer." 

Opara's statement was included in a press release from the Committee to Protect Medicare, led by west Michigan emergency room Dr. Rob Davidson. Davidson is a former Democratic congressional candidate who went viral earlier this year when he questioned Vice President Mike Pence in Iowa about potential cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, which sued the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services over the most recent ban on indoor dining, said last month that only 4.4% of outbreaks in Michigan have stemmed from bars and restaurants. 

Whitmer urged the GOP-led Legislature to consider her plea for a $100 million state-based COVID-19 stimulus as well as extensions to unemployment relief.

"The nature of this virus demands that we all work together to protect the people that we serve," she said. 

Khaldun estimated, that pending FDA approval, Michigan could have vaccines in hand by mid-December. Many of the first doses would go to health care workers than other essential workers before making their way to the general public in late spring. 

Drug companies are hoping for the imminent approvals of COVID-19 vaccines, including those produced by Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer. Five Henry Ford Health System hospitals are planning to distribute the Pfizer vaccine, pending approval, as early as Dec. 12. 

Though Michigan's positivity rate has dropped from 14% to 13% in the last two weeks, Khaldun warned hospitalizations across the state are still high. 

Roughly 4,200 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout the state, she said.

Michigan also is struggling to keep up with contact tracing amid mounting cases, which makes it difficult to understand how the virus is spreading, Whitmer said. 

Michigan had the fourth-highest number of deaths in the nation in the last seven days, the fifth-highest number of cases and the seventh-highest hospitalization rate.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.