Whitmer urges Michigan not to travel for holidays

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday noted a decline in coronavirus infections in Michigan but urged residents "not to let their guard down" throughout the season.

Whitmer was joined by Attorney General Dana Nessel and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, advocating that residents not gather this year for the holidays. With vaccines rolling out, the officials are optimistic 2021 will be the end of the pandemic.

A 12-day extension of a partial shutdown in the state runs through Sunday. The governor did not indicate Tuesday that the partial shutdown would be extended past then.

Under the state's "Pause to Save Lives," bars and restaurants must remain closed for dine-in service but can remain open for outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery through Dec. 20. Colleges, universities and high schools will continue to go without in-person instruction, and high school sports will continue to be suspended. Casinos, movie theaters and group exercise classes will remain closed as two Detroit casinos reported in November they would lay off or furlough more than 2,700 employees combined.

The latest extension announced Dec. 7 drew criticism from Republican lawmakers and business groups that want some of the most intrusive restrictions lifted.

"Simply put, what we're doing is working," Whitmer said Tuesday. "The vast majority of Michiganders are taking this seriously and doing their purpose to help us eradicate this virus. So to the Michiganders and business owners who have doubled down on mask-wearing social distancing and limiting indoor gatherings for COVID-19 thrives."

Whitmer said it is critical for the state Legislature to pass a $100 million COVID relief plan, pass a permanent extension of unemployment benefits, and enact legislation to mandate masks.

Khaldun said she's cautiously optimistic as the state's positivity rates have declined from 14% to 12.3% over the past seven days.

"We can’t forget our case rates remain alarmingly high. Positive tests are still four-times as high from September," Khaldun said Tuesday. "The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is 95% effective and it works. It will take several months to be an end to this pandemic."

A second COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna may be on the market by the end of the week.

The governor said she spoke with Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel Tuesday morning. 

"The CEO shared with us that doctors are asking what vaccine should they take? And his answer is to take whichever vaccine is available to you," Whitmer said. "These are safe and effective."

Whitmer has joined governors from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin to urge safety before the holidays.

"If you are planning to travel or gather with other households for the holidays — we urge you to reconsider," the governors said. "Just one infection can cause an outbreak in your community, which could overwhelm our hospitals and put you and your loved ones at risk. We owe it to the brave men and women serving on the front lines of this pandemic to do our part and be smart this holiday season."

Attorney General Dana Nessel said Tuesday the public should shop local when possible and beware of COVID-19 vaccine scams. Her office has been made aware of retailers selling fake COVID-19 tests and services that promise to cure, treat or prevent the virus, she said.

"Some examples of common scams are retailers who are promising to get the vaccine quickly; others with forms of treatment including pills, herbal teas, or essential oils; personal testimonials; social media messages, texts and emails qualifying for clinical trials," Nessel said. "They'll ask you for money and personal information upfront and include a (malware virus) link for you to download."

As of Monday, Michigan has 437,985 cases and 10,752 deaths linked to the virus since it was first detected in March, according to tracking by the state Department of Health and Human Services. 

Khaldun said health officials expect the number of fatalities to increase during the holiday season and are urging residents to avoid social gatherings to stem the spread of infection.

Last week, Michigan recorded 30,587 new cases, a decline from 45,015 cases from the previous week. At the end of November, the state had established the weekly record of 50,892 cases.

During the first week of December, Michigan recorded the seventh-highest number of cases and fourth-highest number of deaths in the nation, according to the CDC's COVID data tracker.

Case rates have decreased from last week; however, positivity — an average of 14.4% of diagnostic COVID tests run in the state returning positive — has plateaued for the past three weeks. A positivity rate above 3% is concerning to public health officials.

Michigan ranks sixth in the nation for most hospitalizations and seventh for the most patients in intensive care units, according to Becker's Hospital Review.

As of Saturday, 3,739 adults were hospitalized statewide with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, including 860 in critical care and 514 on ventilators, with ICU beds at 81% capacity, according to state data. That's compared to about 2,936 COVID inpatients hospitalized a month ago, including 595 in the ICU.


Twitter: @SarahRahal_