Gov. Whitmer says 'additional guidance' ahead amid Michigan's COVID surge

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Owosso — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday she expects her health department to release "additional guidance" directed at the state's ongoing COVID-19 surge in the near future.

During her first public appearance in Michigan in more than a week, Whitmer said an unidentified hospital leader she spoke with Monday was "not encouraging mandates" but was urging public education about vaccinations.

The number of adults hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state hit a seven-month high at 3,699 Monday, and last week, the percentage of tests for the virus bringing positive results reached the highest weekly rate in more than a year. Michigan continues to lead the nation in new cases per population.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks outside Crest Marine in Owosso Township on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021.

"If you're congregating with a bunch of people indoors, it's wise to make sure everyone is vaccinated," Whitmer said. "And if they're not, encourage them to do that.

"Take this opportunity to tell your loved ones how much you love them and how much you want to spend Christmas with them. It's time to get vaccinated."

The governor said she anticipates the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will release more guidance as the state gets closer to the upcoming holidays. Thanksgiving is Thursday.

On Friday, Whitmer's health department issued a public health advisory, recommending people wear masks at indoor gatherings regardless of their vaccination status. The recommendation also encouraged establishments to implement policies to ensure that all people entering, including employees, wear masks.

Michigan's COVID-19 metrics have rapidly deteriorated over the last three weeks. On Monday, the Michigan Health & Hospital Association released a statement, describing the situation as "alarming."

The state is approaching "the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Michigan since the pandemic began," according to the statement, made on behalf of chief medical officers of Michigan’s community hospitals.

"We cannot wait any longer for Michigan to correct course; we need your help now to end this surge and ensure our hospitals can care for everyone who needs it," the medical officers added.

Last year, during a similar surge, Whitmer's administration used its executive powers to suspend in-person high school and college classes, and halt indoor dining at restaurants through health department epidemic orders.

This month, however, Whitmer and her health department have relied on recommendations and public calls for vaccinations. Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, has also declined to impose a statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools.

"A year ago, we did not have access to vaccines," Whitmer said Monday. "We do now. They are easy to get. They are incredibly effective, and they are free of charge."

The governor said she's "imploring" school districts and parents to ensure their children are wearing masks.

Whitmer took questions from reporters Monday afternoon after a press conference announcing 100 new jobs and a $1 million expansion of Crest Marine in Owosso Township.

Last week, she was in Arizona and California as Michigan became the top state in the country for new COVID-19 cases per population. In California, she met with the Semiconductor Industry Association Board of Directors to discuss ongoing efforts to increase domestic chip production and attend the association's annual event.

cmauger@detroitnews.com