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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

MDHHS issues 3-week Epidemic Order, effective Nov. 18, to save lives, protect frontline heroes during Fall COVID-19 surge

By Michele Bourdieu

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Director Robert Gordon announces the new emergency Epidemic Order to limit indoor social gatherings and other group activities for 3 weeks in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

LANSING -- The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a new emergency order on Nov. 15, 2020, that enacts a three-week pause targeting indoor social gatherings and other group activities in an effort to curb rapidly rising COVID-19 infection rates. Governor Whitmer, Chief Medical Executive and MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, and MDHHS Director Robert Gordon held a press conference on Sunday, Nov. 15, to discuss this new order, which will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer began the press conference by pointing out how Michigan's early response to COVID-19 last spring, following the advice of health experts, saved thousands of lives -- from health care workers putting in long hours in hospitals to truck drivers delivering necessary supplies, restaurants shifting to take-out, teachers finding creative ways of distance learning and ordinary people staying home and masking up when they went out. Yet now the entire country is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer opens her Nov. 15 press conference, available to the public on Facebook. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

"We are in the worst moment of this pandemic to date," Whitmer said. "We are at the precipice and we need to take some action, because as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors this virus will spread. More people will get sick and there will be more fatalities. This is the worst public health emergency our nation has faced in over a century."

Whitmer noted while we cannot control the virus surge, we can control how we combat it by uniting in our response to it.

"Our collective action can control the severity and length of this wave if we all do our part," she said. "A leading model shows that if we don't take aggressive action right now we could soon see 1,000 deaths per week in Michigan."

By acting aggressively now and working together we can slow the spread and save lives, Whitmer added. The new Epidemic Order from MDHHS is geared toward following public health experts' advice to limit indoor gatherings in order to slow the spread and avoid overwhelming hospitals.

"Getting this health crisis under control is absolutely essential to getting our economic crisis under control. If our public isn't healthy, our economy isn't healthy," Whitmer said.

Federal help is also needed, the Governor added. She expressed her hope that Senator McConnell, House Speaker Pelosi and President Trump will deliver a recovery stimulus package as the federal government did last spring.

With Thanksgiving coming, Whitmer asked Michiganders to make a short-term sacrifice by not spending the holiday with people outside their household.

MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun then announced present Michigan statistics: As of Nov. 14, MDHHS announced a total of 251,813 confirmed cases and 7,994 deaths due to COVID-19. Models predict that by Feb.15, Michigan could have as many as 20,000 additional deaths due to COVID. Test Positivity rates range from 9 to 15 percent across the state. Case rates range from 349 cases per million in the Traverse City region to 791 cases per million in the Upper Peninsula.

MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun gives statistics on the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases and deaths in Michigan. She notes while these are numbers, they are people, family members, friends and loved ones. (Photo by Keweenaw Now) 

"And many more of those cases, even if they live, they are facing potentially significant long-term health consequences," Dr. Khaldun said, "things researchers are still learning more about -- things like heart problems, kidney problems, difficulty breathing, difficulty concentrating and others. If we do not act now there's no question that the next several months will be deadly and grim."

Dr. Khaldun noted Michigan is doing well with testing -- testing an average of 54,000 people a day last week. But more testing needs to be done.

"If we do not test we will not be able to find the disease and won't be able to stop its spread," Dr. Khaldun said. "So if you think you need a test, please get a test. That includes if you have symptoms or if you have been exposed."

To find a testing site, go to the Web site or call 211.

Dr. Khaldun thanked those who are doing the right thing -- wearing a mask, washing hands, not gathering in groups -- and urged them to continue taking these precautions. Unfortunately, though, messaging and warnings are not enough. Every week outbreaks are increasing (up to 980 now), putting us all at risk. Many of these are associated with gathering indoors, including schools. Of the 200 outbreaks in schools MDHHS is investigating, 49 percent of them are associated with high schools, and almost 2/3 of the cases associated with these outbreaks are in high schools.

While Michigan hospitals are almost at capacity, doctors and hospitals are still committed to providing important medical services to non-COVID patients as well, Dr. Khaldun explained. 

MDHHS Director Robert Gordon presented a summary of the new emergency Epidemic Order during the press conference. (See photo above.)

"Indoor gatherings are the greatest source of spread, and sharply limiting them is our focus," said Gordon. "The order is targeted and temporary, but a terrible loss of life will be forever unless we act. By coming together today, we can save thousands of lives." 

Gordon noted COVID-19 spreads especially in places where people gather indoors. It spreads from dinner tables to nursing homes, from hockey games to ICUs.

"This order rests on the firm legal authority created by the Michigan legislature after the Spanish flu 100 years ago," he explained. "Our actions now echo actions then. They're grounded in evidence and experience and reflect input from public health experts in Michigan and around the country."

Under this order, indoor residential gatherings are limited to two households at any one time. However, MDHHS strongly urges families to pick a single other household to interact with over the next three weeks, consistent with new guidance released by the department. The order is aimed at limiting residential and non-residential gatherings where COVID-19 spreads rapidly. Bars and restaurants will be open for outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery only. Gyms will remain open for individual exercise with strict safety measures in place. Casinos, movie theaters and group exercise classes will be closed. Professional and college sports meeting extraordinary standards for risk mitigation may continue without spectators; however, all other organized sports must stop. Colleges and high schools may proceed with remote learning, but must end in-person classes.

Click on this chart from MDHHS for a larger view of what the new emergency Epidemic Order requires and allows. (Image courtesy Michigan Department of Health and Human Services)

This order is not a blanket stay-home action. It leaves open work that cannot be performed from home, including manufacturing, construction and health occupations. Outdoor gatherings, outdoor dining and parks remain open. Individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed: retail shopping; public transit; restaurant takeout; personal-care services such as haircuts, by appointment; and individualized exercise at a gym, with extra spacing between machines.

In-person K-8 schooling may continue if it can be done with strong mitigation, including mask requirements, based on discussion between local health and school officials. Governor Whitmer’s administration has worked around the clock to protect Michigan’s teachers and childcare workers and the other heroes serving on the front lines of the pandemic.

"We know these restrictions are difficult, but we support them as a necessary step to mitigate the spread of this virus. We have seen firsthand the devastating effects of COVID-19," said Wright L. Lassiter III, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System. "The dramatic rise in admissions at hospitals across Michigan is not sustainable. We strongly urge everyone to honor these restrictions and continue safety measures like wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, and practicing social distancing and hand hygiene. Preventing the spread is our collective responsibility and we must be willing to make these sacrifices to save lives of those we love."

CLICK HERE to read the entire Nov. 18, 2020, Gatherings and Face Mask Order.

Note: The video recording of the Nov. 15 press conference is available on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Facebook page.