Michigan to roll back remaining major COVID-19 restrictions June 22, ahead of schedule – Detroit Free Press

Michigan is rescinding most of its remaining COVID-19 health and safety orderseffective June 22,Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state officials announced Thursday.

That means there will no longer be sweeping state-issued mask mandates, restrictions on gathering sizes or limits on the number of people who can be in a restaurant, store or other venue.

More:What you need to know about Michigan's changing COVID restrictions

A handful of specific rules remain, especially for"vulnerable populations in corrections, long-termcareand agriculture," according to a news release. The state is removing youth athletic testing requirements but willissue additional guidance on safety protocols for schools next week.Private businessesmay also still require masks, social distancing or other safety precautions.

But the decision by state officials comes as pandemic trends continue to improve and days ahead of July 1, the date previously set to roll back rules.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state health officials announced the removal of most remaining CO VID-19 health and safety orders, nixing the major mask and gathering regulations a few days ahead of the previously announced July 1 timeline.(Photo: Rodney Coleman-Robinson, Detroit Free Press)

Today isaday thatwe have allbeen looking forward to, aswe can safely get back to normalday-to-day activities and put this pandemic behind us, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a news release.

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the medical experts and health professionals who stood on the front lines to keep us all safe. And we are incredibly thankfultoall ofthe essential workers who kept our state moving.Thanks to the millions of Michiganders who rolled up their sleevesto getthe safe,effective COVID-19 vaccine,we have been able tomake these changesahead of schedule."

More: Michigan to lift all outdoor capacity restrictions June 1, eyes full reopening July 1

More: Michigan lawmakers compromise, allocate more than $6.6 billion in federal pandemic funds

As of Wednesday, more than 892,000 Michiganders hadcontracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. At least 19,578 have died since the start of the pandemic.

Michigan's seven-daycase ratehas dropped to 18.4 per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.That's a 96.7% drop from 551.8 per 100,000 people on April 14.

The seven-day average test positivity rate had fallen to 1.6%as of Tuesday and hospitalizations had fallen to 473 adults and 21 children with confirmed cases of the virus Wednesday, a level that hasn't been seen since last summer, state data show.

The dramatic declines in pandemic indicators are driven, health experts say, by coronavirus vaccines and by better weather, which allows people to gather outdoors, where the virus is less likely to spread.

Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, said Whitmer's decision is important but does not mean the pandemic is over.

"The key factor that has allowed us to get to this point is the COVID-19 vaccine. The drop in cases and hospitalizations is a direct result of the vaccines effectiveness in preventing transmission, illness and death," Peters said in a statement.

"However, the vaccine is only effective for those who receive it. We encourage anyone who has not yet received the vaccine to speak with their physician to address any questions and to accept the safe and effective shot."

Justin Winslow, president and CEOof the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, called the news "transcendent" for his industry.

"The challenges ahead remain daunting for many, but this industry is resilient, adaptive and ready to meet this newfound opportunity head-on," Winslow said in a statement.

"The MRLA will focus its efforts going forward on sensible workforce solutions that benefit employers and employees alike."

With the state opening to full capacity earlier than expected, Matthew McGrail, executive chef at Cork & Gabel in Corktown, said the restaurant will likely add another hour and close at 11 p.m.

But McGrail doesn't expect that to happen until after the staff's upcomingpaid week off to take a break.

"I would love to add more shifts, but we don't have the staff," McGrail said. "I don't have cooks and I need another manager."

While they have enough serving staff and bartenders, McGrail said the restarant is spread thin in the kitchen and back of the house.

"If we went to full capacity seating 150 people I don't have the staff, I don't have enough cooks," McGrail said.

The move marks the latest chapter in Michigans return to normalcy, as state leaders largely cast aside orders that were crafted to save lives but were much criticized by Republicans, business leaders and others as overzealous.

The orders generally corresponded with cases, hospitalizations and deaths decreasing. But opponents argued the moves went too far in limiting businesses and restricting residents who may want to make decisions that go against the advice of health experts.

After issuing sweeping restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic last yearusing executive orders, Whitmer and health department leaders began easing them last summer. That did not stop Whitmers opponents from pursuing legal action, arguing the governor overstepped her authority by issuing many of the mandates.

In October, a divided Michigan Supreme Court agreed, issuing rulings that effectively nullified Whitmer's executive orders.

More: Michigan Supreme Court rules against Whitmer on emergency powers but effect unclear

More: Michigan health department issues sweeping COVID-19 regulations that mirror Whitmer orders

But the surge in coronaviruscases in the fall prompted the Whitmer administration to find another way toimplement new regulations using the authority of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to issue emergency orders to control an epidemic.

Ultimately, rising case rates and other negative COVID-19 trends prompted the health department to temporarily bar in-person high school and college courses, end indoor dining at restaurants and require many other businesses to halt indoor operations.

Most of these restrictions were lifted within weeks, and COVID-19 trends improved, but the moves prompted immense criticism from Republican lawmakers and many others. Families angry about restrictions on youth athletics rallied at the statehouse and several restaurants launched ultimately doomed legal bids to overturn the orders.

More: Whitmer asked me to resign, says ex-Michigan health department director Robert Gordon

More: Meet Elizabeth Hertel, arguably the most powerful person in Michigan

By February, the state largely stopped implementing new COVID-19 restrictions, withWhitmer and her team pointing to the growing availability of vaccines as the silver bullet to get the state back to normal. But logistical and self-inflicted challenges with distributing and administering enough vaccines along withvaccine hesitancy among residents quickly pushed Michigan to become the worst pandemic hot spot in the nation.

But against the advice of the CDC and amid worseningCOVID-19 trends,the state declined to implement some of the regulations that were deemed lifesaving earlier in the pandemic.

Republicans supported the move.

More: Michigan Senate GOP bill, backed by restaurant group, would mean no indoor dining now

More: Expert who spoke to Whitmer on new orders: Michigan is 'losing the race to the virus'

Vaccination rates climbed, especially once every Michigander 16 and older became eligibleon April 5. But they slowed sooner than perhaps some expected, leaving the state well short of the governors initially stated goal of 70% of eligible residents with at least one vaccine dose.

Despite the stagnating rates, federal changes opened the door to Michigan easing restrictions sooner.

In May, the CDC announced that any vaccinated person no longer needed to wear masks indoors or outdoors. The move spurred a frenzy of announcements from private businesses and huge demand to change Michigan health orders.Shortly thereafter, Whitmer announced the state would ease many restrictions on June 1 and the remainder by the start of July.

More: CDC says no masks for fully vaccinated; Michigan order still mandates masks in many cases

More: CDC's new COVID-19 mask guidelines raise fears for most vulnerable

Even with fewer regulations and orders, the generational crises spurred by the pandemic are not going away anytime soon.

Businesses continue to grapple with the impact of trying to keep their customers and workforce safe while navigating rapidly changing regulations. School leaders are faced with trying to ensure the safety of their students many of whom are not yet eligible for vaccines eradicateany learning loss caused by online classes and appease passionate parents who are desperate for their children to return to in-person learning.

Lawmakers are still moving forward on a series of fronts examining the impact of the pandemic.

And there is still no final deal on how to spend billions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid and finalizing a state budget. At the same time, Republican lawmakers continue to blast the governor over her pandemic nursing home policies.

These debates, and the coronavirus itself, are not going away anytime soon.

Free Press staff writer Susan Selasky contributed to this report.

Contact Dave Boucher: dboucher@freepress.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.

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Michigan to roll back remaining major COVID-19 restrictions June 22, ahead of schedule - Detroit Free Press

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