Michigan governor ties eased restrictions to vaccine rate
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday announced a plan to tie the lifting of coronavirus restrictions to Michigan’s vaccination rate, setting specific benchmarks that must be reached to return to normal.
As more people get shots, she said, the state will allow office work, relax and ultimately end indoor capacity limits, and lift a health order designed to curb COVID-19. About half of residents ages 16 and older have received at least one dose.
Michigan has become a national hotspot for infections and hospitalizations at a time when more than half the U.S. adult population has been vaccinated and other states have seen the virus diminish substantially. Key numbers, however, are improving in Michigan.
Under the “MI Vacc to Normal” plan, rules will be eased two weeks after each of four milestones. When 55% of the 16-plus population has one shot, in-person work will be permitted in all business sectors — potentially by late May.
At a 60% vaccination rate, capacity at sports stadiums, banquet halls, conference centers and funeral homes will rise to 25% — and 50% at gyms. Restaurants and bars will no longer have an 11 p.m. curfew.
Michigan will lift all indoor capacity limits when 65% of eligible people have one dose, requiring only social distancing between parties.
At 70%, the state health department will lift its mask and gatherings order and stop imposing broad mitigation measures unless unanticipated circumstances arise, such as vaccine-resistant variants. The agency could delay eased restrictions in regions with a seven-day case rate of more than 250 per million residents.
Whitmer, who got her second shot later Thursday, called the plan a “realistic goal” and a “creative way of challenging us to rise this moment and to meet it.”
“If we work together, we can get this done,” she said, declining to say what would happen to restrictions if the targets are not reached. “It is very real. We have to have a set of clear goals to accompany every step of this process.”
As early as Friday, the state will relax rules for outdoor gatherings and incorporate new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says fully vaccinated Americans do not need to cover their faces outside anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers.
“Vaccines are the path forward to do what you want to do,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive.
The restaurant and hospitality industry, small businesses and retailers applauded the governor and urged vaccinations, after long lobbying for a metric-driven approach to reopening.
Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, said the industry and its much-needed summer tourism season are “hanging in the balance.”
Rep. Ben Frederick, an Owosso Republican, said the reopening plan is “long overdue. Having specific benchmarks we can work toward together is going to bring the hope and certainty that has been missing from our lives since this pandemic began.”
More than 70% of people ages 65 and up have received a shot. But the percentage is lower in younger age groups.
In Detroit, where the vaccination rate is lagging, Mayor Mike Duggan said 20% of residents will never get the vaccine.
“They’ve read stuff on the website and they believe it and there’s nothing you can say to them. You don’t even waste your breath,” he said this week.
Duggan is encouraging people to urge others to be vaccinated. Detroit will pay $50 to anyone who registers and drives a city resident to a first vaccine appointment.
“Government can’t do it alone,” he said. “Nobody wants to listen to Dr. Fauci or me or Gov. Whitmer tell them one more time, ‘Take the vaccine.’ But they will listen to their neighbors. They will listen to their families. They will listen to their friends.”
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, who chairs a coronavirus task force on racial disparities, said it will work to address vaccine hesitancy in the Black community. He plans stops in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint and Saginaw.
Associated Press writer Ed White in Detroit contributed.
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