Whitmer celebrates Michigan’s full reopening in Detroit

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DETROIT (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other state leaders on Tuesday celebrated the full reopening of restaurants and other businesses as the state’s broadest epidemic order lifted.

“Thanks to the sacrifices and the efforts of so many people, today we can have a collective sense of optimism. We can breathe safely and knowing that we can hug and love our friends and relatives. This is a wonderful moment,” Whitmer said during a press conference at Belle Isle Park in Detroit.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Gatherings and Face Mask order was over effective Tuesday, allowing restaurants and other businesses to return to full capacity. No one is required by state mandate to wear a mask, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated.

Also Tuesday, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration called off coronavirus mitigation mandates for most workplaces, giving most companies discretion about what protocols to have in place. Rules are still in effect for health care settings.

“The reason we can move forward so confidently is because so many people in this state took this seriously, did their part,” Whitmer said. “Let’s take this moment and celebrate the end of the epidemic orders, the opening of a Pure Michigan summer and the opportunity that lies ahead.”

The restriction changes come as more people get vaccinated and Michigan’s coronavirus metrics continue to show marked improvements. The state on Tuesday reported only 91 new cases and 15 additional related deaths.

“Because of the work of all of us, of people all across this state, we are now at the lowest case rate that we have seen since this pandemic started; under 18 cases per million people” per day, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said, also highlighting the positive test rate now comfortably below 2%.

Khaldun also praised the state’s epidemiologist whose tireless work tracking the pandemic helped inform the state’s response, county health departments and health care workers for their perseverance over the last 15 months since the state’s first coronavirus cases were detected.

Whitmer recognized the essential workers who stayed on the job throughout the pandemic and those who went out of their way to help others. She called on the state Legislature to use $100 million in federal coronavirus relief dollars to fund and expand her Future for Frontliners program, which covers college tuition for essential workers, and to approve one-time “hero pay” bonuses to essential workers. She also urged the Legislature to approve her proposals to use more federal aid to pay for child care, support schools, expand a back-to-work incentive that offers $300 payments to laid off people who get back into the workforce. She said those measures will help revitalize the economy.

“I think we all know that economic recoveries take time, but I think we all know we’ve got the wind at our back and we don’t have time to waste,” Whitmer said. “These resources will help propel us forward.”

Khaldun did offer a word of caution, pointing out that the pandemic is not over, that Michigan has not reached herd immunity and that the highly transmissible delta variant has been identified in the state. She urged people to get vaccinated against the virus to protect themselves. She reminded those who haven’t been vaccinated to keep wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

The vaccine rollout is inching along, with more than 61% of Michigan residents age 16 and up with at least one vaccine dose. Among the population age 12 and up, that figure is about 56%. While Whitmer said she was “pleased” with Michigan’s vaccination progress, she acknowledged there’s work to do: The state has set a goal to reach 70% of people 16 and up. She urged people who are hesitant to reach out to their family doctor with their questions.

Though demand for vaccines has dropped off significantly, Khaldun said she believes the state can eventually reach its 70% goal.

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