New Statewide Orders Issued as Covid-19 Pandemic Worsens

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The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued an epidemic order on Sunday evening that will limit indoor activities as the cases numbers and hospitalizations due to Covid-19 are on the rise in Michigan and locally in Ingham and Clinton Counties.

The order will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18 and will last three weeks, ending on Dec. 8. 

At Sunday’s press conference, MDHHS Director Robert Gordon explained that he is given the power to make an epidemic order like this through laws passed by the Michigan legislature following the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic.

Gordon, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for MDHHS, emphasized that the approach is targeted at limited indoor gatherings, where Covid-19 is more likely to spread.

The epidemic order:

  1. Continues current mask mandates that require masks at gatherings both inside and outside.
  2. Permits families to gather with one other household during the three weeks. This means one household for the duration, not a new household every day, Gordon explained. Serious precautions, such as physical distancing and mask wearing, are encouraged.
  3. Closes indoor gathering sites, such as theaters, movie theaters, stadiums, arenas, bowling centers, ice skating rinks, indoor water parks, bingo halls, casinos, and arcades. Indoor dining is prohibited at bars and restaurants, but outdoor dining and take-out is still allowed.
  4. Shutters workplaces if work can be done from home, primarily targeting office places. Health care, manufacturing, construction and other jobs that cannot be done remotely will remain open.
  5. Permits indoor, individualized activities. Individuals can go to gyms that take certain precautions, get takeout food for bars and restaurants, visit retail shops, and receive personal services like haircuts.
  6. Moves high schools and colleges to online learning. K-8 schools may remain open with mask rules in place.
  7. Allows childcare services to remain open.
  8. Suspends organized sports, except for the college and professional levels. No spectators will be allowed at college and professional events.

Most education in East Lansing will be relatively unaffected by the epidemic order since both Michigan State University and East Lansing Public Schools have been relying on remote learning. MSU is estimated to have roughly 40 in-person classes that may now need to cease in-person learning a few days earlier than anticipated.

“Doesn’t really change much,” East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens said, reacting to the news. 

He did say that the new guidelines going into effect help with outlining and communicating what is safe when it comes to Thanksgiving. And ideally, Stephens said, if people can really buckle down for three weeks and stay home for Thanksgiving, it might allow for safer gatherings come the December holidays.

The “most important” part of the order, Stephens said, is about the number of households meeting being limited to two. He suggested that if a family were having students come home from college now that in-person instruction is suspended, that constitutes a second household. 

“It’s an impossible job,” Stephens said about successfully managing a pandemic. “And I feel for the governor, especially.”

The MDHHS pandemic order comes as cases are surging. Michigan reported over new 7,000 cases on Saturday, and Ingham County reported new 108 cases on Friday, after hitting a record-high one day total of 222 new cases on Thursday, Nov. 12. 

As of Friday, hospitals in Ingham County had 140 patients with Covid-19, 15 of whom are in intensive care units (ICU). It is important to note, however, that not all those being treated in local hospitals are Ingham residents since Sparrow and McLaren branches here have been treating patients from elsewhere.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11 – the last day for which numbers are available – 45 individuals visited local emergency rooms for Covid-19 symptoms.

“It’s gotten genuinely bad,” said Dr. Aron Sousa, Interim Dean of MSU’s College of Human Medicine. (Disclosure: Sousa is also the spouse of ELi Publisher Alice Dreger.)

As case counts have risen and area hospitals are nearing capacity, the latest measures by the State will hopefully work to curb a rapid uptick in Covid-19 cases. But a lot of them require individuals to exhibit careful behavior. And if they don’t, “then people get sick and people die,” Sousa said.

Sousa said that pressure is increasing on local ICUs, in particular, and that the resource at risk of being stretched too thin is not ventilators or beds, but staff.

He spoke to the need for “easy” behavioral changes that mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

“People need to wear masks. We need people to spatially distance. We need people to wash their hands,” Sousa said.

Gov. Whitmer called on Michiganders to take the epidemic order seriously to alleviate the strain on frontline workers.

Whitmer cited a conversation with a medical professional at Lansing Sparrow who said she wasn’t sure if she could handle another surge. 

“This should cause every one of us concern,” said Whitmer. 

Stephens suggested that people remember that Covid-19 is a “common enemy.” While the restrictions are burdensome, he said, the uptick in the cases is “something we all have to face.” 

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