Citing a continued plummet in new cases of COVID-19, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration said Thursday that Michigan’s capacity limits for indoor gatherings and public-facing businesses will be lifted June 22, nine days earlier than originally planned.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services had planned to end COVID-related capacity limits and mask-wearing requirements for unvaccinated individuals July 1.
Starting at 12:01 a.m. on June 22, capacities for bars, restaurants, gyms, and movie theaters will be back to 100% for indoor service, according to MDHS Director Elizabeth Hertel’s new order.
Hertel’s order rescinding the remaining COVID restrictions marks the end of an unprecedented 15-month intervention by state government to shutter businesses in entire sectors, restrict indoor capacities and private gatherings, and mandate mask-wearing indoors — all in an effort to slow the once-rampant spread of the coronavirus, to which 19,578 deaths in Michigan have been attributed since March 2020.
“Today is a day that we have all been looking forward to, as we can safely get back to normal day-to-day activities and put this pandemic behind us,” Whitmer said Thursday in a statement.
On Thursday, Michigan’s seven-day average number of new cases fell to 198, the lowest daily average new case count since last June. New daily cases have fallen by nearly 90 percent in the past month, a Crain’s analysis of state data shows.
Over the past week, the average daily COVID positivity rate for all tests has been 1.5%, a fraction of the double-digit positivity rates the state had in April during the third wave of infections.
About 60.8% of Michigan residents over age 16 have received at least one shot of a COVID vaccine; that number falls to 55.5% of the population when youth ages 12-15 are counted among 8.5 million residents who can get vaccinated.
“We have said all along that the vaccine would help us return to a sense of normalcy and today we announce that day is here,” Hertel said in a statement.
Michigan hospitals are reporting their fewest COVID-positive patients since late September before the fall surge in cases — and before the FDA approved three vaccines for adult inoculations.
On Wednesday, there were 417 COVID-positive patients in Michigan hospitals, fewer than half as many as there were on June 1, according to MDHHS data.
“The drop in cases and hospitalizations is a direct result of the vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing transmission, illness, and death,” Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said in a statement.
Whitmer had hinted Monday during an event in Detroit that the remaining capacity and mask restrictions may go away before July 1 because of the sharper-than-expected decline in new cases of COVID-19.
On May 20, after the CDC said vaccinated adults could go maskless indoors around people outside of their family, the Governor said indoor capacities would be boosted to 50 percent for the month of June and then eliminated altogether on July 1.
Whitmer has previously noted private businesses have the right to require mask-wearing and impose social-distancing protocols among employees and customers.
Peters said Thursday that hospitals “will maintain existing infection prevention protocols that may require a mask and place other restrictions on visitors to protect the vulnerable patients with weakened immune systems that are cared for in their facilities.”