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MDHHS extends emergency orders

LANSING — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has revised and extended its epidemic order to contain the spread of COVID-19, as Michigan continues to see a surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Although most of the order is unchanged, new provisions target indoor gatherings where COVID has spread most rapidly. Michigan presently has 172 cases per million people and positivity of tests has increased from about 2 percent to 5.5 percent and both indicators have been increasing for over four weeks.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have doubled over the last three weeks while the state death rate has increased for five consecutive weeks.

“The only way to beat COVID is to act on what we’ve learned since March,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “Wear masks. Keep 6 feet of distance. Wash hands, and avoid the indoor get-togethers where we have seen COVID explode.”

As part of the newly extended orders, MDHHS today reduces from 500 persons to 50 persons the maximum gathering size for indoor gatherings such as weddings, parties and banquets, which occur in nonresidential settings without fixed seating. This change responds to global evidence that COVID’s explosive growth is powered by events where large-scale outbreaks have occurred, and that indoor settings are as much as 20 times likelier to drive outbreaks than outdoor settings.

Currently, Michigan counts 34 outbreaks related to social events such as trips by families/friends, bridal showers and weddings,funerals and outings at social clubs and bowling parties. An additional 19 outbreaks are linked to church services, which are exempt from enforcement under the order.

For bars, restaurants and social events outside private homes, indoor party sizes at a single table are now restricted to six people. Because individuals remove their masks while eating and drinking in indoor settings, seated tables with people from different households create high risks of spread. Like many other businesses in Michigan, bars and restaurants will also be required to take names and contact information to support effective contact tracing if necessary.

Research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that visiting restaurants is a risk factor for COVID positivity, and currently there are 12 outbreaks in Michigan associated with bars or restaurants with currently active clusters up to 12 cases.

“The orders that MDHHS has issued are centered on keeping the public safe and following best practices to reduce the spread of this deadly virus,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “The alarming surge we are now seeing is exactly why we were so worried about the fall season. We must remain vigilant, so we prevent long-term health consequences and unnecessary deaths, and protect our hospital capacity and the health of our frontline health workers.”

“With a dramatic increase in the numbers of cases, number of inpatients in the Munson Healthcare system and increasing community spread, Director Gordon’s order provides much-needed clarity about how to control the pandemic in our community,” said Dr. Christine A. Nefcy, of Munson Healthcare. “These measures are critical to ensuring our success in keeping our workforce healthy, our schools and businesses operational, and our community safe from this serious infectious disease.”

Area COVID-19 update

Berrien County has reported one new COVID-19 death, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

As of Thursday, Berrien County reported 2,583 COVID-19 cases and 82 related deaths. That number is up from the 81 deaths reported Wednesday.

Cass County reported 959 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths and Van Buren County reported 1,058 cases and 18 deaths.

Berrien County has reported 2,119 recoveries, according to the Berrien County Health Department.

Cass County has reported 469 recoveries, and Van Buren County has reported 639 recoveries, according to the Van Buren/Cass District Health Department.

In total, Michigan has seen 171,220 COVID-19 cases and 7,298 related deaths.

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