DETROIT, Michigan — Tuesday, all COVID-19 epidemic orders on gatherings and masking were lifted. Originally, they were set to be removed on July 1, but with the lowest state positivity rate and strides in vaccination, the process was accelerated.
During a press briefing in Detroit, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called it an "exciting, happy, joyful moment."
"Effective today, our Pure Michigan summer is back and we can realize it," said Whitmer.
Whitmer acknowledged that while this is an exciting day for many, thousands were lost due to the pandemic, and the economic impact was huge.
"We've all been pushed to our breaking points, physically, emotionally and mentally," said Whitmer. "Many of us have lost loved ones. And I'm still thinking about so many friends that I lost over this last 15 months. We're tired, just exhausted, and yet this pandemic was relentless and exposed, and exacerbated so many underlying challenges that were there before the pandemic, and will continue to be there after the pandemic. So, it centers the work that we've got to do."
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's Chief Medical Executive, said over the course of the pandemic, 893,000 Michiganders have been infected, and more than 19,000 people have died. However, she said right now is the lowest case rate that the state has seen the entire pandemic, at less than 2%. She added, "the worst of the pandemic is absolutely behind us."
"You've done what it takes to protect yourself, and each other," said Khaldun. "Whether it was social distancing, making sure you were washing your hands, wearing your mask, isolating and getting a vaccine when it was your turn. Michiganders have shown up."
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrest said COVID-19 has given us clarity as to how important public health is in the state. He pointed out there was no roadmap or script for handling a pandemic, but emphasized difficult decisions were guided by facts and science to save lives.
"We've come a long way," said Gilchrist, "but there are still many Michiganders living in the midst, in the wake of, centuries of racial injustice that have led to these health disparities."
Gov. Whitmer also called on state lawmakers to draw down federal dollars for those reentering the workforce, and called for "Hero Pay."
She also highlighted her Economic Jumpstart Plan, which increases worker wages, gives grants to small businesses and expands affordable childcare access. She said the state has a $3.5 billion surplus this year.
"We need jobs that pay higher wages to attract applicants," said Whitmer. "Small businesses need capital to ramp up hiring and boost investment in their internal operations, and childcare is plainly out of reach for too many Michiganders."
Small businesses would also be eligible for grants up to $20,000 for rent, taxes, payroll, mortgage and other operating expenses.
Dr. Khaldun also stressed the importance of vaccination efforts. She said about 61% of Michiganders 16 and older have had at least one dose. The state has given out more than 9 million shots in arms.
"And while our cases and our test positivity rate are low, the pandemic has not ended," said Khaldun. "There are still many people who have not been vaccinated, and we have not yet achieved herd immunity. We still have the more easily transmitted variants across the United States, and here in Michigan."
When asked about efforts to take away power from the executive branch, such as powers to make epidemic orders like the ones restricted today, Whitmer said she is willing to have conversations with Legislature about improvements to epidemic orders in the future.
"It'll probably never, ever, never have to be used again under my watch," said Whitmer, "and I hope no governor in the short-term will ever have to even visit these powers. But if they do, they're going to need to act swiftly to save lives, just as we did. And that's why I'm going to make sure that governors going forward will have the ability to take action to save people's lives. There will be a Republican governor in the future, there will be a Democratic governor in the future. Every governor before me had these abilities to take action if they needed to, everyone after me should as well, because the people of Michigan need their chief executive to act when their lives are on the line."
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