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Whitmer administration tightens gathering limits after virus spreads

The state Department of Health and Human Services revised and extended mask and other rules.

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Thursday tightened restrictions on indoor gatherings and shifted the Traverse City region backward in Michigan’s reopening plan, saying coronavirus hospitalizations have doubled in three weeks and the statewide death rate has risen for five straight weeks.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Thursday 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. 

Effective immediately, indoor venues without fixed seating must limit gatherings such as weddings, parties and banquets to no more than 50 people — down from a maximum of 500. 

Currently Michigan counts 34 outbreaks related to social events such as trips by families/friends, bridal showers and weddings (3-10 cases); funerals (9-22 cases); and outings at social clubs and bowling parties (6-19 cases). An additional 19 outbreaks of up to 52 cases are linked to church services, which are exempt from enforcement under the order.  

Restaurants, bars and other venues must seat no more than six people at a table. All dine-in establishments must keep customers’ names and phone numbers for contact-tracing purposes, starting Monday.

The state said indoor settings are as much as 20 times more likely to drive COVID-19 outbreaks than outdoor settings. It also recommended that people keep their voices down at social events, warning that shouting or cheering can increase the virus in the air by up to 30 times.

“Avoid the indoor get-togethers where we have seen COVID explode,” said Robert Gordon, director of the health department.

RELATED: Spectrum Health sees most patients with COVID-19 since onset of pandemic

The MDHHS laid out some of the measures they are taking to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan moving forward.

Traverse City Region Moves to Phase 4

Because cases are now at a high level statewide, the order treats all regions of the state the same. The Traverse City region previously had fewer restrictions due to lower COVID-19 rates and has now been moved into Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start system, joining the rest of the state.

Stronger Recommendations for Indoor Social Gatherings Permitted Under the Epidemic Order

Alongside the rerelease of today’s order, MDHHS today published strong recommendations for indoor social gatherings, including at Thanksgiving. Because no one measure confers complete protection in a gathering, the guidance recommends that individuals take multiple steps together:

  • Get together outside whenever possible. You have up to 20 times higher risk of getting sick inside. 
  • If you do get together inside, include no more than two households and 10 people.
  • Limit time inside together—greater duration is greater risk.
  • Wear a mask – take it off when you eat or drink, then put it back on.
  • Keep six feet apart as much as you can.
  • When possible, keep voices down; high volume can increase COVID transmission by 30 times
  • Wash hands regularly and try to not to share utensils.

New Measures to Enhance Enforcement

While continuing to focus on encouraging voluntary compliance with its Emergency Orders, MDHHS has also issued rules that set forth fines for violations of these epidemic orders. Violations are punishable by a civil fine up to $1,000 and may also be treated as a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than six months or a fine of not more than $200, or both. In addition, failure to comply with orders may violate a business or professional’s licensure requirements or present a workplace safety violation.  Residents seeking to report violations should consult the COVID complaints page to find the appropriate department. For general failures to wear a mask or physical distance, residents may call their local law enforcement’s non-emergency line. 

You can watch the full press briefing from the MDHHS below:

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