New Legislation enacted in Michigan as State continues to battle COVID-19

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The Grand Traverse County Health Department worked with local partners to set up the county's first mass COVID-19 vaccination site. (photo via @MichiganHHS on twitter)

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory disease that can result in serious illness or death. It is caused by a new strain of coronavirus not previously identified in humans and easily spread from person to person. COVID-19 spreads through close human contact, even from individuals who may be asymptomatic.

Chippewa County, Michigan Health Department’s COVID-19 bi-weekly update is reporting, as of Feb. 2, 2021,

  • Total Confirmed Cases – 1,710
  • Cumulative Recovered – 1,500
  • Cumulative COVID-19 Deaths – 23
  • Currently Hospitalized – 3

On March 10, 2020, MDHHS identified the first two presumptive-positive cases of COVID-19 in Michigan. As of January 20, 2021, Michigan had seen 542,146 confirmed cases and 13,905 confirmed deaths attributable to COVID-19. Michigan was one of the states most heavily impacted by COVID-19 early in the pandemic, with new cases peaking at nearly 2,000 per day in late March. Strict preventative measures and the cooperation of Michiganders drove daily case numbers dramatically down to fewer than 200 confirmed cases per day in mid-June, greatly reducing the loss of life. Beginning in October, Michigan again experienced an exponential growth in cases. New cases peaked at over 10,000 cases per day in mid-November, followed by increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

A stringent ‘Gatherings and Face Mask Order’ came into effect through legislation on February 1, 2021 from the Michigan Department of Health. In recognition of the severe, widespread harm caused by epidemics, the Michigan Legislature granted MDHHS specific authority, dating back a century, to address threats to the public health like those posed by COVID-19.

In a media release, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) stated, ‘Michigan law imposes on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) a duty to continually and diligently endeavor to “prevent disease, prolong life, and promote the public health,” and gives the Department “general supervision of the interests of the health and life of the people of this state.” MCL 333.2221. MDHHS may “[e]xercise authority and promulgate rules to safeguard properly the public health; to prevent the spread of diseases and the existence of sources of contamination; and to implement and carry out the powers and duties vested by law in the department.”

If the director determines that control of an epidemic is necessary to protect the public health, the director by emergency order may prohibit the gathering of people for any purpose and may establish procedures to be followed during the epidemic to insure continuation of essential public health services and enforcement of health laws. Emergency procedures shall not be limited to this code.

On November 15, 2020, MDHHS issued an order enacting protections to slow the high and rapidly increasing rate of spread of COVID-19. Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths remained high through early December, threatening hospital and public health capacity. On December 7, 2020, December 18, 2020, and January 13, 2021, MDHHS issued orders sustaining those protections. These orders played a crucial role in slowing the spread in Michigan and have brought new cases down to about 2,500 per day. These lower rates prevented Michigan’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed with a holiday surge.

The State of Michigan presently has a seven-day average of 224.6 cases per million people, which is three times higher than on October 1, but nearly 70% lower than the case rate in mid-November. In the State of Michigan, COVID update provided today states:

  • Total Confirmed Cases – 562,510
  • Total COVID-19 Deaths – 14,672
  • Daily Confirmed Cases – 1,203
  • Daily COVID-19 Deaths – 63

Test positivity was 6.7% as of January 20, two times higher than the positivity rate in early October. While metrics have decreased from all-time highs, there remains a high rate of spread throughout the state. A high number of cases creates significant pressure on our emergency and hospital systems. An average of 250 daily hospital admissions was seen in Michigan in the last week, with individuals under the age of 60 accounting for a third of all new admissions. There are over 2,000 Michiganders currently hospitalized for COVID-19 and 10% of all available inpatient beds are occupied by patients who have COVID-19. The state death rate is 6.1 deaths per million people and there are more than 400 weekly deaths in Michigan attributable to COVID-19. This is a 55% decrease from the second peak, which reached 13.7 deaths per million on December 10, 2020.

Since December 11, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization to two vaccines to prevent COVID-19, providing a path to end the pandemic. Michigan is now partaking in the largest mass vaccination effort in modern history and is presently working toward vaccinating at least 70% of Michigan’s most high-risk residents as quickly as possible.

Despite making significant strides in controlling the virus since early November, there is much uncertainty. New and unexpected challenges continue to arise: in early December 2020, a variant of COVID-19 known as B.1.1.7 was detected in the United Kingdom. This variant is roughly 50 to 70 percent more infectious than the more common strain. On January 16, 2021, this variant was detected in Michigan. It is anticipated that the variant, if it becomes widespread in the state, will significantly increase the rate of new cases. Therefore, as lower COVID-19 rates permit easing of precautions, we must continue to proceed slowly and carefully, with tight monitoring of cases and impacts, alongside efforts to increase the rate of vaccination.

Robert Gordon, Director, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services stated, “Considering the above, and upon the advice of scientific and medical experts, I have concluded pursuant to MCL 333.2253 that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to constitute an epidemic in Michigan. I have also, subject to the grant of authority in 2020 PA 238 (signed into law on October 22, 2020), herein defined the symptoms of COVID-19 based on the latest epidemiological evidence. I further conclude that control of the epidemic is necessary to protect the public health and that it is necessary to restrict gatherings and establish procedures to be followed during the epidemic to ensure the continuation of essential public health services and enforcement of health laws. As provided in MCL 333.2253, these emergency procedures are not limited to the Public Health Code.”