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Whitmer links eased COVID-19 restrictions to vaccination rates in Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerWhitmer vetoes bill exempting graduations from crowd limits Whitmer proposes using 0M of virus aid to boost minimum wage Women are saving our democracy — and being attacked for it MORE (D) on Thursday unveiled a reopening plan that links eased COVID-19 restrictions to increased vaccination rates in a state that's been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus in recent months.

The governor's initiative, titled “Vacc to Normal,” would gradually loosen restrictions as more residents get their shots. The goal is to get the first vaccine shot to 5.67 million people, about 70 percent of residents 16 and older, while scaling back orders on masks and limited gatherings along the way.

So far, slightly more than 4 million residents have gotten their first COVID-19 vaccine shot, and 2.9 million are fully vaccinated, Whitmer said on Thursday.

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The first round of eased restrictions would come two weeks after 55 percent of the eligible population, or about 4.5 million residents, has at least one vaccine shot. At that point, the state would remove its requirement on businesses to allow remote work, letting workplaces operate in-person.

Whitmer said the state is currently on pace to reach the 55 percent threshold before the end of May.

The next phase — two weeks after 60 percent of the eligible population has gotten their first shots — would see Michigan increase the maximum indoor capacity at sports stadiums, conference centers, banquet halls and funeral homes to 25 percent. Gyms would be allowed to raise their capacity from 30 percent to 50 percent, and the 11 p.m. curfew on restaurants and bars will end.

When 65 percent of the eligible population has received a vaccine, the state would lift all indoor capacity limits and only mandate social distancing between parties. At 70 percent, there would be no requirements for masks or limitations on public or private gatherings.

The incentive approach comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated guidance this week saying fully vaccinated people can be outside without a mask in small groups. The CDC has not specified when masks will no longer be needed indoors or outdoors in large groups or public settings.

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“The vaccine remains the most effective way to protect you and your family from COVID and help us all return to normal sooner,” Whitmer said Thursday. “As we keep ramping up vaccinations, we can all see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s getting brighter. But I want to remind you we’re still in the tunnel, and we have a lot of work to do as we continue rebuilding our economy.”

“Now while I can’t predict with certainty when we’ll hit 70 percent, if we all do our part, I know we can get there together,” she added.

The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions in Michigan are trending downward following a recent surge.

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their Johnson & Johnson dose or two weeks after their final Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna dose.