Amid Michigan’s fourth coronavirus surge, state health leaders issued a public health advisory Friday, recommending everyone over the age of 2 wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status, when at indoor gatherings.
Businesses and other establishments are encouraged to put policies in place that require masks for all people who enter their buildings — customers, contractors and employees. But these are recommendations, not mandates.
“Today we are at another crucial point,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services. “We have a chance to turn the tide and these rising numbers around. … Whether or not we do will depend on everyone in Michigan.
“The advisory is a statewide advisory to make sure that people are aware of how serious this COVID-19 surge is and to make sure that they are able to take the steps needed to protect themselves and their loved ones this holiday season.”
State health leaders did not choose a mask mandate, she said, because “we’ve all been armed with the information that we think we need to have in order to keep people safe. So at this point, we feel that it is most prudent to make sure that people are aware of how serious this COVID surge is right now, and give them the ability and information to take steps to protect themselves and others through a public health advisory.”
The announcement comes as coronavirus trends grow increasingly grim.
Michigan marked the highest seven-day case rate of 2021 on Thursday at 589.3 cases per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a case-rate that leads the nation, and is nearly double that of Ohio’s.
Hospital leaders say they’re buckling under the strain.
“Many of us have had to curtail services, such as deferring surgeries and other important procedures and redeploy staff,” said Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan. “If you imagine hospital staff for the last year, we’ve been dealing with a lot of non-COVID care and increasing amounts of COVID during the surges. it’s almost like we’re running a marathon and the finish line keeps pushing back.”
On Wednesday, 3,248 Michiganders were hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 — a 51% increase since Nov. 1, according to state data.
The majority of the sickest COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, Elmouchi said.
“We are seeing healthy young people in our hospitals, very sick on ventilators and even dying with COVID. The vaccines absolutely work and we absolutely, without a doubt, would recommend everyone to reconsider if you haven’t been vaccinated.
“And if you haven’t been boosted, and you’re eligible, by all means, please get a boost.”
Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical officer, said predicting how long this surge might last or whether it will continue to worsen is difficult.
“We’re clearly dealing with a variant that is more transmissible and it’s (the) holiday season, people gathering indoors, and that can lead to increased transmission.
“It really depends on people’s behavior. I think if we can change behavior, and if we can get people to start masking and increase those vaccination rates, we have hope of this ending soon. If behavior doesn’t change, I think we’re in for a very rough winter season.”
Hertel wouldn’t say what threshold of coronavirus cases or hospitalizations might trigger a mask mandate statewide or for K-12 schools.
“Unfortunately, I can’t predict the future,” she said. “And what we’ve all learned is that we really can’t predict the future when it comes to COVID-19.
“We’ll continue to watch with case rates and other indicators very closely and make determinations as we see what transpires across the state. However, it is my most sincere hope that Michiganders will take this message very seriously going into the holidays as they start meeting with their close friends and families and the people that they love and do everything that they can to protect themselves and the people that they are around.”
Contact Kristen Shamus: email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.