Michigan residents will no longer have to contend with COVID-19 gathering and masking restrictions beginning next week.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced on Thursday afternoon that gathering, masking and other epidemic orders will expire beginning June 22 as rates of COVID-19 cases, positive tests and hospitalizations continue to steadily decline.
Mask mandates will no longer apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated Michigan residents while indoor and outdoor gatherings will not be subjected to capacity restrictions. Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) originally scheduled these measures to expire on July 1.
“Today is a day that we have all been looking forward to, as we can safely get back to normal day-to-day activities and put this pandemic behind us,” Whitmer said in a statement. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the medical experts and health professionals who stood on the front lines to keep us all safe. And we are incredibly thankful to all of the essential workers who kept our state moving.”
The easing of statewide COVID-19 restrictions takes effect as nearly 5 million Michigan residents ages 16 and older have received their first vaccine dose. The Michigan Care Improvement Registry reported that half of Michigan residents have completed their vaccinations.
“This is great news and a day all of us have been looking forward to for more than a year,” MDHHS director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement. “We have said all along that the vaccine would help us return to a sense of normalcy and today we announce that day is here.”
Despite the long awaited change in protocol, health officials continued to preach caution.
“This is a great day, however, there is more work to be done,” said Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. “We can’t let our guard down as there continue to be several variants of the COVID-19 virus circulating in our state, including the concerning Delta variant. The COVID-19 vaccine is the most important tool we have to reduce the spread of the virus and I urge everyone ages 12 and up who has not yet received their vaccine to get it as soon as possible.”
The state also lifted eight additional epidemic orders that installed specific protocols on activities such as providing safe housing for unstable individuals.
The Michigan State Medical Society called today’s announcement “not only great news for Michigan and its residents, but also a testament to the effectiveness of the vaccine,” President Dr. Pino Colone said in a statement.
BARS AND RESTAURANTS BRACE FOR CROWDS
For the first time since March 2020, bars, restaurants and entertainment venues are permitted to welcome in full capacity crowds. Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, issued a statement of approval.
“This is positive news for the hospitality industry,” Ellis said in a statement. “Michigan bars and restaurants have struggled greatly in order to keep their doors open throughout the pandemic. Owners, employees and patrons are eager to get life back to normal.”
The organization also acknowledged that, despite the ability for bars and restaurants to return to full capacity, the industry continues to work through a shortage of workers that has caused disruptions for many establishments.
That need for labor is even greater as restaurants face potentially larger crowds.
“Establishments are having a hard enough time finding an adequate number of employees while still operating with reduced capacities, this issue will be exacerbated when we fully reopen,” Ellis said. “We will have to draw in fresh talent from new places and make our industry an exciting one for workers once again.”