by Bruce Walker
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used her Wednesday news conference to stress her goal to return all of the state’s public schools to in-person learning by next Monday, March 1.
However, restaurants and bars won’t witness relief from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ 25% capacity limit on patrons.
During a question and answer period, Whitmer was asked why her administration wasn’t more transparent about extending the MDHHS imposed 10 p.m. restaurant curfew and 25% limit on restaurant patrons. Those rules were set to expire on Feb. 21, but are now scheduled to sunset March 29. The new deadline was inserted in a Feb. 4 epidemic order by the MDHHS.
“I was a little surprised by the reaction to tell the truth,” she said. “Anyone who’s just even casually watched over the last 12 months knows the tendency to have about a three-week cadence. We make a change, see how it’s going, watch the data or report on the data, made changes along the way,” she said, reiterating the process has occurred typically in three week increments.
“That’s no different in this case. Frankly, I was a little bit surprised by the kind of characterization of it,” she said.
She said there are many reasons to feel positive at present, with the exception of the B-117 variant.
“We are still seeing low positivity numbers and high vaccination rates, and so it’s generally headed in the right direction, and you think about that timeline and it would probably conclude justifiably in the coming days we will be assessing and making more determinations on a number of fronts,” Whitmer said.
The governor cited statistics from the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC), which noted 85% of Michigan schools are already conducting in-person learning, and 97% are planning to return to in-person learning by March 1.
Whitmer also stated the benefits of in-person learning as well as the drawbacks of distance learning for many students. While some students thrive with distance learning, she said, many other students require the social interaction schools provide for their mental and emotional health.
The governor also touted her administration’s efforts to provide child care to low-income families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those efforts include providing grants to more than 6,500 child care providers and prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers and caregivers.
Whitmer’s proposed state budget also includes a proposal to spend $370 million on child care innovations for an additional 150,000 working families. This would be in addition to the $600 million already budgeted for child care in the state.
The governor said two-thirds of the state’s educators have already received one or both COVID-19 vaccination shots, citing figures provided by the state’s largest teachers’ union, the Michigan Education Association.
Also appearing with the governor was MDHHS Chief Medical Officer Joneigh Khaldun.
The state has administered nearly 2 million COVID-19 vaccines, reported Khaldun. She added 675,000 individuals have received both doses, and 41% of individuals over the age of 75 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Khaldun also reported there have been 314 cases of the COVID-19 variant B-117 confirmed across 19 of Michigan’s 83 counties, which is the second highest rate in the country. Khaldun warned that B-117 could be the dominant form of COVID-19 cases by the end of March.
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.