Thanksgiving is canceled — if your plans included a gathering of more than two households, that is.
As coronavirus cases surge in Michigan and much of the rest of the United States, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced new epidemic orders, including a ban on gatherings of more than two households, and urged families to limit interactions with only one other household for the next three weeks.
"If you are considering spending Thanksgiving with people outside of your household, I urge you to reconsider," Whitmer said during a Sunday press conference. "As you consider your options for next week, I urge you to make the difficult, but right choice, because it's ultimately going to be in the long-term benefit of everyone that you love," she added.
The order goes into effect at midnight on Wednesday, Nov. 18.
The announcement comes after Michigan saw its worst week of coronavirus cases to date, with more than 251,813 confirmed cases and 7,994 deaths due to COVID-19 reported so far. One model projects that Michigan could begin seeing 1,000 deaths per week at the current rate.
Every part of Michigan is seeing cases, and hospitals are nearing capacity. The rate of positive tests has been above 10% since Nov. 1.
Health officials are aiming for a rate below 3% to show that virus spread is under control.
"This is the worst public health emergency our nation has faced in over a century, and our response has got to reflect the same level of urgency," Whitmer said. "Our response is strongest if we are unified and all in this together."
Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, the state's top medical official, warned that Michigan could see 20,000 more deaths by February unless drastic action is taken now.
"COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire, and we are now in the dreaded surge that we have been warning about for months," Khaldun said.
"If we do not act now, there's no question that the next several months will be deadly and grim," Khaldun said. "This is not like the cold or the flu, and we simply cannot let this virus continue to spread out of control."
Under the new orders, everyone who can work from home is ordered to do so. Bars and restaurants are restricted to carry-out, delivery, and outdoor dining only. Casinos, movie theaters, and group exercise classes are ordered closed, and all sports are ordered to end aside from professional and college sports without spectators. Colleges and high schools must end in-person classes.
Gyms will remain open for individual exercise with restrictions and safety measures in place.
The Michigan Supreme Court struck down Whitmer's emergency powers last month. The new restrictions come from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which can issue epidemic orders and was not impacted by the Michigan Supreme Court decision.
The new restrictions are not the same as another stay-at-home order, which would require the approval of the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Whitmer acknowledged that workers and businesses will feel a pinch due to the new restrictions, especially now that $600-per-week pandemic emergency funds are no longer available to the unemployed.
"Getting this health crisis under control is absolutely essential to getting our economic crisis under control," Whitmer said. "If our public isn't healthy, our economy isn't healthy."
She called on President Donald Trump to finally get serious about fighting the virus.
"We as a nation have got to come together to fight this virus," Whitmer said. "As the president prepares to leave office, part of his legacy will be determined and shaped by these last 66 days. President Trump has an opportunity to meet the needs of the people of this country and extend life-saving support to Americans everywhere. And I hope that he and [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi can deliver a recovery help for unemployed workers, small-business assistance support for locally owned restaurants and all restaurant workers, and resources to give our kids the educational support that they need. This stimulus is critical for our families and good for our economy."
Whitmer also acknowledged that the ban on gatherings will be difficult, especially ahead of the holiday and as Michiganders grow fatigued of the pandemic as it heads into its eighth month.
"Think about your favorite Thanksgivings and the loved ones with whom you've spent them — your parents and your grandparents, your siblings, and your kids and their kids, your neighbors, and friends," Whitmer said. "Think about them and picture their faces. Think about the good times, laughing together, cheering on the Lions, playing cards and cooking together, maybe even arguing about politics. As hard as it is not seeing them this Thanksgiving, imagine how much harder it would be if you weren't able to see them for a future holiday ever again."
She added, "As hard as this is, we all need to make short-term sacrifices for a long-term gain in health and happiness."
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