Whitmer may allow small gatherings by the end of May if coronavirus cases continue to shrink

May 15, 2020 at 11:00 am
click to enlarge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a recent press conference. - State of Michigan
State of Michigan
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a recent press conference.

As the state gets better control of the coronavirus, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that she may ease some social-distancing measures so residents can visit friends and family.

“My hope is at the end of this month we can maybe permit gatherings of 10 or less,” Whitmer said during a Facebook Live interview with MLive. "I know that’s not a big gathering, but it certainly, I think, would be able to give us the feeling and the confidence that we can take this next step.”

By all measures, Michigan is bending the coronavirus curve. The state has been averaging fewer than 500 new cases a day, compared to about 1,500 in early April.

In mid-April, the state was averaging about 145 deaths a day. In the past week, the average number of daily deaths fell to 64.

A prerequisite for easing restrictions is sufficient space in hospitals in the event of a second surge. In March and April, hospitals were overwhelmed in metro Detroit.

But for 29 straight days, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals has declined, falling from 3,918 to 1,256, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. During the same period, the number of COVID-19 patients on a ventilator decreased from 1,212 to 440.

One of the most important tools to reopening the economy is sufficient testing. With a severe testing shortage at the onset of the pandemic, public health officials were unable to identify outbreaks and isolate sick people. The state’s testing capacity has dramatically increased since then. With a goal of reaching 15,000 tests a day in May, state and private labs tested 14,242 people on Tuesday, the latest date for which statistics are available.

Whitmer said her decision to lift more restrictions depends on how much progress is made next week.

“It really depends on what the COVID numbers are, though, in another week,” Whitmer said. “As we’re making decisions about [May] 28, we’re going to continue to see our testing increase and hopefully our positive numbers go down, and if that’s the case then that’s a very real possibility.”

But don’t expect to be attending large sporting events next month.

“We won’t be filling stadiums anytime soon, but we can start to resume some more normalcy in our lives, so long as we continue to do our part and be smart about it,” Whitmer said.

On Thursday, a few hundred protesters gathered in Lansing in defiance of social-distancing measures, calling on Whitmer to lift her stay-at-home order. Some did not wear masks and stood closer than six feet to each other. Whitmer and others expressed fear that the gathering may cause a second surge in cases.

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