Omicron is spreading in Michigan, but Whitmer says statewide mandates are unlikely

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. - STATE OF MICHIGAN
  • State of Michigan
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

There are currently eight cases of the fast-spreading COVID-19 omicron variant that have been found in Michigan. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday the state is urging people to get vaccinated and booster shots instead of implementing statewide mandates.

This has been the state’s overall strategy since vaccines became widely available to those 16 and up in the spring. Now those 5 and up are eligible for the shots.

“We’re seeing familiar scenes play out all across Michigan: long lines at testing sites, rising case numbers, and nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists who are pushed to the brink,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a press conference in Grand Rapids. “We know largely that it’s unvaccinated COVID patients. That’s why today, we wanted to acknowledge that we are in for another tough four to six weeks. That’s what all the experts are projecting with the omicron variant spreading rapidly across the country.”

Unvaccinated Michiganders make up 85% of COVID-19 cases, 88% of hospitalizations and nearly 86% of deaths from COVID-19.

In October, unvaccinated people had 4.3 times the risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and 13.2 times the risk of dying from COVID-19 than people who were fully vaccinated, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

As of Monday, DHHS reported a total of 1,434,837 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 25,984 have died from the virus.

A majority of Michiganders are vaccinated, with 63% of people in the state having received at least one shot and 56% have had two doses.

We're seeing familiar scenes play out all across Michigan: long lines at testing sites, rising case numbers, and nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists who are pushed to the brink. We know largely that it's unvaccinated COVID patients. That's why today, we wanted to acknowledge that we are in for another tough four to six weeks.

– Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

On Tuesday, the state announced a statewide goal to have 1 million more Michiganders, including 95% of eligible nursing-home residents, receive the safe, effective COVID-19 booster by Jan. 31. Currently, over 2.1 million Michiganders, including 64% of eligible seniors, have gotten their booster.

“I want to be clear, if you’re vaccinated, you can still get COVID, but you will stay out of the hospital and you’ll be able to survive a COVID infection,” Whitmer said.

Because it is mostly unvaccinated people who are being hospitalized and dying from the virus, Whitmer said “sweeping mandates are less likely to influence and encourage that population to get vaccinated.”

“That’s why it’s an education effort, sharing what the experiences and what the real threat is, how powerful and quick spreading the omicron variant is and why it’s important that we avail ourselves of these vaccines,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer was joined Tuesday by two Grand Rapids-area doctors who have been on the front lines since the beginning of the pandemic. Dr. Shelley Schmidt, an intensive care unit specialist at Spectrum Health, recalled the heartbreaking moments she witnessed while working over the last two years.

“I’ve seen school-aged children draped over the body of their parents with tear-streaked cheeks and bloodshot eyes. … Unvaccinated, healthy people in their 20s, 30s and 40s making their last FaceTime call to their loved ones while they’re about to be put onto life support knowing they have less than a 50-50 chance of survival.” Schmidt said. “You will have to trust me when you or your relative comes to my Intensive Care Unit and needs to be put on life support. Trust me now. Trust this vaccine.”

Michigan’s positivity rate has decreased over the last two weeks, but remains relatively high at 16.2%, a reflection of our high transmission levels. Cases are at 477 cases per million and have been rising and falling at an elevated level. This is a number that is expected to rise as the omicron variant continues to spread, according to the state.

The percent of inpatient hospital beds occupied by individuals with COVID is now at 20.8%, and this number has been increasing for 22 weeks.

President Joe Biden is expected to announce Tuesday the mobilization of 1,000 military medical personnel to overburdened hospitals in a number of states, including Michigan, according to USA Today.

The federal government has already sent medical teams to three Michigan hospitals: Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw, Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn, and Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.

Originally published December 21, 2021 on Michigan Advance. It is shared here with permission.

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