High schools, indoor venues and outdoor group fitness activities will be allowed to reopen and resume in Michigan as of Monday, Dec. 21, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced at a Friday afternoon press conference. The order will expire Friday, Jan. 21. 

Under Friday’s updated epidemic order, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will allow in-person instruction at high schools and indoor venues such as fitness centers, bowling alleys and casinos to reopen. Conditions for reopening include ample room for social distancing with a limit of 100 people, concession stands remaining closed and masks being worn. 

Outdoor group fitness activities will also be allowed to resume, though indoor group fitness classes, indoor dining and residential gatherings of more than 10 people from two households are still prohibited. According to the updated order, colleges and universities are allowed to have students return to campus beginning Jan. 18, although the University of Michigan plans to hold almost all classes remotely and will only allow certain students in University housing.

This change is a result of a decrease in three metrics used to measure the spread of COVID-19 following tightened protocols in mid-November: hospital capacity dedicated to COVID-19 patients, overall case rates and the positivity rate, which is currently 10.6%. This is down from the 14.3% positivity rate reported on Dec. 4, the highest in recent weeks.

Whitmer stressed the changes were a result of safe behavior from Michiganders in November. 

“These past few weeks, Michiganders across the state stepped up and did their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, and because of our collective hard work, we are now able to begin the steps to carefully lift some of the protocols we have in place,” Whitmer said. “I am encouraged by the progress we have made since early November, and will continue to monitor the data closely during and after the holidays.” 

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive, also spoke at the press conference and emphasized the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is widely available. Khaldun also said people should continue wearing their masks even after receiving the vaccine. 

“This means a new era in fighting this pandemic,” Khaldun said. “The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is safe and has been tested in trials in tens of thousands of people. While it will take several months, there will be an end to this pandemic.” 

Whitmer expressed frustration with Congress and the Michigan state legislature and said she hopes a bill will be passed giving financial aid to small businesses before the year’s session concludes, while defending the continued restrictions on business activity meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Whitmer also said she would sign a small business relief bill from the state legislature if it is passed, but declined to definitively say whether she would call back the Michigan state legislature in a special session after they adjourn. 

Whitmer concluded the press conference, which is likely to be the last of 2020, by emphasizing the importance of staying home for the holidays and continuing to social distance. 

“We’ve come a long way, but the pause is working,” Whitmer said. “We can take another step forward if we keep it up. That means not hosting events for Christmas, not hosting events for New Years. … We have to continue to take this seriously now. I’m very inspired by what you have done and I’m very grateful.” 

Daily News Editor Emma Ruberg can be reached at eruberg@umich.edu

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