State health department issues three-week restrictions to curb COVID-19



GENESEE COUNTY — State health officials are ramping up new restrictions to target the spread of COVID-19 over the holiday season.

On Sunday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued an emergency order to limit residential and non-residential indoor gatherings and restrict group activities throughout the state. The order went into effect yesterday and will remain in place for the next three weeks.

Under the order, indoor residential gatherings have now been limited to two households at any one time. Bars and restaurants have also been limited to offering outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery only, while casinos, movie theaters, ice rinks and bowling alleys have been ordered to close.

Unlike Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order in the spring, residents can perform work outside of the home, including manufacturing, construction and health occupations. Outdoor gatherings and dining will be still allowed under the MDHHS emergency order, and individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed, such as: retail shopping; public transit; restaurant takeout; and personal-care services such as haircuts, by appointment.

Meanwhile, gyms will remain open for individual exercise with strict safety measures in place, but group exercise classes will not be allowed during the emergency order.

Professional and collegiate sports can resume as long as extraordinary standards for risk mitigation are met (without spectators). However, all other organized sports have been paused, including fall and winter high school athletic activities. Colleges and high schools have also been required to end in-person classes and resume instruction online, but districts will be allowed to continue in-person hybrid classes for K-8 students.

In Genesee County, positive COVID-19 cases have risen from around 6,000 to over 9,300 since Nov. 3, while the COVID-19 positivity rate has jumped from 7.4 percent to 13.8 percent. Thirty more deaths have also been recorded in the county over the past two weeks, bringing the total to 343.

Kim Van Slyke, the Genesee County Health Department’s Communicable Disease director, said that the county’s rise in COVID-19 cases since Labor Day has been strongly linked to indoor gatherings and large parties.

“The increase in numbers is coming from extracurricular activities,” she said. “Unsanctioned parties, unsanctioned school proms, homecoming dances that are not planned and sanctioned by schools…adults who are gathering and having Halloween parties and Labor Day parties, then transmitting (the virus) to each other and to their kids.”

Van Slyke said that area schools are not contributing significantly to COVID-19 numbers in the county, thanks to strong COVID-19 mitigation efforts and contact tracing put into place by districts. Outside the school setting, however, high school students have shown to be at a greater risk for contracting the virus.

“In the high school, students go from classroom to classroom and have a lot more face to face time,” said Van Slyke. “They also do a lot more social stuff outside of school, so they are at a higher risk than the younger children. I can fully understand why the governor and the MDHHS made the decision to have them go remote.”

With Thanksgiving a week away, health officials are also urging residents to have a plan for social distancing and to limit the number of people they invite into their homes.

“When it’s time for the (Thanksgiving) meal, stay separated (spaced apart) if possible,” said Jim Henry, Interim Health Officer for Genesee County. “That’s when the masks come off and people are talking a lot more. If you can, keep the windows cracked open and let some air flow through to ventilate the house.”

To see a full list of holiday gathering recommendations from the MDHHS, visit www.michigan.gov/documents/coronavirus/11-15_Safe_Social_Pods_v3_707801_7.pdf.