LANSING — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a new emergency order on Nov. 16 that enacts a three-week pause targeting indoor social gatherings and other group activities in an effort to curb rapidly rising COVID-19 infection rates.
Under this order, indoor residential gatherings are limited to two households at any one time. However, MDHHS strongly urges families to pick a single other household to interact with over the next three weeks, consistent with new guidance released by the department. The order is aimed at limiting residential and non-residential gatherings where COVID-19 spreads rapidly. Bars and restaurants will be open for outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery only. Gyms will remain open for individual exercise with strict safety measures in place. Casinos, movie theaters and group exercise classes will be closed. Professional and college sports meeting extraordinary standards for risk mitigation may continue without spectators, however all other organized sports must stop. (See statement from the MHSAA on page 7.)
Colleges and high schools may proceed with remote learning but must end in-person classes.
Both Forest Park and West Iron County students in grades 9-12 will move to virtual learning from Wednesday, Nov. 18 through Dec. 8.
Forest Park superintendent Christy Larson sent a message to district families on Sunday.
“We will continue to evaluate our situation and will work with the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department regarding how we should proceed as a district,” she said. “We will continue to communicate with our families as decisions are made. We appreciate everyone’s understanding and teamwork during this challenging time. We will continue to get through this together, one day at a time, with Trojan Power!”
A West Iron official said that the district was still in the process of completing its statement to district families at press time. During the pandemic, West Iron has posted its letters to families on its website.
Michigan has seen fewer outbreaks associated with elementary and middle schools, and younger children are most in need of in-person instruction, the MDHHS said. In-person K-8 schooling may continue if it can be done with strong mitigation, including mask requirements, based on discussion between local health and school officials. Childcare also remains open to support working parents.
“Throughout this crisis, Michigan’s teachers and childcare workers have served on the front lines ensuring support for working parents and educating our children, the MDHHS statement read.” Governor (Gretchen) Whitmer’s administration has worked around the clock to protect Michigan’s teachers and childcare workers and the other heroes serving on the front lines of the pandemic.”
“In the spring, we listened to public health experts, stomped the curve, and saved thousands of lives together,” Whitmer said in reaction to the MDHHS order. “Now, we must channel that same energy and join forces again to protect our families, frontline workers and small businesses. Right now, there are thousands of cases a day and hundreds of deaths a week in Michigan, and the number is growing. If we don’t act now, thousands more will die, and our hospitals will continue to be overwhelmed. We can get through this together by listening to health experts once again and taking action right now to slow the spread of this deadly virus.”
“Indoor gatherings are the greatest source of spread, and sharply limiting them is our focus,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said. “The order is targeted and temporary, but a terrible loss of life will be forever unless we act. By coming together today, we can save thousands of lives.”
The Nov. 15 order, which takes effect on Wednesday, is not a blanket stay-home action like in the spring. The order leaves open work that cannot be performed from home, including for manufacturing, construction and health occupations. Outdoor gatherings, outdoor dining and parks remain open. Individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed: retail shopping; public transit; restaurant takeout; personal-care services such as haircuts, by appointment; and individualized exercise at a gym, with extra spacing between machines.
As for enforcement of this order, communications director Kelly Rossman-McKinney released a statement on behalf of attorney general Dana Nessel.
“As with past orders, county public health departments and local law enforcement are primarily responsible for enforcement in their own communities and we hope they do so. We stand ready to assist them in their efforts.”