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Whitmer to relax more COVID restrictions; new variant cases continue to rise in state

governor gretchen whitmer standing at a podium

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday that more COVID-19 restrictions can be relaxed.

Restaurants will be allowed to accept twice as many indoor diners, retail shops may allow more customers, and more people will be allowed to attend private indoor gatherings starting Friday.

Whitmer said restaurants will also be allowed to stay open an hour later – until 11 p.m. “We’re getting there, Michigan. This is good news. I want to reiterate: We know we have to re-double our efforts, though, to stay safe as we re-engage. It’s more important now than ever,” Whitmer said.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued the order. The governor said she and her health advisors plan to move cautiously, in particular over concerns about how coronavirus variants may spread.

Elizabeth Hertel is the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

She said people will still have to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“If we protect ourselves and others, if we continue to work together and we remain vigilant, we can and we will take more leaps forward and put this pandemic behind us.”

People who test negative for COVID will also be allowed to visit relatives in nursing homes. But that’s only if the facility has not reported a new COVID case in the prior 14 days.

Even as Michigan's COVID-19 cases have plateaued overall, the number of new variant cases keeps climbing.

The state has confirmed more than 420 cases of the more-easily transmitted B.1.1.7  variant.

Two-thirds of the state's cases are associated with an outbreak at a corrections facility. That's according to the state's chief medical officer, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.

“But there are other places in the state where we do not know where those individuals became infected with the variant. Which means there is likely some undetected spread occurring in the community."

The new variant was originally identified in the U.K. It was first identified in Michigan in mid-January. So far, it's the only variant that's been detected in the state. Other states are seeing variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

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Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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