LANSING — The state’s health authority said this week that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline since this winter’s surge brought on by the spread of highly infectious variants and that it is adjusting its approach to the pandemic in the recovery phase.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is now updating its mask guidance for public settings, including school settings, to reflect that Michigan is entering what it called a “post-surge, recovery phase.”
Now, school districts and organizations are being asked to consider local conditions and work with their local health departments to determine mask policies for school districts, public meetings and large events.
As of 8 a.m. on Thursday, Wayne County rescinded its August 2021 Emergency Health Order that implemented its school mask mandate. That decision came after the MDHHS expired its Public Health Advisory on masking in indoor public settings, including school settings.
As of Thursday evening, at least one area school announced its plans after the easing of mask requirements. The D7 School District in Dearborn Heights said that effective Friday, Feb. 18, it will no longer require the use of masks while indoors on school property.
“However, the use of face masks will continue to be recommended as a part of a layered safety plan to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 virus,” Superintendent Ty Weeks said in a statement Thursday.
Health officials still say masks are an important tool in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and individuals who may be at higher risk of infection or who feel better protected when masked should choose when they feel comfortable masking. The state says people should consider their individual and family members’ risk factors and vaccination status when making the personal decision whether to mask.
Those with chronic illnesses or who are immunocompromised are at higher risk for having serious complications from COVID-19 and would benefit most from masking in indoor settings. These risk factors may include age, medical conditions and vaccination status.
The MDHHS recommends that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, continue to practice universal masking in high-risk congregate settings, including long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, jails and health care facilities.
School districts and organizations are being asked to consider local conditions and work with their local health departments to determine mask policies for school districts, public meetings and large events.
Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should also wear a mask during isolation and quarantine periods to stop further community spread of COVID-19, health experts say.
Statistics show some improving conditions
The state says decreases in cases and hospitalizations and increased access to vaccines, testing and treatment indicate that Michigan is entering a post-surge, recovery phase of the cycle. This past week, the state saw fluctuations in cases, but an overall downward trend, with a high of 621 total confirmed cases down to just 44 on Wednesday, Feb. 16.
Almost 60 percent of Michigan’s total population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which is largely reflective of the rest of the country. Vaccinations clearly make the biggest difference in tackling the virus down to a manageable, less deadly phenomena.
A year’s worth of data, from Jan. 15, 2021 to Jan. 28, 2022, shows people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for some 77 percent of total cases, compared to just 7 percent of people who were fully vaccinated (breakthrough cases) and developed COVID-19. Same goes for hospitalizations, some 84 percent of people hospitalized were not fully vaccinated, compared to 15 percent of fully vaccinated people. That’s total hospitalizations, not just COVID-19 cases. But stats also show that to 0.090 percent of people who were fully vaccinated and ended up in a hospital for COVID-19.
Only 0.055 percent of people who were fully vaccinated died from the disease. People not fully vaccinated accounted for almost 82 percent of COVID-19 deaths.
The state says its hospitalizations surveillance system may actually underestimate the frequency of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Numbers as of Feb. 14 showed no new outbreaks or clusters of cases in Wayne County schools. The last reported and highest ongoing outbreak in the Dearborn area was 16 cases of COVID-19 at Star International Academy-George in Dearborn Heights as of Jan. 31.
Surges can quickly overwhelm emergency departments and push the limited availability of beds and staff, showing the need for caution. As of Feb. 16, hospital ICU beds still showed significant occupancy — 2,301 out of 3,002 total ICU beds in the state were occupied — according to the state’s COVID-19 hospitalization reporting stats, though those are total numbers for the state, not just for COVID cases.
University of Michigan data for this week shows trends for daily average hospital admissions declined -25 percent since last week vs. -14 percent the prior week. Overall, most age groups saw declines this week. The beginning of this year saw the highest hospitalization numbers, higher than when the pandemic first exploded in the state in early 2020, but the state has seen a sharp drop in hospitalizations, from more than 4,500 to some 2,000, in the last several weeks.
Hospitalizations among children also rose astronomically earlier this year, and have since dropped from 100+ to some 58 this week.
Dearborn has constantly led Wayne County in COVID-19 cases, with a total of almost 30,000 cases and more than 300 deaths since the pandemic began.
The state is allocating $150.8 million in testing and screenings in schools in an effort to keep students in classrooms, though many teachers and students in dense areas of Michigan have raised concerns over the spread of the disease.
The MDHHS says it will continue to monitor COVID-19 closely to assess risk across the state and adjust as conditions change. These changes could include the presence of a new variant that increases the risk to the public or an increased number of cases that strains the health care system.
Moving forward, the MDHHS is breaking down the “COVID-19 cycle” into three phases: Local and state public health implement rapid response to a surge; the post-surge recovery phase and readiness if a surge in cases is expected.
“This is good news for Michigan,” said Governor Whitmer. “While Michigan hasn’t had statewide mask policies since last June, this updated guidance will underscore that we are getting back to normal. Let’s keep working together to build on our momentum so we can keep our kids learning in person.”