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Michigan urges masking indoors, vaccines as COVID-19 surges

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Health official: "We are at another crucial point."

Faced with spiking COVID-19 infections, Michigan health officials said Friday that they will issue a public health advisory recommending that everyone over age 2 wear a mask at indoor gatherings regardless of their vaccination status.

They also said businesses should implement policies ensuring that customers and employees are masked. They stopped short of requiring face coverings.

The officials pleaded with people to get the vaccine, a flu shot and, if eligible, a coronavirus booster dose as the state finds itself dealing with a fourth surge in cases since the pandemic started. The step came before the holiday season, when families in the state with the country’s highest seven-day case rate will gather indoors to celebrate.

Roughly 73% of Michigan infections, 72% of hospitalizations and 76% of deaths were among the unvaccinated or those partially vaccinated over the most recent 30-day period for which there is complete data, said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive.

“Today, we are at another crucial point. We have a chance to turn the tide and these rising numbers. We have done it before. But whether or not we do will depend on everyone in Michigan,” said Elizabeth Hertel, the director of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The agency will recommend face coverings but not require them, keeping with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s shift away from such mandates earlier this year.

Metrics presented on a call with reporters are “quite troubling,” Bagdasarian said.

The positivity rate was above 15% in all regions and higher than 20% in three — Grand Rapids, Saginaw and Jackson. The case rate was trending similarly to the state’s surve in the fall of 2020. COVID-19 hospitalizations, meanwhile, were at 77% of their peak last spring.

The health department, citing guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued specific recommendations for holiday gatherings. People gathering with multiple households from different areas of the state or country should consider precautions such as getting tested for COVID-19. Universal masking is urged in households where someone is unvaccinated, at increased risk of the virus or has a weakened immune system.

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