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UPDATED: Local vaccine campaign to continue as masking, capacity rules lifted

News Photo by Crystal Nelson MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena receptionist Darbi Dolliver grabs a face mask to hand out to hospital patients or visitors that do not have one. Although masking orders were lifted today, MidMichigan Health will continue asking its patients and visitors to wear masks while on campus.

ALPENA — Local public health officials say they will continue to vaccinate residents as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration today lifted most coronavirus-related restrictions.

As of 12:01 a.m. today, Michigan residents no longer had to wear face masks and the administration no longer would limit capacity at indoor or outdoor settings.

The news comes about 14 months after public health officials announced the first COVID-19-infected Northeast Michigander on April 6, 2020. Since then, officials have announced 4,685 Northeast Michiganders infected and 135 have died.

But coronavirus trends have vastly improved. As of today, 54.2% of Alpena County residents, 59.3% of Presque Isle County residents, 52.4% of Montmorency County residents, and 54.5% of Alcona County residents had been fully vaccinated. According to News estimates, 244 Northeast Michiganders were actively infected — a measurement of infections minus recoveries and deaths — as of today, the lowest number since Nov. 11.

Although Denise Bryan, administrative health officer for District Health Departments No. 2 and No. 4, said she expects people will celebrate the lifting of restrictions, she also views summer as a key time to get vaccinated. The spread of the coronavirus has tended to slow in warmer months and speed up in colder months, when residents spend more time indoors, where the virus can spread easier.

The interactive graphic below shows the share of residents in each county 16 and older who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Viewing on mobile? Turn your device horizontally for the best viewing experience. Story continues below graphic.

Bryan said summer vaccinations could help residents prepare for the potential arrival of variants of the coronavirus and prepare for when school begins in the fall.

“I think the school-age children and colleges are going to be a big focus for us this summer, so our schools can be as safe as possible,” she said.

Meanwhile, officials at MidMichigan Health, the Midland-based owner of the Alpena hospital and several others around the state, announced masking will remain mandatory at their hospitals, outpatient centers, and provider clinics, regardless of a person’s vaccination status.

The interactive graphic below shows a News estimate of actively infected Northeast Michiganders, a measurement of cumulative infections minus deaths and recoveries (based on the federal definition of recovery as someone living 30 days after infection). Viewing on mobile? Turn your device horizontally for the best viewing experience. Story continues below graphic.

Lydia Watson, chief medical officer and senior vice president of MidMichigan Health, said it’s the health system’s priority to keep its patients safe and minimize any risk for potential exposure to the virus.

“Our policy follows the current recommendations by the (U.S.) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration to continue masking in health care facilities,” Watson said in the news release. “Our leadership will carefully evaluate the situation on a regular basis and communicate further changes to the public.”

The governor and state health officials in April set a goal 70% of eligible Michiganders to receive the vaccine.

Bryan said that goal is theoretically attainable, and public health officials in Northeast Michigan have enough vaccines to meet that goal.

The interactive graphic below shows the cumulative number of Northeast Michiganders infeted with COVID-19, recovered from COVID-19, and who died after being infected. Viewing on mobile? Turn your device horizontally for the best viewing experience. Story continues below graphic.

However, Bryan said those who wanted to get the vaccine have already received it.

She said others are either reluctant to receive the vaccine or have decided against it.

“The story I hear from some of the people who are more reluctant is, if the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) were to approve it beyond the emergency-use authorization and give that final approval, that the adult population would feel better about that,” she said.

Bryan said public health officials know all three of the vaccines are effective — and that protection increases for the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines after the second dose in the two dose series.

Bryan said Health Department staff will continue tracking COVID-19 data on the online dashboard and monitoring the region’s statistics.

In the meantime, Health Department staff can focus their energy on normal programming, such as its harm reduction program, which takes back needles and connects addicts with testing for diseases related to sharing needles, its Womens, Infants, and Children program and family planning services.

Additional orders Whitmer also lifted today:

* temporary restrictions for entry into congregate care and juvenile justice facilities

* mandatory testing for Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ juvenile justice facility staff

* mandatory testing for DHHS hospitals and centers staff

* exceptions to temporary restrictions on entry into congregate care and juvenile justice facilities

* exceptions to temporary restrictions on entry into certain facilities

* safe housing for housing unstable individuals

* handling of bodily remains

* safe housing for Michigan homeless

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