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Whitmer urges residents to get vaccinated and booster shots “before Omicron is everywhere”

Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio Network

Get vaccinated, then get boosted against the coronavirus – that’s the message from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as the state deals with an extended fourth wave of the pandemic and the state’s health care system — and its workers — have been pushed to their limits. 

“We all see the stories playing out of people who have not been vaccinated who desperately ask to be vaccinated while they’re suffering from the impact of COVID,” she said in Grand Rapids Tuesday at her first COVID-19 briefing since early summer.

Michigan is just starting to come down from the delta-driven fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, just as the highly infectious omicron variant quickly spreads throughout the state. The omicron is present in 46 of 50 states in the U.S. and across the border in Canada.

“Our state positivity rate has decreased but remains relatively high at 16.2%, which reflects our high transmission levels.”
— Elizabeth Hertel, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the omicron variant is “significantly more transmissible.”

“Our state positivity rate has decreased but remains relatively high at 16.2%, which reflects our high transmission levels,” Hertel said. “20.8% of our inpatient hospital beds are occupied by individuals with COVID and this number has been increasing for 22 weeks.”

Whitmer says partially and completely unvaccinated people made up 86% of deaths in Michigan so far this year.  

Health officials now consider getting a third inoculation a necessity to protect against both the delta and omicron variants.  

State Sets Booster Goal

On Tuesday, officials announced a statewide goal to have 1 million more residents, including 95% of eligible nursing home residents, receive a booster shot by Jan. 31. Nearly 63% of residents have received at least one dose, according to the state.

Whitmer says don’t just get the shots for yourself but do it for exhausted frontline workers. 

“Protect our health care workers and our hospital systems from becoming overwhelmed,” she said. “Yes, they are overwhelmed. Let’s keep them from getting more stressed under this moment.” 

Despite the warnings, Whitmer said she is not planning to issue more coronavirus mitigation measures.

With its high transmissibility, the omicron variant has already become the dominant strain in North America.  

Later on Tuesday, President Joe Biden is expected to announce the administration will be sending out testing kits to every home and sending more federal medical teams to Michigan to aid the state’s struggling health care system. 

Russ McNamara is a reporter and host of All Things Considered for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news to the station’s loyal listeners.