Health officials tighten gathering restrictions in East Lansing

Vaccine eligibility set to expand to all adults 50 and older on March 22

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No more than 15 people may gather outdoors in parts of East Lansing, including downtown, following an emergency order issued last week by Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail.

The order is set to remain in place indefinitely, building on the latest epidemic orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that already restrict outdoor gatherings to 50 people or fewer elsewhere. State orders also restrict indoor gatherings to no more than 15 people from no more than three households through at least April 19.

“COVID-19 cases are decreasing, but we are still seeing higher numbers in certain areas of East Lansing. With sports and Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations on the horizon, it is critical to keep social gatherings small,” Vail announced. “We are making excellent progress in fighting COVID-19 but do not want to take steps backward.”

The restrictions stretch from the northern edge of Michigan State University to Burcham Drive, bounded by Harrison Road to the west and Hagadorn Road to the east, including adjacent properties. The area — which encompasses mostly student rental properties — was identified, in part, because of a high frequency of noise ordinance violations tied to large house parties.

Vail said the restricted area also had the highest concentration of new cases in the last month. Violations are punishable by a misdemeanor, including up to six months in jail and a $200 fine. Call 517-351-4220 to report social gatherings that exceed public health order limitations.

In related news…

State officials expanded vaccine eligibility this week to include residents age 50 and older with medical conditions or disabilities, as well as caregiver family members and guardians who care for children with special health care needs. Beginning on March 22, vaccine eligibility is set to expand again to include all residents age 50 and older. The end goal: Vaccine 70% of adults.

Those eligible for a vaccine should check the website of their local health department or hospital to get registered. Additional vaccination sites — like Meijer and Rite Aid — may also be available. Those without internet access can dial 888-535-6136 for appointment assistance.

Lansing First Presbyterian Church encouraged the public to get any COVID-19 vaccine available — regardless of its brand — and to continue wearing masks.

The first Michigan case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.351 was identified in a man living in Jackson County this week. While the variant from South Africa is believed to be more contagious, there’s no indication that it results in more severe symptoms or death. Scientists are still evaluating how well the existing COVID-19 vaccines work against this new variant.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation this week that supports the COVID-19 recovery plan she sent to state lawmakers in January. It includes a $2.25 hourly wage increase for direct care workers, $283 million in federal rental assistance and $110 million for vaccine administration.

Nearly 700 small businesses across Michigan have received $10 million in grants through the Pure Michigan Small Business Relief Initiative, including $600,000 in the Greater Lansing area.

A recent University of Michigan report shows the coronavirus burdens that Black residents faced early in the pandemic were broader than just their increased likelihood of catching or dying from the virus. The Lansing State Journal reports that Black residents were also more likely to have symptoms, experience racism in healthcare and fear telling others about their illness.

Whitmer ordered U.S. and Michigan flags within the State Capitol Complex to be lowered to half-staff on Wednesday to honor the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus in Michigan, as well as to mourn the thousands who have lost their lives to COVID-19. Residents are also asked to turn on their porch lights from 8-9 p.m. in remembrance of those killed by the virus to date.

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