Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced in a press conference on Thursday that once her state reaches a 70 percent vaccination rate, the state health department’s extensive gatherings and face mask mandate will be lifted—unless unforeseen circumstances appear, such as vaccine-resistant variants. The plan, called “MI Vacc to Normal Challenge,” sets four specific benchmarks that must be achieved to return to normal.

So far, 48.8 percent of Michigan residents have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 35.9 percent have been fully vaccinated. Nonetheless, Whitmer, who many allege mishandled the state’s vulnerable elderly population, indicated the state is still in the middle of a third wave, reporting the country’s highest daily average of cases, according to the New York Times coronavirus tracker. Those numbers are slowly starting to decrease, but officials continue to urge Michiganders to wear masks and practice social distancing. Whitmer said in the Thursday press conference:

“To date, Michigan has administered 6.7 million doses of the safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine. On our path to vaccinating 70% of Michiganders 16 and up, we can take steps to gradually get back to normal while keeping people safe. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to rise to the challenge and be a part of the solution so we can continue our economic recovery and have the summer we all crave.”

The “MI Vacc to Normal” plan announced Thursday will see Michigan completely reopen once 70% of residents aged 16 and up received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Stressing Whitmer’s plan, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and a member of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force under the Biden-Harris administration, clarified that “Vaccines are the path forward to do what you want to do.” If cases are high in specific areas—more than 250 per day per 1 million residents—then some steps in the reopen plan may be delayed.

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association said Thursday that while the state’s plan is “encouraging,” it’s looking for more sooner. Approximately 3,000 restaurants (17.6 percent) have permanently closed in Michigan. Earlier this month, Whitmer urged restaurants to impose a two-week suspension of indoor dining. Frustrated restaurant owners maintain Michigan is suffering more than neighboring states due to pandemic restrictions. MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis said in a statement:

“Our struggling bars and restaurants have nothing but praise for the public for supporting them in so many different ways over the past year. And we encourage those interested in getting vaccinated to do so as soon as possible to help our struggling businesses get around this final corner and on the road to recovery.”

On the verge of shuttering with over 12 months of COVID-19 restrictions, the newly formed Macomb County Restaurant, Bar, and Banquet Association filed a lawsuit on Feb. 8 naming Governor Whitmer, Pat Gagliardi, Chair of the Liquor Control Commission, and Elizabeth Hertel, Department of Health and Human Services Director, as defendants. The group asserts it has been unfairly and unjustly stigmatized as an industry. It is seeking damages from the state, adding, “it is now absolutely clear that Gov. Whitmer and her loyalists have completely failed in managing COVID-19.” They continued, “Michigan is dead last in slowing the spread of the coronavirus.”  Speaking of the complaint, plaintiff attorney Albert Addis declared:

“There’s no doubt that no industry has been injured or impacted as bad as the restaurant and bar industry. The Michigan Constitution does not allow government by fiat to take away people’s property and businesses without just compensation. You want to take our businesses, you want to ruin our property values, pay us. 

For some reason, the state of Michigan just said, ‘We’re going to close down an entire industry, put thousands out of work, close what’s now been 3,000 restaurants forever, and we’re not going to give them anything.”

Whitmer Scheduled Press Conference for 9:30 am to Pre-empt 10:30 am Testimony on Her Hush Money Pay-Off

Responding to the news of Whitmer’s “hastily arranged” press conference, the Michigan GOP said in a statement, “Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer scheduled a 9:30 press conference this morning to discuss her failed pandemic response in an attempt to distract the public from the House Oversight Committee’s questioning of Whitmer’s former health director at 10:30 am.” Ted Goodman, Communications Director of the Michigan Republican Party, added:

“Whitmer is attempting to distract Michiganders from questions surrounding her hush money pay-off to her former health director who mysteriously resigned in the middle of a global pandemic. Why did Whitmer hastily put this press conference together and will she give us details about her personal trip to Florida?”