Updated Mask and Gathering Rules in Michigan

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has issued a new COVID-10 Gatherings and Face Mask Order that goes into effect on June 1st. It is critical to note that people who are not fully vaccinated must still wear a mask indoors. MDHHS also noted that "all broad epidemic orders will be lifted" on July 1st.

Updated rules include:

    • "All individuals who are not fully vaccinated (ages 2+) must continue to wear a face mask when at indoor establishments."

    • "Fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to wear a face mask."

    • "Face masks will not be required outdoors."

    • "There will no longer be capacity limits outdoors."

    • "There will no longer be capacity limits at residential gatherings."

    • "Indoor establishments will be at 50% capacity."

    • "Social gatherings will now be regulated only by the venue."

The removal of statewide mask mandates and gathering limits do not prevent businesses, organizations, local governments, and others from having requirements regarding masks and gathering sizes, and should not be used to pressure people to engage in activities that they do not feel comfortable with. The removal of state-level mask requirements outdoors and for fully vaccinated people indoors does not mean that people shouldn’t wear masks (and no one should be mask-shamed or told to take off their mask!) or that they should be pressured to attend gatherings, but rather that in some circumstances, people have the option to not wear a mask or to attend gatherings if they want to do so. There are a variety of reasons for a person to continue to wear a mask: In addition to being important for people who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, masks are an effective way to reduce the transmission of a variety of viruses (including COVID-19; the vaccines are not 100% effective), some people have medical conditions that may make vaccines less effective for them, and some people may prefer to wear a mask for personal or cultural reasons. Likewise, there are many reasons for a person to choose not to attend gatherings: Some may want to wait until things are safer (the pandemic is not over and around half of the population of Michigan is not fully vaccinated), some will take time to get used to being around groups again after being isolated for so long, and some people just prefer to be alone, to be in smaller groups, or to only be at gatherings infrequently.

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Federal Law Allows Employers to Require COVID-19 Vaccinations for Employees

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued updated guidance that confirms that federal law allows employers to require that employees receive COVID-19 vaccines. "The federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19." Exceptions may exist for individuals who cannot be vaccinated for a disability or medical reason, or those that decline to be vaccinated due to a "sincerely held religious belief" "unless providing an accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business." Examples of reasonable accommodations under those circumstances include "an unvaccinated employee entering the workplace might wear a face mask, work at a social distance from coworkers or non-employees, work a modified shift, get periodic tests for COVID-19, be given the opportunity to telework, or finally, accept a reassignment."

Employers can also offer incentives to encourage voluntary vaccination by employees, as long as they are "not so substantial as to be coercive."

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New Study Finds LGBTQ People Have More Interactions with Police

A new study found that LGBTQ people are more likely to be stopped by or interact with the police, including being more likely to seek help from the police. The data are from 2015-2017, and it is likely that the number of LGBTQ people seeking help from the police has decreased, but the data still provide important insights. Among the findings:

    • "LGBQ people are six times more likely than the general public to be stopped by police."

    • "Nearly seven times as many LGBQ people were stopped by the police for reasons that did not involve a vehicle."

    • "Twice as many LGBQ people approached or sought help from the police"

    • "Fewer LGBQ adults agreed that police behaved properly during their contact" and "more LGBQ people were unlikely to contact the police again"

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Two Doses of COVID-19 Vaccines Effective Against B.1.617 Variant

A recent study conducted by Public Health England suggests that two-dose vaccine regiments of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 caused by the B.1.617 variant. The real-world data collected stated that the Pfizer vaccine was about 88% effective at preventing disease from the B.1.617 variant and the AstraZeneca vaccine was 60% effective against the variant. Variations in efficacy may have been due to the fact that the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine came much later due to lack of supply, and some data suggest the AstraZeneca vaccine may take longer to reach maximum protection, however it is still too early to know why there are differences in effectiveness. The B.1.617 variant, which was first detected in India, was recently labeled as a variant of concern by the WHO. The study has not yet been peer reviewed, however it does provide more preliminary data on the importance of vaccines and their efficacy against variants of concern, especially with regards to the recent B.1.617 variant that continues to devastate India and spread internationally.

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Michigan Man Released After 32 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

On Wednesday, an Oakland County Circuit Court Judge moved to vacate the conviction against Gilbert Lee Poole, Jr. Poole was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1989 and spent the next 32 years in prison. The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project filed an application with the Michigan Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit to have the case reinvestigated. Through the reinvestigation, blood stains that were found on and around the murder victim were tested and they did not match the victim or Poole. These were originally never presented at the trial due to failures of Poole’s counsel. The new DNA evidence, along with unreliable bite mark evidence, helped to clear Poole’s name. While bite mark comparison was once considered solid evidence, it has since been discredited by national forensic and scientific groups as inaccurate, unreliable, and unscientific. After the extensive review, investigators determined that Poole was innocent. Poole was released from serving a life sentence from a prison in Jackson this week. Michigan’s Attorney General created the Conviction Integrity Unit in 2019 to ensure those who are convicted of state crimes are guilty and to provide justice to those who are wrongfully imprisoned. The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project has screened over 5,800 cases and is responsible for the exoneration of five men and has helped support other exonerations.

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East Lansing Establishing DEI Division, Independent Police Oversight Commission

The City of East Lansing announced that an ordinance will be drafted to establish an Independent Police Oversight Commission, expected to be adopted next month. The Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission, which has spent the last eight month studying the relationship between the East Lansing Police Department and the community, will present its report to the East Lansing City Council on June 8th, and will recommend that the Commission be established. Recent data has shown that the East Lansing Police Department disproportionately makes contact, arrests, and uses force against Black people.

As a part of its 2022 budget, the City of East Lansing created a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Division. Elaine Hardy, who was hired last year as the City's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Administrator, is being promoted to Director of the new division, and one additional full-time staff person will be hired.

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Moderna States That Their COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe For 12-17 Year-Olds

In a recent press release, Moderna announced that their COVID-19 vaccine was safe and effective in preventing COVID-19 in adolescents ages 12-17 years old. Moderna stated that there were more than 3,700 participants, with 4 cases of COVID-19 in the placebo group and no cases in the vaccine group 14 days after the second dose, meaning the vaccine was 100% effective in preventing COVID-19. They also stated that the study met primary endpoints and that they planned to submit data to regulators by early June for emergency use approval. If approved, this would be the second COVID-19 vaccine approved for individuals under the age of 18 in the United States. The Pfizer vaccine, which was recently approved for use in individuals 12-15 years of age, was previously already approved for those 16 and older. More approved vaccines and increased vaccine access for people of all ages will be crucial in protecting as many people as possible against COVID-19.

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75+ Asian and LGBTQ Groups Opposed New Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Law

Before its passage, over 75 Asian and LGBTQ organizations released a joint statement opposing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act which is intended to help address anti-Asian hate crimes, but it was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President on May 20th. The groups object to the focus on police as a solution, stating that they "reject hate crime legislation that relies on anti-Black, law enforcement responses to the recent rise in anti-Asian bias incidents across the US."

"The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act would designate a member of the Department of Justice to expedite hate crime reviews, provide guidance to local law enforcement to increase reporting of anti-Asian hate crimes, and issue interagency guidance on hate crime reporting. The bill would not provide any resources that address root causes of anti-Asian bias and would not provide resources for violence prevention. The bill in its current form would create no systemic change to address racism, only increase crime statistics collection."

"Our movements have learned the hard lesson that relying on law enforcement and crime statistics does not prevent violence...Hate crime classifications and statistics do not change the structural conditions that lead to violence against marginalized communities."

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Pfizer Begins Study of COVID-19 Booster Shot With Pneumococcal Vaccine

Last Monday, Pfizer announced that they had begun studying a COVID-19 booster shot given at the same time as another type of vaccine. The participants were recruited from Pfizer’s Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial, meaning all participants had already received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Participants were all 65 and older for this study. The primary goal of this study is to assess the safety of administering a COVID-19 booster shot alongside the 20vPnC vaccine. Secondary objectives for this study will include research into the immunological responses in these individuals regarding both of these vaccines. The participants in this study will be randomized into three different groups:

    1. 20vPnC vaccine plus Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine booster, essentially a third dose of the COVID-19 shot.

    2. 20vPnC plus a placebo shot

    3. Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine booster plus a placebo shot.

In addition, for those unfamiliar, the 20-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (20vPnC) is a vaccine that covers and protects individuals from 20 variants of Streptococcus pneumoniae, a common cause of pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis. Previous vaccines included Prevnar, also known as the PCV13 vaccine, which covered 13 variants.

So far, research suggests that a booster shot for COVID-19 vaccines will be necessary to maintain protection against the virus that causes COVID-19 and its variants. Studies that assess the safety of this vaccine alongside other common vaccines are necessary and may help ease the burden of getting vaccines in the future if they can be safely co-administered alongside other scheduled vaccinations.

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Senate Confirms New Justice Department Head

On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Kristen Clarke as the new head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Clarke will be the first Black woman to lead the civil rights division and will also serve as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. The confirmation was approved in a 51-48 vote, with almost all Republicans opposing Clarke’s confirmation - painting her as anti-police and radical. Democrats argued that those were smear tactics and Clarke said herself that she does not support defunding the police. Her previous role was President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which focuses on social justice. Clarke was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday night at the Justice Department.

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This Week's QM Round-Up Contributors (in alphabetical order):

  • Vanessa Burnett (she/her/hers) M.P.H; Health Equity Consultant, Michigan Public Health Institute

  • Wilfredo Flores (he/him/his), fourth-year PhD candidate in Writing and Rhetoric, M.A. Technical Communication

  • Grey L. Pierce (they/them); M.A., Cognitive Psychology; Assistant Director, Michigan State University (MSU) Usability/Accessibility Research and Consulting; Project Manager, State of the State Survey, MSU Institute for Public Policy and Social Research

  • Francis Yang (he/him/his), M.S.-Global Medicine, Second-year medical student