(LANSING, Mich.) -- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled a reopening plan Thursday that will tie loosened restrictions to COVID-19 vaccination rate milestones, as the state starts to emerge from a surge in cases and hospitalizations.
So far, nearly half of residents ages 16 and up have gotten their first shots and about 36% are fully vaccinated, said the governor, whose goal is to reach 70% of the population fully vaccinated to near herd immunity.
Michigan will likely reach 55% of residents ages 16 and up receiving a first dose by the end of next week, Whitmer said. Two weeks after it hits that benchmark, under the new plan, in-person work for all businesses will be allowed.
Two weeks after 60% have gotten their first dose, sports stadiums and banquet halls can increase capacity to 25%, gyms can go up to 50% and an 11 p.m. curfew on indoor dining will be lifted.
Two weeks after hitting 65%, all indoor capacity limits will be lifted, and two weeks after reaching 70% -- about 5.6 million residents ages 16 and up -- the state's order on masks and gatherings will end.
"The vaccine remains the most effective way to protect you and your family from COVID and help us all return to normal sooner," Whitmer said at a press briefing Thursday. "We can all see the light at the end of the tunnel. ... But I want to remind you, we're still in the tunnel, and we have a lot of work to do."
Michigan had previously resisted tying its reopening to certain metrics, but now considers vaccines the "best tool that we have to get back to normal," the governor said.
"This is a creative way of challenging us to rise to this moment and to meet it," Whitmer said.
She said it's a "real possibility" that Michigan could have normal gatherings by the Fourth of July, a goal previously stated by President Joe Biden.
The vaccination plan was welcomed by several Michigan business associations, including the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association.
"We applaud the governor for implementing what the MRLA has been requesting for months -- a metric driven plan that offers incentives rather than mandates to drive better outcomes and more opportunity for the imperiled hospitality industry," Justin Winslow, president of the association, said in a statement.
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health, called the plan a "really innovative, smart strategy … to tie loosening of public health restrictions to vaccination rates in Michigan."
"[Let's] hope this motivates folks to get the shot," he said on Twitter.
The vaccination plan comes as Michigan is starting to turn the corner on a surge in cases and hospitalizations, particularly among young adults. Health experts attributed the surge to the spread of more transmissible variants and a lack of mask and social distancing compliance.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said earlier this month that Michigan couldn't vaccinate its way out of its COVID-19 surge and needed to "close things down."
Other medical experts argued that vaccine supply should be ramped up to COVID-19 hotspots.
Michigan didn't issue any new restrictions, though Whitmer advised residents to avoid indoor dining and recommended a two-week pause on in-person learning for high schools and sports activities.
"Our seven-day case averages, hospitalizations and ICU numbers are all coming down," Whitmer said Thursday. "While the daily case count, test positivity and hospitalization numbers are still not where we want them to be, we're headed in the right direction."
The Michigan health department's latest weekly report, released Tuesday, showed that in the past week, new COVID-19 cases decreased 14%, COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped 16% and the testing positivity rate was down 14%. Still, the state has the highest seven-day case rate per 100,000 in the country, according to the CDC.