Michigan’s spike highlights fatigue over restrictions

All eyes are on Michigan as the state endures a surge of COVID-19 cases, underscoring how fatigue with coronavirus restrictions, and political divisions, have disrupted the response to the pandemic across the country.

More than a year after the start of the pandemic, Michigan has evolved into a hot spot for COVID-19, recording a seven-day average of 7,377 new cases and 3,570 hospitalizations in the past week, according to The New York Times.

The state is also home to nine of the top 10 cities with the highest rate of cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks. 

Amid the new surge, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has avoided instituting new lockdowns after receiving backlash from Republicans and facing an alleged kidnapping plot due to her coronavirus restrictions last year. She and other state politicians have instead asked the Biden administration to send more vaccine doses to the state.

“When there’s a surge, we think that it’s important to rush in to meet where that need is,” Whitmer said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“Because what’s happening in Michigan today could be what’s happening in other states tomorrow, and so it’s on all of us to recognize that if we can squash where we’re seeing hot spots, it’s in everyone’s best interest.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky responded on Monday by saying Michigan instead needed to “close things down” in reaction to the rise in cases.

“When you have an acute situation, an extraordinary number of cases like we have in Michigan, the answer is not necessarily to give vaccines — in fact, we know the vaccine will have a delayed response,” she said during a White House COVID-19 response team briefing.

“If we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we’d be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact,” she added.

Michigan has long been a hot spot of division over the coronavirus. Some of the first big protests against lockdowns occurred in Lansing, and the state sometimes seems split along political lines over how to handle the pandemic.

“I think that Michigan is really kind of an exemplar of the tensions existing in the country at large,” Claudia Finkelstein, the director of wellness, resilience and vulnerable populations at Michigan State University, told The Hill. 

More and more Americans are getting vaccinated. As of Monday afternoon, 36.4 percent of U.S. residents have received at least one dose and 22.3 percent are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

Michigan’s vaccination statistics align with the national rate, with 39.7 percent of residents receiving at least one dose and a quarter being fully vaccinated, according to state data from last week.

Yet at least 50 of the state’s hospitals are at least three-quarters full and at least 23 are more than 93 percent full.

Michigan has confirmed more than 2,200 cases involving the more contagious strain first discovered in the United Kingdom, a total second only to Florida.

Whitmer has taken a more subdued approach to this year’s rise in cases, recommending last week that residents take a two-week pause on high-risk activities to lower the state’s rising infection rate instead of initiating any lockdown of businesses or stay-at-home order. 

Last year, the FBI stopped an attempted kidnapping of the governor by a militia group reportedly upset with her coronavirus restrictions. Republican state lawmakers also said they’d go for Whitmer’s impeachment after she issued a second stay-at-home order. 

Bobby Leddy, Whitmer’s press secretary, said in a statement that the state has followed “best practices” when responding to COVID-19, noting Michigan still has a mask mandate and limits on indoor dining, indoor gatherings and entertainment venues.

“As our nation’s top health experts have said, this is not a failure of policy, but rather a compliance, variant, and mobility issue, which is why it’s important for us to ramp up vaccinations as quickly as possible,” Leddy said. 

“While Governor Whitmer appreciates the help we have received from the federal government, she will not stop fighting to get more vaccines for the people of Michigan,” he added.

Andy Slavitt, senior White House pandemic adviser, told reporters Monday that federal officials do not know where the next outbreak will be in the U.S., noting that the variants in Michigan are present in other states.

“Our ability to vaccinate people quickly in each of those states rather than taking vaccines and shifting it to play whack-a-mole isn’t the strategy that public health leaders and scientists have laid out,” he said.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Whitmer as her state struggles with the rising cases, saying the governor has “shown some serious grit.”

She specifically noted that Whitmer advocated for more testing and personal protective equipment for front-line workers “when the federal government told governors that they were, frankly, on their own and to figure it out on their own.”

“She has had to endure not just a public health crisis and a hostile state legislature, but friends who have passed from the virus, armed aggression in the state capitol and threats against her life,” Psaki said. “She’s also had to coordinate a disaster response to a faulty dam burst, all while doing all of this, in a devastated Michigan community.”

“So we feel she’s shown some serious grit, fight and resolve,” she continued. “We’re going to continue to work with her on how we can help address the uptick in her state and help deploy the resources we have available.”

–Updated on April 13 at 1:15 a.m.

Tags Gretchen Whitmer Jeff Zients Jen Psaki michigan coronavirus covid-19 pandemic surge infection cases vaccination gretchen whitmer public health Rochelle Walensky

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